Demand for Video Sparks Need for Improved Bandwidth Management

If the World Cup taught network administrators anything, it's that the demand for video is maxing out bandwidth, leaving them scrambling to better manage resources.

By Drew Robb | Posted Sep 7, 2010
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Tracking bandwidth usage and destinations is a major headache for organizations of all sizes - particularly as the planet grows accustomed to video as an everyday application across multiple devices.

During the 2010 World Cup, for example, network traffic peaked in many nations as employees turned to online streaming video services to watch soccer matches taking place during normal office hours. Clearly, massive pressure is being placed on enterprise networks by YouTube, iPlayer or the myriad of niche services and BitTorrent video sites.

When Spain and Holland contested the World Cup Final, average bandwidth consumption in Spain jumped to 95 percent: over five times predicted; and Holland saw bandwidth use hit 97 percent during key matches. Overall, Europe-wide bandwidth use almost doubled from 40 percent to 76 percent, and even the US was caught up in football fever with bandwidth use rising to 77 percent during key matches. Networks over the world were overloaded, and typical problems reported by network administrators were: network disruption, pressure on Internet connectivity, constrained WAN connectivity, heightened security risks from users visiting un-trusted and unknown sites and loss of productivity with matches taking place during business hours.

"Broadband and WAN connectivity is not free, and the cost of that bandwidth should be for business processes and productivity, rather than non-work, high-bandwidth casual surfing that can compromise the efficiency and safety of the enterprise network and the devices attached to it," said Marina Gil-Santamaria, director of product marketing management for Ipswitch's Network Management Division.

What is required is visibility into which users, applications and protocols are consuming bandwidth. This is valuable in three areas: detecting non-work related activities that place a strain on network resources; Network-Based Application Recognition (NBAR) to ensure quality of service received by all applications; and tracking traffic anomalies and real-time alerting on bandwidth usage violations to detect the introduction of viruses and worms into the corporate network, so you can quickly block the offender and protect the network.

"You will be amazed at the number of times a slow network issue is actually caused by John Smith down in Finance watching too many videos and consuming all the network bandwidth," said Gil-Santamaria.

While the World Cup is over, there are always plenty of major sporting events just on the horizon. Consider what happened during the 2008 Olympic Games. NBC opted to concentrate its live coverage online due to time zone constraints. As a result, NBCOlympics.com served up more than 1.2 billion pages and 72 million video streams during the 2008 Summer Games. And a whole lot of that traffic streamed into offices throughout America.

Whatever the sport, the popularization of video streaming sites has made it possible for employees to never miss a game, even during work hours.

"Companies can experience bandwidth chokes and even outages during highly publicized sports matches, in addition to exposing them to security threats," said Gil-Santamaria. "Organizations of all sizes should be monitoring and analyzing their network traffic and bandwidth usage."

Mission-critical applications including ERP, for instance, can be intelligently identified and classified using NBAR. They can be guaranteed a certain amount of bandwidth at all times. Similarly, Internet gaming applications or MP3 file sharing applications can also be classified using NBAR and blocked if desired. "You also need to monitor network traffic and go deeper into traffic flows to ascertain which users, applications, protocols and traffic sources are generating traffic and consuming bandwidth,' said Gil-Santamaria.

Traditional approaches based on using SNMP to query a network device to collect network statistics are a good starting point, but they are not enough, she said. A flow monitoring tool such as WhatsUp Gold Flow Monitor goes deeper into traffic flows (including NetFlow, sFlow, J-Flow, IPFIX or Cisco's newest NetFlow implementation available on the ASA product line called NetFlow Secure Event Logging (NSEL).

Another point is to look for a network traffic management tool that is protocol-agnostic. After all, there are plenty of older devices out there that are non-natively flow enabled.

Gil-Santamaria said that WhatsUp Gold Flow Publisher provides have visibility into every device and for every network segment without having to upgrade the hardware. It captures raw network traffic from any source, and converts it into standard NetFlow records.

"WhatsUp Gold Flow Monitor and Flow Publisher together make flow monitoring possible for every network segment and for every device in your network, so you can gain complete visibility into which users, applications, protocols and traffic sources are consuming bandwidth anywhere in the network," she said.

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