Bandwidth hogs: What's on your network?
As the data piles up, admins are facing a bandwidth crunch
Data growth, like death and taxes, is a given. And data growth, as any network administrator will tell you, comes with an increased need for bandwidth.
According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2011-2016, “annual global IP traffic will surpass the zettabyte threshold (1.3 zettabytes) by the end of 2016. In 2016, global IP traffic will reach 1.3 zettabytes per year or 109.5 exabytes per month.” Overall, IP traffic was expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 29 percent from 2011 to 2016. A growing amount of that traffic is coming from non-PC devices, with as much as 31 percent of traffic originating from non-PC devices by 2016. Meanwhile, by the same year, traffic from wireless devices will exceed traffic coming from wired devices, with mobile and Wi-Fi devices accounting for a whopping 61 percent of all IP traffic.
There are several factors pushing this growth. One driver is the bring-your-own-device trend, which allows end users to access an organization’s data and network using a personal device, and it’s a trend that’s catching on, according to a recent Gartner study, “User Survey Analysis: Impact of Mobile Devices on Network and Data Center Infrastructure.” According to the study, 90 percent of enterprises have already deployed mobile devices, and they are supporting their employees’ devices, too.
Another major driver in IP growth, at least for some, might be unified communications (UC). “From our data…the number of remote users and those working from home has increased 33 percent,” said Andre Kindness, an analyst at Forrester Research. “The knee-jerk reaction is, ‘Let’s get a bigger box,’ but the problem is most people don’t have the money to do it.” There are options, however, that can help network administrators handle the increased bandwidth load.
Making it work
A better option, Kindness said, is for network administrators to focus on monitoring and shaping traffic to better use the bandwidth they already have.
It’s fairly easy to prioritize UC activities such as voice, streaming video and virtual desktop infrastructure traffic — all of which are highly sensitive to latency issues — and let less critical traffic such as e-mail or Web activity move as bandwidth allows, said Jim Frey, managing research director at Enterprise Management Associates. “E-mail traffic can wait five or eight seconds,” he said.
That requires network professionals to make better use of networking tools. Although that might sound like common sense, only a small percentage of network professionals are using network tools even on a limited basis. That is mostly due to the fact that network professionals don’t always understand what’s out there or how to use what they already own, according to Kindness. “Ten years ago, you needed multiple tools, but now monitoring has [morphed] from fault-finding to analytics.” And network professionals need to catch up, he said.
Because network refreshes are also a given, some forward-thinking network managers are taking a different path during a planned upgrade, overhauling their networks and flattening them from three-tier to two-tier Layer 2 networks. There are two big advantages to that strategy. “You get better throughput and it’s a simpler architecture, so you buy fewer boxes and the boxes you do have get used more fully,” Frey said.
The challenge with this strategy, however, is that with flatter network fabrics it often makes sense to stick with one vendor. The time to do that is during a consolidation project when everything is being swapped out, Frey said. “Consolidation activities tend to have very strong cost savings over time so they are usually very easy to justify,” he said.