Network Capacity Planning: Is Your Network Positioned for Growth?

Authored by:  Sandy McGregor, Director of Sales & Marketing for APConnections, Inc.
Sandy has a Masters in Management Information Systems and over 17 years experience in the Applications Development Life Cycle.  In the past, she has been a Project Manager for large-scale data center projects, as well as a Director heading up architecture, development and operations teams.  In Sandy’s current role at APConnections, she is responsible for tracking industry trends.

As you may have guessed, mobile users are gobbling up network bandwidth in 2010!  Based on research conducted in the first half of 2010, Allot Communications has released The Allot MobileTrends Report , H1 2010 showing dramatic growth in mobile data bandwidth usage in 2010- up 68% in Q1 and Q2.

I am sure that you are seeing the impacts of all this usage on your networks.  The good news is all this usage is good for your business, as a network provider,  if you are positioned to grow to meet the needs of all this growth!  Whether you sell network usage to customers (as a ISP or WISP) or “sell” it internally (colleges and corporations), growth means that the infrastructure you provide becomes more and more critical to your business.

Here are some areas that we found of particular interest in the article, and their implications on your network, from our perspective…

1) Video Streaming grew by 92% to 35% of mobile use

It should be no surprise that video steaming applications take up a 35% share of mobile bandwidth, and grew by 92%.  At this growth rate, which we believe will continue and grow even faster in the future, your network capacity will need to grow as well.  Luckily, bandwidth prices are continuing to come down in all geographies.

No matter how much you partition your network using a bandwidth shaping strategy, the fact is that video streaming takes up a lot of bandwidth.  Add to that the fact that more and more users are using video, and you have a full pipe before you know it!  While you can look at ways to cache video, we believe that you have no choice but to add bandwidth to your network.

2) Users are downloading like crazy!

When your customers are not watching videos, they are downloading, either via P2P or HTTP, which combined represented 31 percent of mobile bandwidth, with an aggregate growth rate of 80 percent.  Although additional network capacity can help somewhat here, large downloads or multiple P2P users can still quickly clog your network.

You need to first determine if you want to allow P2P traffic on your network.  If you decide to support P2P usage, you may want to think how you will identify which users are doing P2P and if you will charge a premium for this service. Also, be aware that encrypted P2P traffic is on the rise, which makes it difficult to figure out what traffic is truly P2P.

Large file downloads need to be supported.  Your goal here should be to figure out how to enable downloading for your customers without slowing down other users and bringing the rest of your network to a halt.

In our opinion, P2P and downloading is an area where you should look at bandwidth shaping solutions.  These technologies use various methods to prioritize and control traffic, such as application shaping (Allot, BlueCoat, Cymphonix) or behavior-based shaping (NetEqualizer).

These tools, or various routers (such as Mikrotik), should also enable you to set rate limits on your user base, so that no one user can take up too much of your network capacity.  Ideally, rate limits should be flexible, so that you can set a fixed amount by user, group of users (subnet, VLAN), or share a fixed amount across user groups.

3) VoIP and IM are really popular too

The second fastest growing traffic types were VoIP and Instant Messaging (IM).  Note that if your customers are not yet using VoIP, they will be soon.  The cost model for VoIP just makes it so compelling for many users, and having one set of wires if an office configuration is attractive as well (who likes the tangle of wires dangling from their desk anyways?).

We believe that your network needs to be able to handle VoIP without call break-up or delay.  For a latency-sensitive application like VoIP, bandwidth shaping (aka traffic control, aka bandwidth management) is key.  Regardless of your network capacity, if your VoIP traffic is not given priority, call break up will occur.  We believe that this is another area where bandwidth shaping solutions can help you.

IM on the other hand, can handle a little latency (depending on how fast your customers type & send messages).  To a point, customers will tolerate a delay in IM – but probably 1-2 seconds max.  After that,they will blame your network, and if delays persist, will look to move to another network provider.

In summary, to position your network for growth:

1) Buy More Bandwidth – It is a never-ending cycle, but at least the cost of bandwidth is coming down!

2) Implement Rate Limits – Stop any one user from taking up your whole network.

3) Add Bandwidth Shaping – Maximize what you already have.  Think efficiency here.  To determine the payback period on an investment in the NetEqualizer, try our new ROI tool.  You can put together similar calculations for other vendors.

Note:  The Allot MobileTrends Report data was collected from Jan. 1 to June 30 from leading mobile operators worldwide with a combined user base of 190 million subscribers.

Seven Points to Consider When Planning Internet Redundancy

By Art Reisman

Art Reisman CTO

Editor’s note: Art Reisman is the CTO of APconnections. APconnections designs and manufactures the popular NetEqualizer bandwidth shaper.

The chances of being killed by a shark are 1 in 264 million. Despite those low odds, most people worry about sharks when they enter the ocean, and yet the same people do not think twice about getting into a car without a passenger-side airbag.

And so it is with networking redundancy solutions. Many equipment purchase decisions are enhanced by an irrational fear (created by vendors) and not on actual business-risk mitigation.

