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4 Bandwidth Management Tips For SMBs

An expert explains how to identify and eliminate data hogs from your company's network.

10 Windows Ultrabooks: Not Just For SMBs
10 Windows Ultrabooks: Not Just For SMBs
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Is your office gorging on gigabytes? It might be time for a data diet.

That's particularly true for small businesses and remote employees that rely on consumer broadband connections. The movement toward usage-based billing is afoot, and bandwidth-intensive users might soon find themselves facing hefty bills from their Internet service provider (ISP).

Usage-based or metered broadband is indeed coming, according to Stephane Bourque, CEO of Incognito Software. His company counts multiple system operators, or MSOs--industry-speak for cable companies such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable--among its customers.

Bourque said those ISPs are focusing their metering efforts on residential customers, especially the relatively small segment of users that consumes a disproportionate amount of data over their networks. Bourque noted a preliminary step for smaller businesses concerned about metered broadband: Switch to a commercial or business account. You'll pay a premium but get plenty of bandwidth and better service, Bourque said.

[ Read 4 Uses For Videoconferencing Beyond Cutting Costs. ]

But even "unlimited" bandwidth, in fact, has its limits. If your entire office is simultaneously streaming the Olympics at their desks, for example, you shouldn’t expect optimal network performance. (In that scenario, you probably shouldn't expect optimal people performance, either.)

Bandwidth boondoggles are often created by simple ignorance. "Most people don't know what applications use [the most bandwidth]," Bourque said in an interview. He shined a light on the four applications or activities that suck up the most bandwidth--and that might be bogging down your network as a result.

1. Video. Online video is the clear culprit when it comes to bandwidth hogs. "It’s all about video," Bourque said. Most types of Internet browsing won’t crush your network or get you anywhere near an ISP’s bandwidth cap. "Video will, and it will do it very quickly," Bourque said.

Bourque's recommendation: Block video sites such as Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu unless employees need them for business purposes. He added that this can be done relatively easily via the firewall or other software. Actively managing video alone will significantly reduce bandwidth consumption, Bourque said.

Of course, there are plenty of productive business uses for video, such as videoconferencing. For those, Bourque advised taking steps to minimize the data consumption over your own network. Example: Use a cloud-based videoconferencing platform rather than acting as the central host yourself. If you must host, consider using lower-resolution video feeds--high-definition consumes much more bandwidth.

2. Music. Music stored and played locally isn't an issue from a bandwidth standpoint. Applications such as Pandora, on the other hand, can be, particularly true if employees turn them on and leave them running continuously. "Internet radio is a big culprit as well," Bourque said. "10 or 15 minutes won’t kill anything. 24-7 for an entire month? That will add up."

Recommendation: You don’t need to be heavy-handed about listening to music at work, but encourage employees to do so locally rather than over the Web. If it becomes a problem, consider restricting access as with video sites.

3. Large file types. Video and music are easily the fattest bandwidth hogs, but they're not the only ones. SMBs that deal with a heavy volume of large file types can run into problems, too. It depends on the infrastructure and applications SMBs use; if you host your own email, for example, you're servicing every attachment someone sends and resends (and resends).

Recommendation: If large files are business as usual, embrace the cloud for email, collaboration, file-sharing, and the like. That way, your network typically only handles the file once--then it's someone else's problem, so to speak. Bourque used Google's Gmail as an example. "I will transfer a file only once to the Google servers," he said. "If I then send 25 copies of this file to 25 people, that cost is taken on by Google's servers. Using the right applications can greatly lower your costs and also improve your reliability."

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Casual Web surfing isn't a major concern. Bourque includes social media in that category--Facebook and Twitter use will have a relatively minimal impact on bandwidth consumption except in the most unusual of scenarios. An employee checking out his Facebook news feed might be slacking on the job, but he's probably not crushing the company network.

"Worry more about productivity than the actual data costs," Bourque said.

SMBs have saved big buying software on a subscription model. The new, all-digital Cloud Beyond SaaS issue of InformationWeek SMB shows how to determine if infrastructure services can pay off, too. Also in this issue: One startup's experience with infrastructure-as-a-service shows how the numbers stack up for IaaS vs. internal IT. (Free registration required.)

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