Bandwidth management refers to the process of optimizing the bandwidth that carries traffic over networks. Bandwidth—the amount of data transferred over a communication channel in a specific amount of time—can be controlled by bandwidth management tools, which often are referred to as traffic or packet shapers. These tools enable network managers to control communications by allowing high-priority traffic to utilize more bandwidth than something given a lower priority status. Business-critical applications, including e-commerce transactions, are dependent upon successful bandwidth management.
The need for bandwidth management has significantly increased since the mid-1990s as more information is transferred over the Internet in increasingly diverse formats. Key factors that led to its development include
- the growing number of new users added to networks
- the popularity of streaming media applications, which allow users to listen to radio stations or view video clips via the Internet
- the development of peer-to-peer Web sites, such as Napster, that allow file-swapping over the Internet
- and the rise of e-commerce applications.
As online traffic and the demand for media-rich and e-business applications grows, a network without successful bandwidth management tools in place can experience severe bottlenecks or slowdowns.
Controlling bandwidth is important for Internet service providers (ISPs), application service providers (ASPs), hosting service providers (HSPs), and other networked enterprises. ISPs, for example, can pinpoint how much bandwidth a member is using for billing purposes to ensure an adequate amount of bandwidth is allocated for such transactions. For ASPs and HSPs, bandwidth management can ensure that critical software applications and solution-based operations have network resources available. Wide-area networks, intranets, and extranets use bandwidth management to control network traffic and ensure that business-critical applications have the necessary resources.
BANDWIDTH MANAGEMENT TOOLS
Instead of adding additional bandwidth to networks to solve bottleneck problems—a short-term solution that is rather costly—network managers use bandwidth management tools or packet and traffic shapers to control bandwidth allocation. These tools identify and prioritize packets that carry information through networks. For instance, when university networks experienced problems in the late 1990s and early 2000s as students began using campus resources to share music via Napster, network administrators avoided purchasing more bandwidth or restricting access to their sites by using tools that would slow access to sites like Napster and give priority to academic requests on the network.
These tools also enable network managers to identify network traffic patterns, establish priorities, optimize application performance, and allocate resources. PacketShaper, a popular tool developed by bandwidth management technology pioneer Packeteer Inc., is able to optimize bandwidth by categorizing network traffic based on application, protocol, subnet, and URL, allowing managers to prioritize requests on the network. PacketShaper also analyzes networks to determine efficiency and bandwidth allocation; enables managers to look at system reports and statistics; and allows them to control traffic and optimize critical application performance. For example, PacketShaper gives online businesses the ability to allocate more bandwidth to e-commerce transaction traffic than to less important applications.
Other popular tools on the market in 2001 included Intel's NetStructure 7340 Traffic Shaper and the Packeteer PacketShaper/ISP. These tools allow ISPs to prioritize and optimize network bandwidth by controlling levels and limiting server bandwidth. The Intel NetStructure 7370 Application Shaper is another management system that enables ASPs and HSPs to control the quality of application services and monitor resources. Allot Communication also offers a Virtual Bandwidth Manager (VMB), which allows corporate networks to remotely control bandwidth by accessing a VMB unit at a service provider office.
As the number of Internet users continues to increase and demand for media-rich and peer-to-peer applications rises, bandwidth management will continue to play a role in network management. However, finding a management solution is not always an easy task. While there are many tools on the market, the continual evolution of technology, including e-commerce applications, can make network management a tough chore. In a February 2001 Communicate article, Packeteer Director of Market Development Greg Dalvell explained that "emerging multimedia applications delivering streaming video or audio content on a peer-to-peer basis threaten to consume vast amounts of Internet bandwidth at the expense of less hungry but more critical tasks." The same article also indicates that "the e-business issue is compounding the problems by effectively extending networks beyond internal firewalls, making performance and availability even harder to gauge." As a result, network managers continue to look for and utilize solutions that optimize bandwidth in order to avoid bottlenecks and ensure that enough resources are allocated to business-critical applications.
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SEE ALSO: Application Service Provider (ASP); Bandwidth; Broadband Technology; Internet Service Provider (ISP); Multimedia; Streaming Media