9 Bandwidth Hogs: Reality Vs. Myth

Which user activities are actually eating up your bandwidth and clogging the network, and which can you ignore?

Kevin Casey

January 25, 2013

10 Slides

There's an English-language idiom that warns against the perils of greed: "Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered." It's a cautionary phrase, a pork-centric version of "Quit while you're ahead." There's an IT translation here when it comes to matters of network performance, bandwidth consumption and related technology resource issues. Usage is inevitable, but beware the usage hogs. Failing to identify and deal with them proactively can cause problems across a network.

"The downsides are simple," said Stephane Bourque, CEO of Incognito Software. "Not understanding and managing data hogs will eventually lead to service degradation for those that reflect the more normal usage patterns."

For Bourque, most roads these days lead back to video. In his view, it's the most gluttonous of data hogs, and as a result the one most likely to cause headaches. Bourque's firm counts multiple system operators (MSOs) -- industry-speak for the cable companies -- and other Internet service providers (ISPs) among its customers. Video delivered via the Web is the application that keeps their executives up at night.

The same principle holds true on a much smaller scale. Small and midsize businesses (SMBs), many of whom rely on those same ISPs for broadband access, can experience usage and performance problems when a handful of hogs gobble up the majority of their network resources.

Video might be the biggest culprit, but it's not the only one. Businesses do so much online these days -- voice, email, productivity, accounting and customer service -- that there are constant demands on corporate bandwidth and related resources. Although the hogs themselves might be applications, it is almost always users who are generating the bandwidth-eating activity. That doesn't make them bad people, per se. There's a decent chance the offending employees don't even realize they're doing anything "wrong." But on a company network with limited resources, they are.

Among the problems that can occur as a result, according to Bourque: "Slower access speeds, pixelation on [video] services, more calls to the help center, [and] poorer [wireless] Internet access." Network monitoring and measurement is important. "[Adminstrators] need to be able to point the finger at the right source when the problem occurs. Not measuring may cause you to wrongly diagnose the source of the problem," Bourque said. "Measuring could also allow a provider to take proactive steps and perform network re-balancing in such a way to dissipate bandwidth hogs' effect on the network."

Legitimate hogs, such as business-critical applications that employees can't do their job without, could be mitigated with a virtual LAN or another method of segregating users. A creative department that works with and moves a high volume of large media files -- video included, of course -- could effectively be set apart from the rest of the organization, for example.

Then there are the less-than-legitimate bandwidth hogs. The employee who co-opts the corporate network to download high-definition movies or watch YouTube videos might not just be a productivity problem, but an IT problem as well. Even applications that might be acceptable for some employees, such as listening to music while working, might cause an issue when streamed online. Whether productive or not, such usage can be effectively managed by putting "the proper policies in place to address the behavior," Bourque said.

At the same time, IT pros could waste time and energy trying to solve problems that might better be left alone. We asked Bourque to weigh in on a variety of likely bandwidth hogs and help sort reality from myth. Read on to find out what might be bogging down your network.

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