Fast internet requires sufficient bandwidth — the amount of data that can be sent over a specific connection in a given amount of time. That’s key to every aspect of the connected office. Having enough bandwidth is important for collaboration, videoconferencing and customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning applications, for example.
Bandwidth capacity and bandwidth bottlenecks are affected by many factors: the number of people in your office using your business’s internet connection, the number of devices connected to the network, the applications you run, the network equipment you use and the type of internet service you have.
How can a small business optimize bandwidth and minimize bottlenecks to support? Consider taking these steps:
1. Manage Bandwidth Usage Via Quality of Service Protocols
You need to ensure quality of service (QoS) for your high-priority data applications. QoS solutions let you define the applications and functions that get the best service on the network.
There are a number of QoS technologies. Classification tools identify traffic to ensure network devices know how to prioritize data; queues reserve bandwidth and prioritize traffic via device buffers as it enters or leaves a network device; and policing stops applications from using more bandwidth than they are allocated. Shaping uses software to set a limit on the bandwidth transmission rate for a class of data, and if more traffic has to be sent than is permitted, the excess is buffered and prioritized as it leaves the buffer. End-to-end QoS solutions are available from vendors including Cisco.
Software-defined WANs (SD-WANs) add QoS to any number and combination of different types of access lines. SD-WAN helps stabilize internet connections to maximize QoS. Companies including Cisco, Citrix and VMware offer load-balancing SD-WAN appliances and edge devices.
2. Optimize WAN Traffic for More Efficient Broadband
More businesses are choosing to move to SD-WAN rather than continue to use traditional network protocols. The SD-WAN market is growing at 37 percent annually, according Gartner.
SD-WANs aggregate broadband connections (both private and public) together to increase bandwidth, automatically accommodating changes such as peak demand. SD-WANs don’t negate the need for WAN optimization technologies, though. Additional performance is still necessary for specific applications or remote locations. Sixty-seven percent of U.S. respondents to a 2018 Frost & Sullivan global survey said they want WAN optimization as an integrated function with SD-WAN.
WAN optimization, also known as WAN acceleration, makes sure data packets move along a WAN intact, secure and in the least amount of time for the greatest efficiency. The technology eliminates unnecessary congestion. You also can avoid buying more bandwidth when you use WAN optimization technology. Among companies that provide this technology are Cisco, Citrix, Fortinet Silver Peak, and VMware.
3. Schedule Bandwidth Usage Based on Business Activities
You need to know how your bandwidth is being used to know how to appropriately apply QoS to support your critical business activities. That’s where bandwidth traffic monitoring solutions come in. They collect, monitor, analyze and report about what your network is being used for and by whom. You can monitor network traffic volume by user endpoint, port, interface and application in real time and review historical trends to identify bottlenecks and plan capacity according to your business needs. PRTG and SolarWinds have solutions in this category.
When it comes to scheduling bandwidth usage, best practices dictate that you should keep many ongoing operational activities to business downtimes. Run your backups in the evenings, for instance, if that’s when your network isn’t being taxed by users and workloads. Or patch all your systems in one big heap over one weekend every month.
4. Take Advantage of the Cloud for Bandwidth Flexibility
There are many good reasons to move some of your workloads to a cloud like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform or VMware vCloud Air. One of them is the bandwidth flexibility you gain to deal with changes in traffic. You can easily scale bandwidth up or down depending on your needs.
Cost savings come along with that flexibility, which means a lot to small to medium-sized businesses. With the cloud, you pay only for the bandwidth you need. You can avoid expensive and complex infrastructure upgrades.
However, in some instances you may experience distance-related bandwidth and latency issues for offsite applications. An answer for that is to take advantage of multiple public clouds to run multiple instances of an application from two or more locations.
Using a hybrid cloud — one that mixes on-premises, private and public clouds — helps with application bandwidth issues too. For instance, hosting high-bandwidth applications in a private cloud avoids the problem that comes when they are hosted offsite in a public cloud behind a firewall; too much traffic can affect performance in this situation.
5. Limit Access to Nonbusiness Websites for Bandwidth Conservation
It isn’t necessary to prohibit employees from using the network for personal use entirely. But it’s wise to limit their usage of bandwidth-hogging sites like Netflix and Spotify, or even to block them.
One solution to limit hours of access and throttle down bandwidth is to use administrative tools found in routers from companies like Aruba Networks, Cisco and Fortinet. Don’t forget the policy aspect of all this, either. Put in writing what is and isn’t acceptable about the use of certain apps and services, and the protocols to follow when access to them is allowed.
As you can see, you have a lot of options to optimize bandwidth, and you should take advantage of them. After all, better bandwidth is better for business.