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10 things you can do to conserve Internet bandwidth

You can take a number of practical steps to reduce your organization's bandwidth consumption. Here's a rundown of some strategies to consider.

As organizations move more and more services to the cloud, it is becoming increasingly important to make efficient use of the available Internet bandwidth. Here are a few techniques you can use to conserve Internet bandwidth in your own organization.

1: Block access to content-streaming Web sites

If your organization allows employees to use the Internet for personal use, the first thing you should do is block access to streaming media sites, such as Netflix, YouTube, and MetaCafe. Playing the occasional YouTube video probably isn't going to have a crippling effect on your Internet connection, but streaming videos do consume more bandwidth than many other Web-based services.

2: Throttle cloud backup applications

If you're backing up your data to the cloud, check to see whether your backup application has a throttling mechanism. An unthrottled cloud backup solution will consume as much bandwidth as it can. This might not be a big deal if you're backing up small files (such as Microsoft Office documents) throughout the day. But when you first begin backing up data to the cloud, an initial backup must be created. I have seen this process last for months, and if left unchecked, it can have a major impact on your Internet bandwidth.

3: Limit your use of VoIP

VoIP is another bandwidth-intensive protocol. If you plan to use VoIP, you might implement a policy stating that phones are to be used for business calls only. While I will be the first to admit that employees sometimes need to make calls that aren't specifically related to work, almost everyone has a cell phone these days, so limiting the office phones to business use only shouldn't be a big deal.

4: Use a proxy cache

A proxy cache can help limit the amount of traffic created by Web browsers. The basic idea is that when a user visits a Web site, the contents of the page are cached on a proxy server. The next time that person visits that Web page, the content does not have to be downloaded because it already exists in the cache. Using a proxy cache not only saves bandwidth, but it can give users the illusion that your Internet connection is much faster than it really is.

5: Centralize application updates

Today, almost every application is designed to download periodic updates over the Internet. You can save a lot of bandwidth by centralizing the update process. For example, rather than let every PC in your office connect to the Microsoft Update Service, you should set up a WSUS server to download all the updates and then make them available to the individual PCs. That way, the same updates aren't being downloaded over and over again.

6: Use hosted filtering

If you operate your own mail servers in-house, a great way to save bandwidth is to take advantage of hosted filtering. With hosted filtering, your MX record points to a cloud server rather than to your mail server. This server receives all the mail that's destined for your organization. The server filters out any spam or messages containing malware. The remaining messages are forwarded to your organization. You can save a lot of bandwidth (and mail server resources) because your organization is no longer receiving spam.

7: Identify your heaviest users

In any organization, there will be some users who use the Internet more heavily than others. It's a good idea to identify your heaviest users and to determine what they are doing that's causing them to consume so much bandwidth. I have seen real-world situations in which a user was operating peer-to-peer file-sharing software even though the administrator thought that the users' desktops were locked down to make it impossible for anyone to do so.

8: Aggressively scan for malware

Malware can rob your organization of a tremendous amount of bandwidth by turning PCs into bots. Be aggressive in your efforts to keep the desktops on your network clean. Here are some resources that can help:

9: Use QoS to reserve bandwidth

QoS stands for quality of service. It is a bandwidth reservation mechanism that was first introduced in Windows 2000, and it's still around today. If you have applications that require a specific amount of bandwidth (such as a video conferencing application), you can configure QoS to reserve the required bandwidth for that application. The bandwidth reservation is in effect only when the application is actively being used. At other times, the bandwidth that is reserved for the application is available for other uses.

10: Make sure you're getting the bandwidth you're paying for

A lot of factors affect Internet bandwidth, so you can't expect to connect to every Web site at your connection's maximum speed. Even so, your Internet connection should deliver performance that is reasonably close to what you are paying for.

I haven't ever seen a situation in which an ISP intentionally gave someone a slower connection than they were paying for, but I have seen plenty of situations in which a connection was shared between multiple subscribers. In the case of a shared connection, a neighbor's online activity can directly affect your available bandwidth. If your Internet connection isn't as fast as it should be, talk to your ISP and find out if your connection is shared. You might pay a bit more for a non-shared connection, but the extra cost may be worth it.

More tips

Other suggestions?

What steps have you taken to reduce Internet bandwidth consumption for your organization?

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

35 comments
danekan
danekan

in a corporate environment, a WAN accelerator / optimizer (such as a Cisco WAE/WAAS or Riverbed) can be a "must have" ... you can save up to 30% traffic just by accelerating your traffic. (method varies by vendor, but often involves caching hashes of content signatures and reducing traffic down to the hash if it matches). If you had WAN optimization, many of the other issues you cite become irrelevant (centralized app updates, etc)

danekan
danekan

in prior versions of QOS the implementation in windows wasn't really that useful, but in Windows 7 you can do it at a very granular level, and by policy even... so for example, instead of eliminating youtube or pandora from your network, you can issue out a QOS policy that will limit the bandwidth connections to their IP/domain can use. overall this is probably a much more of a win, win for many organizations. "6: Use hosted filtering" sure you can offload some bandwidth to "the cloud" but I'm not aware of ANY cloud service that doesn't charge for bandwidth by the GB... and in many cases you can procure your own Internet connection in-house for less $ than the bandwidth charges of someone else's server would be. The savings in cloud computing is generally in power/hardware/infra costs more so than bandwidth.

