Managing Limited Bandwidth Concerns

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Do your small business customers have big bandwidth concerns? Nick Smarrelli, COO of GadellNet Consulting Services, guides solution providers on how to coach their clients on ways to lessen their load, by identifying — and managing — the trouble zones. GadellNet is a small business IT consulting firm specializing in managed services, hosted desktops/servers, network engineering and application integration.— Jennifer Bosavage

As Web sites get larger, cloud computing becomes more prevalent, and free sites such as Pandora, YouTube and Spotify pervade the desktops of small business employees, businesses very quickly run the risk of having consumption exceed capacity. In fact, according to a study by networking giant Cisco, global IP traffic will increase by more than fourfold by 2014.

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The rise in data-rich applications has caused a twofold market reaction. In the small business networking space, hardware companies have moved quickly from gigabit Ethernet to support 100 gbps connectivity options. However, internet service providers (ISPs) are now threatening to create caps on data, and are already piloting those programs in select areas nationwide. The all-you-can-eat bandwidth may be something of the past if ISPs have their way. But most importantly, interruptions to your bandwidth limit your IT resources, create business instability and ultimately, have revenue implications. So how can business leaders keep their teams productive?

With more and more IT functions moving to cloud-based applications, the most important two items of success are high-bandwidth and low latency. And even with limited bandwidth, both can be controlled by effective use of technology and proper policy creation.

For small businesses, there may be a decision to make. Does it make sense to invest in the fastest networking hardware and fiber connectivity to keep up with the pace of both personal and business applications? Or, does it make more sense to identify the cause of your bandwidth increases, identify which are value add (either from a human resources or from a business operations perspective), cut the waste and limit those that do not bring value to the small business organization? It may be a delicate combination of the two.

To find this right balance, simple remedies can be created to manage the existing network to ensure optimal performance and unnecessary clutter in your network. Here are the three steps toward that goal.

Visibility. It is said that what cannot be measured, cannot be fixed. In the case of IT professionals managing a network, analyzing user utilization and applying controls is the easiest way to stay ahead of the bandwidth game. There are a myriad of products on the market now that facilitate data gathering and application of controls, depending on the size and scope of your business. Often, bandwidth issues occur at a certain time of the day so with network monitoring, one can expect to see historical increases in bandwidth at similar times. Ignore occasional spikes, but rather, focus on average usage across the day or sustained spikes (several minutes at a time) to identify this baseline.

Improve. Take your baseline of activity and analyze traffic, usage and latency bottlenecks and identify root causes. Review applications that are robbing bandwidth, settings that are set up incorrectly and user activities that are limiting your resources. Make sure to switch configurations that are currently at factory default to improve efficiency. And, if needed, migrate to new network equipment technology that will increase bandwidth and be far easier to troubleshoot in the long run. Finally, work with your ISP. Often, regional or local completion from ISPs has ensured that additional bandwidth is available, often, for the same, if not a nominal increase, costs as in your existing contract.

Manage. Create a communications mechanism to disseminate policy around technology usage. Often, users have no idea that they are severely affecting the network with their daily activities. If needed, implement web filtration and user controls if policies and procedures don’t limit employee access. Recently, Proctor & Gamble led the way with banning employees from using bandwidth hog programs, such as Pandora and Netflix. Other companies have allowed streaming access in “off-hours” (inclusive of lunch and before or after work) to promote a happy work environment, without limiting bandwidth. Finally, segment your traffic on multiple networks — critical business applications on one, and Web browsing on another — to ensure continuity of business operations while still allowing for employee freedom.

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