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Biggest networking myth of 2004:More bandwidth gives you better performance

See why you may not need more bandwidth afterall.

Eric Lundbohm

Why is traffic management a problem?

Corporate IT departments today are under increasing pressure to keep lines of communication open with staff, branch offices, customers, partners and suppliers. In other words, speed and efficiency count. Networks carry huge volumes of mission-critical data -- including financial, logistics, customer, inventory -- and there is little room for error. Enterprise-wide applications can be brought to a crawl by traffic jams on the network.

What's a CIO to do? Buy more bandwidth? Absolutely not.

"As bandwidth becomes more constrained, traffic engineering and prioritization become more important," says Richard "Zippy" Grigonis of CMP United Business Media. "It's a problem for large enterprises, [especially] to networks already freighted with growing data traffic."

The logic goes like this: Let's suppose that a large file download on an unmanaged network has the capability of taking over the network for 10 seconds, forcing all other applications to wait. The resulting slowdowns might lead the network manager to conclude that they need more bandwidth. However, what this network manager will find is that if they double their bandwidth, the delay drops from 10 seconds to 5 seconds. The problem is not solved; it is just shortened, at considerable cost. Not good "bang for the buck."

It is a Matter of Prioritization, Stupid

Let's go back to our example of unmanaged network. Suppose that ABC Company has a large number of customer service representatives on the phone helping customers. How many times have you – during a lull in one of these calls – heard the apology from the customer service rep: "I'm sorry the computer is very slow this afternoon?"

Companies depend on networks for their bottom line and money flows down the drain whenever business process is delayed. "It's a dollars and cents issue," according to Grigonis. "Small quality improvements can translate directly into vastly improved revenue and bigger market share."

The cost is easy to calculate. Let's do the math.

If ABC Company has 60 representatives on the phone, and they average 100 screens per hour with 5 seconds latency per screen, then each hour there is 60 x 100 x 5 seconds (or 8.3 hours) of wasted time every hour. That's 66.6 hours wasted every day.

If these folks make $20 per hour, the cost per year is nearly $350,000! Not to mention lost sales, frustrated customers and employee turnover costs.

Latest study of networking bandwidth from IDC

The fact that IDC is now focusing on "WAN Optimization" as an industry topic is verification that there are a multitude of problems in today's networks in need of effective solutions. In fact, IDC predicts that this market will nearly double in size from $238 million in 2004 to $27 million in 2008. There was further evidence of this trend at Networld+Interop 2004, the premier networking industry event, which featured a "Network Performance Zone" of vendors offering solutions to the growing problems.

The industry is starting to open its eyes to the problem. Stephen Elliot, Senior Analyst with IDC's Network Management, writes that "users are slowly recognizing that more bandwidth is not the correct long-term answer for improving WAN application performance and delivering efficient IT services to branch offices. WAN optimization tools, while tactical, are growing more important as users change their behavior toward IT service management delivery."

CIOs are certainly feeling the heat.

"WAN managers are under pressure to cost-effectively manage bandwidth cost while improving application performance, wrote Elliot. "Adding additional bandwidth to improve WAN application performance is the wrong approach as it does not provide cost efficiencies and utilization improvements."

So, what do we do?
The three Ps of networking: Proactive, priority & profit

The latest technology provides intelligence that proactively addresses network performance issues in real-time and guarantees quality of service over networks. The result is increased user-productivity and lower cost.

With this new technology, network managers and administrators can easily make networks understand the priorities of business, differentiate between types of application traffic (important or not to bottom line) and proactively manage it.

Today's networks carry more volume and more types of traffic the ever before Mission critical applications regularly compete for bandwidth -- along with frivolous or background applications -- often in a totally unmanaged environment. Just recently, bandwidth management and traffic shaping techniques are able to minimize the problem, to the extent that the network bottlenecks can be identified.

Things to look for (If you don't want to create more problems)

On the subject of monitoring, real-time monitoring should really work in one-second increments in order to be effective; much slower solutions are on the marketplace but buyer-beware.

Don't get caught in a he-said, she-said situation between hardware and software vendors. Since each likes to blame the other for problems, it is best to go with an appliance-based solution with full fail over capability; there is no need for the end-user to purchase bypass and NIC cards, and there is no bouncing back and forth on support calls between software and hardware service calls.

Select a product that is easy and quick to use. One console should service multiple shaping engines around your network. Minimal effort is the goal, and each of the above recommendations work toward this end.

After all, the idea is to reduce problems and inefficiency, not to create new challenges.



About the author:
Eric Lundbohm is a technology industry veteran who brings over 20 years of experience in management, marketing and business development to the 8e6 team. As Vice President of Marketing, he is responsible for the development and implementation of worldwide marketing initiatives. Prior to joining 8e6, Mr. Lundbohm served as Vice President of Web site Operations at Senior.com, a joint venture of PacifiCare Health Systems and Compaq Computer, and previously led PacifiCare's Competitive and Market Intelligence team. Mr. Lundbohm has a strong background in online services, having served as Director of Operations for both TRW, Inc's Credit Data Division, and Prentice Hall Online. He also led Marketing Planning for Broadway Stores, Inc, a $2.2 billion retail chain. Mr. Lundbohm holds a B.S. degree in Management Information Systems from the University of Rhode Island and an MBA in Marketing from The Ohio State University. He is a member of the Association of Internet Professionals and the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals.

About 8e6 Technologies:
8e6 Technologies is a privately held provider of appliance-based URL filtering, web-use reporting, IM/P2P control and bandwidth management solutions. Since 1995, 8e6 has provided scalable network solutions to enterprise, SMB and education consumers worldwide. Located in Orange, California, 8e6 assists its customers in reducing liability, improving employee productivity and preserving network resources. For more information regarding 8e6 Technologies, visit our Web site at www.8e6.com.

Monitoring tools should be a high priority. But, the tools should allow the observer to effectively find and "fix" network bottlenecks. Some solutions just assume that you have a monitoring tool and don't allow visibility into the network.

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