linhely
linhely

I really enjoyed this. You can look your article comments.I really appreciate the way you have written about this. Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010 Microsoft Office 2010

Jaqui
Jaqui

deny access to FLASH content DENY access to JAVASCRIPT sites. DENY ACCESS TO AJAX. these "rich" website tools are the biggest wasters of data transfer out there.

fernando.villalobos
fernando.villalobos

Consider also bandwidth consumed by skype when on idle, remember its a peer to peer. And all the social media sites that users upload pictures to. That also consumes. I do agree that its better to establish a usage policy first.

issy_3
issy_3

whats the best free software to measure bandwith or usage on a network

robert_j_dixon
robert_j_dixon

At home (where I can only get wireless 3G, no ADSL) I have an IPCop server that manages the connection to the internet. It handles many of the suggestions made above: - Transparent proxy caching - Transparent Update caching (for Windows and Linux) - Traffic priority management - Traffic logging - Simple Ad site blocking (0.0.0.0 entries in it's hosts file) - Snort intrusion detection - NTP time server - DHCP server - etc - Free software, running on free hardware (just about any old pc) ipcop.org, plus some of the add-ons

hiraghm
hiraghm

Why would I want to conserve bandwidth? If I conserve bandwidth, someone else who doesn't gets that much more? If everyone conserves bandwidth, where is the incentive for the IPs to increase bandwidth in the future? No, I'll use as much bandwidth as I can, thanks.

ben
ben

In a prior company, back in the days when internet BW was much scarcer than it is now, my IT guys wanted all the restrictions you mentioned above, and I said "no". Instead I told them to make a list of the BW sucker sites and apps based on actual, instrumented measurements of usage. Then I sent an email memo to every employee ASKING everyone to be aware that careful use of those things during the core biz hours would help everyone. It was very effective at optimizing our BW usage, by making everyone aware of the problem and part of the solution, rather than making everyone feel like they were being punished. Local caching is also a good idea, but it needs NOT be user specific. If you survey the traffic you will often find that many people in the company are looking at the same content (biz related or not ;-) often because links are being emailed about. Cache that silly cat playing the piano video locally and the BW hit is negligible ;-).

kevinb
kevinb

I have a netgear router and was wondering if there is a way to keep track of the users on my connection

crcgraphix
crcgraphix

I used to have cable modem 1.2Mbps line from Adelphia, and now I have Verizon FiOS Lightning Fast Internet connection at about 5.4Mbps. Well, even so, I know it's a big step up from the previous internet connection, although still quite fast. I am writhing this to inform you that if you are only using a single router, like a Linksys, then try another Linksys in the chain. Or, connect a D-link to a Cisco Netgear or something. This is a smart thing to do whenever you have 3 or more computers and 3 or more constant streaming services routing out to different areas of your home. If you prefer wireless, then maybe you need an airport or something to extend the range of your particular wireless router. Wi-Fi these days have wireless-N, which is faster, but can be very temperamental. If it's reliability and speed you're looking for then use a router that has Wireless B+G mode and Wireless +N mode options both installed. I have a main modem/router from our ISP. Then it is connected to a Linksys router with B/G Wi-Fi and SAS security. This is another good thing. If you are worried about other people stealing your internet connection access-point, and you are not so good with hash algorithms, then you want a router that has its own two-way encryption feature for automatic and instant setup. We also use a $99 Airport with B/G/N altogether. It makes a good home entertainment or media device, and works with most DVD players. You might also want to have someone in the family that's good with routers/hubs configure all the other settings on the device for you, so that you can have multiple options when using the internet and your own applications in harmony.

mullachv
mullachv

If we haven't realized it yet, then we are definitely behind the curve. Most organizations (except perhaps the really large ones), would save tons of $$ from using cloud services. So it is best to increase your internet bandwidth and reduce your internal IT storage, servers, datacenter etc. etc. This article has value for reverse-IT-trending organizations

thosmason
thosmason

VOIP is a low consumer, with long gaps between packets. CCTV can be configured to one frame per second for most uses, in addition to motion-detection. Please, though, how to confidently measure net bandwidth usage? ThosMason@yahoo.com

colorshosting
colorshosting

These days web pages/ web applications are becoming more and more strong content rich (Media- audio, video, flash) with more advertising driving the web pages to consume more bandwidth, so when browsing two or three sites can consume 1-2 MB depending on the content, we can block either individually or administratively via policy (not all) content such as 1) flashblock for firefox, 2) block images (not preferred but can be done temporarily, likewise 3) Script Blocking. as well. 4) A utility such as TcpView, Autoruns and ProcMon From Sysinternals(Now Microsoft Co.) can really help in tracking down processes using internet bandwidth, 5) Firewall policies should be reviewed., 6) Review Group Policy. There are many other ways as per requirements and needs

greg_and_hels
greg_and_hels

QoS should have been at the top of the list, perhaps the only item in the list. Traffic shaping is the key. The key!

