What is bandwidth?

In computing networks, bandwidth refers to the capacity of a wired or wireless network communications link to transmit the maximum amount of data from one point to another over a computer network or internet connection in a given amount of time.

Estimates are usually measured in seconds, and provide an output in bits per second (bps) or its multiples, such as Kilobits per second (Kbps), Megabits per second (Mbps), or Gigabits per second (Gbps). Think of it as water flowing through a pipe — the bigger the pipe diameter, more water can flow through in any given period of time.

Another way to imagine bandwidth is like a highway with cars: if each batch of data is a car trying to get from point A to B, bandwidth determines how many cars can get there at once. More lanes allow more vehicles to travel simultaneously; similarly more bandwidth allows larger amounts of data to transfer concurrently.

In most businesses that rely on smooth, uninterrupted digital communication, knowing how these informational ‘highways’ work and how best to manage them is critical.

Importance of bandwidth management

Bandwidth is a crucial business resource. Without proper management, data congestion can occur, which leads to problems in business operations and user experience. But there are plenty more reasons why efficient bandwidth management is so important. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Prioritizing traffic

On the road, traffic lights manage the flow of vehicles. In the virtual world, not all internet traffic has the same priority level. For example, an email being sent does not require the same immediate attention as a live video conference call. One of the primary responsibilities of bandwidth management is prioritization of different data streams according to their criticality and urgency. As a result, latency-sensitive tasks are given higher priority to ensure smooth functioning without delays.

Traffic shaping

Another key function of bandwidth management is traffic shaping: regulating network data transfer to ensure reliable execution of vital applications. This technique involves delaying some packets (‘chunks’ of data), while favoring others. By controlling queue lengths or setting rate limits based on predetermined policy rules, IT teams can prevent protocol choke points or server overloads from ‘bursty’ sources.

Fair usage

In shared networks with multiple users vying for resources, there’s always the risk of dominance by heavy users monopolizing most connection capacity. Implementing fair usage policies ensures everyone gets their fair share of access while preventing so-called “bandwidth hogs”. Essentially, it allows for impartial distribution, making fair usage an important aspect of bandwidth management for overall network health.

Peak and off-peak usage

There are times during the day when a network experiences surges in demand (peak hours). These are interspersed with periods of comparatively low activity (off-peak hours). Being able to detect these patterns enables distributors to better allocate resources according to demand, rather than taking on unnecessary, additional capacity expenses at all times.

Security

Having firm control over bandwidth supports enhanced security measures against threats, like DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. By identifying and limiting suspicious traffic patterns, bandwidth management plays an instrumental role in fortifying cybersecurity defenses.

Understanding how bandwidth management works

The term “bandwidth management” might bring to mind a traffic officer, managing the flow and direction of vehicles. Likewise, bandwidth management works to control network congestion, prioritize data packets, and prevent unwanted traffic. 

Without regulation in the form of bandwidth management, heavier data would bully their way through while lighter ones would struggle.

Now imagine introducing a system of traffic lights and road signs (software for bandwidth control), speed limits (rate limiting), and lanes designated by vehicle type (traffic prioritization). All these elements work together to ensure fair usage, security, and efficient use of resources.

These commands given by our hypothetical traffic system reflect what a bandwidth manager does in controlling data flow in a network. Now let’s go beyond metaphor and examine how bandwidth management operates practically:

  1. Traffic monitoring: The first step in bandwidth management involves observing all data-transfers over a particular network — identifying who is using what and how much.
  2. Policy creation: Rules or policies are set based on requirements; for example, VoIP calls may be prioritized over emails during peak business hours.
  3. Policy enforcement: A bandwidth control system employs these rules uniformly across the network.
  4. Periodic review and adjustment: Network needs change over time; hence policies must be reviewed periodically to ensure optimal performance.

Although it may seem complex at first glance, understanding the process of bandwidth management is easier when you focus on one task at a time: traffic monitoring, policy determination, enforcement mechanisms, and review processes. These are the logical steps to how bandwidth management works.

Benefits of bandwidth management

Effective bandwidth management comes with significant benefits that can improve the experience of network users, and the efficiency and productivity of the network’s performance. Here are the three top benefits of bandwidth management done right:

Optimized network performance

Making sure that high-priority tasks receive ample bandwidth helps them to run smoothly and efficiently. If you’re streaming educational videos for a company team, or running big data analytics, efficient bandwidth management prevents interruptions that could cause significant setbacks in business functions and workflows.

Enhanced productivity

With little to no network lags or downtime caused by congested traffic, your organization will become more efficient and productive. Dependable internet connectivity paves the way for smooth collaboration between team members, making it possible to share ideas and work on joint projects without undue disruption.

Equitable network access 

When multiple users depend on the same source for their internet connection — such as public Wi-Fi at airports or large organizations — managing available bandwidth in the proper manner ensures that each user gets a fair chance at network access.

Key concepts: traffic shaping, rate limiting, and QoS

Some common terms in bandwidth management include traffic shaping, rate limiting, and Quality of Service (QoS). Getting to know these essential concepts is an important part of  understanding bandwidth management.

Traffic shaping

Traffic shaping refers to the process in which data packets (the format in which information is processed over the internet) are controlled to optimize or guarantee performance. This process can decrease latency and prevent packet loss, ensuring that your network keeps running efficiently.

Case in point: Streaming services may use traffic shaping to deliver smoother video playback by reducing buffering times.

Rate limiting

Rate limiting is closely related but distinctly different from traffic shaping. This technique controls the amount of data a network connection can transfer within a specific time frame using a software bandwidth limiter.

Case in point: Email servers may have thousands of incoming emails every second. Implementing a rate limit can prevent system overload by allowing only a certain number per minute.

Quality Of Service (QoS)

QoS comprises specific technologies designed to help manage network resources effectively. It sets preferences for how much transmission capacity each application on your network requires, based on their criticality or sensitivity. QoS is geared towards maintaining high-quality functioning across activities, such as VoIP calls or streaming, while still running background applications smoothly. In essence, QoS helps deliver consistent performance for the most critical network traffic, ensuring an improved user experience.

Case in point: If you’re hosting an important video conference call while transferring large files in the background, QoS would ensure that the former activity takes precedence over the latter for optimal output.

Bandwidth management by Atera: features explained

Atera’s all-in-one IT management platform includes bandwidth manager software, with a range of features to make managing your network traffic and performance so much easier.

Round-the-clock monitoring

Atera’s 24/7 monitoring system provides constant surveillance over your network, ensuring smooth operations and identifying any potential issues before they escalate. This gives you full control of your bandwidths, ensuring optimal utilization at all times.

Detailed network insights

The more information you have about your network usage patterns, the better decisions you can make concerning allocation and optimization. Atera offers detailed insights into network activity and performance, supporting high-quality router bandwidth control. Detailed reporting helps you better understand your data flow and make informed optimizations that bring results.

Remote management 

Organizations operate differently; some may require onsite infrastructure maintenance while others could do just fine remotely. Catering to both, Atera’s remote management feature allows admins to modify settings or deploy updates without being physically present in the office or workspace.

Ready to test drive Atera for your bandwidth management and other cross-organizational IT needs? Start your free trial today.

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