Few cell phone users have access to unlimited data and bandwidth anymore, but is it time for the enterprise to start exerting more control over its workers’ consumption as well?
To date, bandwidth has not been that much of a problem for the enterprise, because most data transfers were either small enough to fit comfortably within the network footprint or could be broken up and conveyed over time. But with the advent of video chatting, P2P communications, and other real-time, rich media applications, bandwidth is turning into a valuable commodity on both internal and external infrastructure.
In a recent interview with Beta News, Adaptiva founder and CTO Deepak Kumar cited IDG research that claimed average enterprise bandwidth consumption is on pace to expand by 28 percent per year through 2017, which means that in two short years, your network will be more than 50 percent larger than it is today. Failure to put controls on bandwidth usage might cause consumption to rise to about 3 Mbps per user, which is about 20 times the level of 2012. The question is whether the enterprise should simply put a hard cap on usage—perhaps limiting productivity—or take the harder road of instituting a wide-ranging management scheme that incorporates high visibility and flexible allocation policies.
The good news is that, on the wide area at least, broadband network speeds are increasing. According to the latest FCC report, the average maximum advertised speed in September of 2014 (the FCC takes its sweet time compiling data, apparently; maybe they need more bandwidth) was 72 Mbps, nearly double the rate of the previous year. Actual reported download speeds averaged about 31 Mbps, more than three times the rate of 2011, while uploads came in at 9 Mbps, also triple the 2011 speed. True to form, however, users also showed a propensity to require more speed no matter how much they had gained in the past, provided it doesn’t cost more. When speeds are capped at, say, 15 Mbps, few users upgrade to a higher service tier. But if service is flexible between 15 and 30 Mbps, most users find themselves pushing toward higher rates.
This is why establishing a flexible broadband policy in the enterprise can be tricky, says Jim Clarke, head of international marketing at Telstra. Without an overriding plan to match usage with available resources and budgets, things can get out of whack quickly. He recommends a balanced approach to network flexibility that focuses on measurable results, such as right-sizing network costs, addressing short- and long-term network challenges, accommodating unplanned bandwidth demands, and improving service time to market. Ultimately, a dynamic network will allow users to create value for the organization without overdrawing on bandwidth, all while maintaining appropriate networking costs and fostering an informative and engaging data environment.
Still, as enterprise infrastructure continues to gravitate toward distributed, wide-area architectures, questions over net neutrality make it difficult to make any firm plans regarding bandwidth usage and allocation. If all traffic is treated equally, bandwidth allocation plans are based on one set of metrics, but the calculus changes once higher-cost fast lanes are added. A way around this is through software defined WAN (SD-WAN) architectures, says VeloCloud’s Chris Talbot. Once you are on a virtual network footing, connectivity can be reworked much more quickly and cheaply, so the enterprise will have a lot more leeway to accommodate regulatory requirements no matter how they evolve. The key is to implement broad visibility across the entire virtual, distributed network to ensure that bandwidth consumption is keeping pace with actual data loads.
Allocating bandwidth to knowledge workers, then, is a little more nuanced that allocating it to paying customers. The enterprise-worker relationship is more of a two-way street in which, theoretically at least, more resources to the worker results in greater productivity for the enterprise.
But that doesn’t mean bandwidth is an open-ended resource. Like anything else, a judicious approach to allocation and utilization is the best way to maximize ROI, and it helps to remind everyone that even in these days of unlimited scalability we still have to treat our resources with respect.