Traffic shaping helps cure network congestion woes

Traffic shaping and caching technologies can help ease - and dramatically lower - network congestion.

The typical enterprise network is becoming a more and more crowded place. Every day, a new video sharing site, communications platform or Web 2.0 wonder pops up and claims its share of bandwidth. Traffic shaping, or prioritising data transmissions based on type and user, is now a critical tool for many network administrators.

Those with congested networks shouldn't feel bad: Industry analyst group Nemertes Research recently published its findings that the entire Internet may soon hit some bottlenecks, so at least congested companies are not alone. In fact, the two problems may have quite a lot in common.

"The edge of the Internet acts like a LAN," said Mike Jude, senior analyst at Nemertes. "It turns out there is a fair amount of concern about the degree to which extraneous traffic is choking corporate networks."

Jude identified a few key sectors -- universities, enterprises and government entities -- that were among the first to feel the crunch, but it is a concern across the board for administrators, he said.

Often, the best approach is to study traffic patterns and then suggest policies, he said. Are large emails draining bandwidth? Is YouTube slowing your network connection? This kind of data is invaluable when planning your attack strategy.

Fortunately for network administrators, there are several products in the market that help dedicate bandwidth where it is needed. Typically, they allow administrators to prioritise certain traffic - such as VoIP or videoconferencing - above other, less important services, such as Internet radio.

Jude said that one of the keys to making such a traffic shaping implementation work successfully was adapting it to the network's needs.

"One of the things that you're not really sure of is if your employees are using YouTube to talk to each other ... there may be some real business legitimacy to that [which] management might not immediately see," he said. So banning YouTube outright could actually hurt efficiency.

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