Bandwidth -- it is all about control

Throwing bandwidth at applications, in order to improve response times and keep networks running smoothly, is a critical mistake that a lot of ICT departments make today.

According to a report from research company, The Yankee Group, entitled "Traffic management: optimizing the enterprise network for maximum business value", adding more bandwidth may only improve the response of nonessential applications.

"It does not guarantee that the bandwidth will be available to the applications that need it the most," comments The Yankee Group.

The growing importance of applications has introduced a new set of challenges for enterprise network managers.

"Maintaining network device availability has become a relatively smooth process, however, companies are now increasingly faced with the challenge of optimizing application performance and availability," comments Wolfgang Held, network consultant at 3Com.

For some organizations, a single event such as deploying a new application or relocating servers seems to precipitate the decline.

Indeed, these changes in application and network environments have the potential to wreak havoc. And although diverse, these changes share one key characteristics -- they all cause more traffic to traverse the network with varying requirements.

"With WANs now open to business partners, customers and mobile and remote workers, and supporting more critical applications as well as VoIP, network managers are faced with the burden of optimizing and managing all these diverse applications, without compromising network performance," says Held.

So, it comes as no surprise that network managers are adding more and more bandwidth - to no avail.

The problem is that critical applications are not necessarily the ones that get the most access to extra capacity: usually it is the less urgent bandwidth-hungry applications that monopolize increased bandwidth. "More bandwidth is not the answer, effective management is," he says.

Effective traffic management, which involves a combination of detailed application discovery and performance monitoring, will establish QoS (quality of service) policies, traffic shaping and compression.

Also, edge LAN switches, which have multi-layer traffic classification capabilities, can be highly effective in controlling application streams from the edge of the network.

"Indeed, QoS policies help network managers to prioritize traffic based on its relative performance in the business. And, although this approach is not necessarily foolproof, it does counter some of high-priority application performance degradation," says Held.

Another important step, he adds, is to implement a security infrastructure that will prevent not only viruses, worms or other hybrid threats from crippling your network, but will also keep out unsolicited documents, audio and other bandwidth-hungry network applications.

For example, by deploying the networking security standard, 802.1x network managers can gain more control over who's entering their networks. "This in turn optimizes traffic management and again counters the loss of valuable bandwidth," he concludes.