The solution to this problem is simple. It’s a matter of being informed and making decisions based on facts rather than fear or emotion. While every situation is different, here a few basic tips and questions to consider when it comes to planning Internet redundancy.

1) Where is your largest risk of losing Internet connectivity?

Vendors tend to push customers toward internal hardware solutions to reduce risk.  For example, most customers want a circuit design within their servers that will allow traffic to pass should the equipment fail. Yet our polling data of our customers shows that your Internet router’s chance of catastrophic failure is about 1 percent over a three-year period.  On the other hand, your internet provider has an almost 100-percent chance of having a full-day outage during that same three-year period.

Perhaps the cost of sourcing two independent providers is prohibitive, and there is no choice but to live with this risk. All well and good, but if you are truly worried about a connectivity failure into your business, you cannot meaningfully mitigate this risk by sourcing hot failover equipment at your site.  You MUST source two separate paths to the Internet to have any significant reduction in risk.  Requiring failover on individual pieces of equipment, without complete redundancy in your network from your provider down, with all due respect, is a mitigation of political and not actual risk.

2) Do not turn on unneeded bells and whistles on your router and firewall equipment.

Many router and device failures are not absolute.  Equipment will get cranky,  slow, or belligerent based on human error or system bugs.  Although system bugs are rare when these devices are used in the default set-up, it seems turning on bells and whistles is often an irresistible enticement for a tech.  The more features you turn on, the less standard your configuration becomes, and all too often the mission of the device is pushed well beyond its original intent.  Routers doing billing systems, for example.

These “soft” failure situations are common, and the fail-over mechanism likely will not kick in, even though the device is sick and not passing traffic as intended.  I have witnessed this type of failure first-hand at major customer installations.  The failure itself is bad enough, but the real embarrassment comes from having to tell your customer that the fail-over investment they purchased is useless in a real-life situation. Fail-over systems are designed with the idea that the equipment they route around will die and go belly up like a pheasant shot point-blank with a 12-gauge shotgun.  In reality, for every “hard” failure, there are 100 system-related lock ups where equipment sputters and chokes but does not completely die.

3) Start with a high-quality Internet line.

T1 lines, although somewhat expensive, are based on telephone technology that has long been hardened and paid for. While they do cost a bit more than other solutions, they are well-engineered to your doorstep.

4) If possible, source two Internet providers and use BGP to combine them.

Since Internet providers are the usually weakest link in your connection, critical operations should consider this option first before looking to optimize other aspects of your internal circuit.

5) Make sure all your devices have good UPS sources and surge protectors.

6) What is the cost of manually moving a wire to bypass a failed piece of equipment?

Look at this option before purchasing redundancy options on single point of failure. We often see customers asking for redundant fail-over embedded in their equipment. This tends to be a strategy of purchasing hardware such as  routers, firewalls, bandwidth shapers, and access points that provide a “fail open” (meaning traffic will still pass through the device) should they catastrophically fail.  At face value, this seems like a good idea to cover your bases. Most of these devices embed a failover switch internally to their hardware.  The cost of this technology can add about $3,000 to the price of the unit.

7) If equipment is vital to your operation, you’ll need a spare unit on hand in case of failure. If the equipment is optional or used occasionally, then take it out of your network.

Again, these are just some basic tips, and your final Internet redundancy plan will ultimately depend on your specific circumstances.  But, these tips and questions should put you on your way to a decision based on facts rather than one based on unnecessary fears and concerns.

Network Access Control lease plan now available from APconnections

APconnections to Offer Managed Network Access Control with no upfront costs.

LAFAYETTE, Colo., January 6, 2009 — APconnections, a leading supplier
of plug-and-play bandwidth shaping products and the creator of the
NetEqualizer, today announced it would begin offering a network access
control management services with no upfront  costs.

The services will be targeted toward networks that typically see a
high degree of turnover among users, such as airports, hotels, and
Internet cafes. For qualifying customers, APconnections will remotely
manage access to Internet connections, leaving clients free from the
worry of regulating and distributing short-term Internet service.

The suggested initial management package will offer users the option
of utilizing a complimentary 128 kbs connection or upgrading to a
high-speed 1-megabit connection for a fee. Upon accessing the network,
users will be directed to a billing page, which will offer the two
levels of service. The content of this page will largely be determined
by the client, including the option to display advertisements from
local vendors, providing the opportunity to further increase revenues.

In addition to clients no longer having to worry about regulating
Internet access, APconnections will also be responsible for all
billing and technical support. On a monthly basis, clients will be
provided with a statement showing income and network usage.

The only cost to clients will be a pre-determined percentage of the
income from customers’ high-speed upgrades. While this service can be
provided for customers with an existing ISP, Internet service can also
be established or expanded through APconnections directly for an
additional fee.

To qualify, clients must average a set number of monthly users. A
one-month trial of the service will be offered at no charge, at the
conclusion of which a service contract must be signed.

For more information, please contact APconnections at 1-888-287-2492
or via e-mail at

APconnections is a privately held company founded in 2003 and is based
in Lafayette, Colorado.

Art Reisman
303-997-1300 extension 103
720-560-3568 cell

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