dwighternest
dwighternest

I'm surprised you didn't mention anything about transparent caching, such as that offered by PeerApp. It can be extremely cost-effective for many organizations beyond a certain size (hundreds of users or more).

mjamal
mjamal

Well thanks for 10 tips for internet usage but what happens if you close doors and then start opening small small windows through it :) just for instance We filter and block all streaming but for top managment and employees with relations ;) with top managment can send official request so we have to Open full access... Hope you guys also have faced same kinda problems around ... in the end the bandwidth goes down and IT Systems Admins are blamed for not managing it properly lolz

Kim SJ
Kim SJ

Whilst a lot of the ideas offered are a good idea in an of themselves (to increase security, for example) it may well be cheaper and easier just to buy more bandwidth. Not to mention more enabling for the company. Always remember that you are here to *serve* the company, not limit it!

Frank.Meisschaert
Frank.Meisschaert

These things will only have a supferficial effect. The real gain is in using the right tool for the job. E.g. proxying can show dramatic effects but fails in comparison to the correct usage of a document management system.

Patrick-Warwick
Patrick-Warwick

Great article. I think my so called cctv security cameras (they are really glorified webcams but very useful) may be using more bandwith than they should if they are on for a long periods recording movements in and around my office. Turn them on only as needed seems to help. Problem is that they are really a useful security tool as my office is in a lonely part of town at night.

tony
tony

It is known as contention ratio. Here in the UK, the contention ratio is typically 50:1 for consumers. A business ADSL connection is 20:1, 10:1 or 5:1 - 1:1 is available but rare. The rise of streaming video and BT's VOD services has resulted in a lot of rural areas and even small towns being continually and completely contended. Also beware using backup to the cloud (or a remote site). I had trouble with this - it worked fine for months, then got poor and I discovered the ISP was then throttling the bandwidth because we were using it.

beacom
beacom

VoIP doesn't use much bandwidth G711 (64kbps) G729 (8kbps)

danekan
danekan

pre-AJAX to submit a form you had to reload an entire page, and re-download the entire page... with AJAX you can send a JSON request and it's a matter of bytes, not KB or MB being reloaded. If your organization is that worried about AJAX bandwidth though you probably have bigger problems within than can be addressed by some simple policy changes

dog the walker
dog the walker

While I agree that streaming video would effect bandwidth, let's not shutdown everything. Streaming radio, IM or an idle Skype less bandwidth in 8 hours than watching a video or two. Perhaps a more "surgical" approach would be better, Disallow the videos but don't shutdown the light stuff that helps us to be productive during the day. Taking everything away only makes us (non-traditional IT people) not happy with the department.

info
info

...That was 'back in the day'. That was when your company having a T1 was a real treat, and a privilege if you were allowed to use it, so it was treated as such. These days, a fast Internet connection for every employee is viewed more as a God-Given RIGHT. Ask employees that question these days, and most will 'think' about following what you've asked of them. But not very hard. It should all just work, right?

info
info

So if your friends all went to jump off a bridge... ;)

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

along those lines, I used to service telephones at a local company. Every summer, there was suddenly a rash of unexplained cut-off and dropped calls. We made many service calls, and never could find anything wrong. Then I watched the console operator. She was a temp, covering for the regular operator's vacation. She had extremely long (gross) fingernails, so instead of pressing buttons with her fingers, she used a pencil to poke at the console. She hit the wrong button about half of the time. I spoke to her that the buttons were designed to be pressed with fingers, not pencils. I went to the plant manager to discuss the situation, and suggested that replacing the temporary operator with someone who could push the buttons with their fingers would probably resolve all of their problems. He laughed and said "well, she's the owner's daughter. Understand my problem?" We chatted a bit more, and he ended with "OK, we'll keep calling you to keep the managers happy, and in another week, the problem will go away when Barb (the regular operator) comes back from vacation. Just bill us for the calls, and I understand what's happening, but now you understand the reality of the situation." We took the blame for everything, and the plant manager had a convenient scapegoat. We sent bills, and he paid them without complaint. It was a win-win. And after a week, the problems ended, until the next time Barb went on vacation.

jeaubain
jeaubain

Simply adding more bandwidth is not always possible; some organizations have to look at budgetary constraints, as well as locations where it is not possible to get more bandwidth for various reasons. As far as limiting the company, if done properly not allowing access to certain types of sites can actually serve the company, users watching videos on the internet or using social networking sites are not being very productive.

greg_and_hels
greg_and_hels

Adding more bandwidth is really just avoiding the problem, and it is not always practical. Add QoS at an appropriate point in your network and you protect the services you consider a priority and make effective use of the bandwidth you have.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

Do the cameras have a mode where they transmit video only if they detect motion? That can be a real bandwidth-saver. Another option might be to separate them onto a different subnet, and give it a lower QoS. During off-peak times they'll have plenty of bandwidth, but during peak times, video might be delayed to allow business operations to run.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

VOIP tends to have more continuous utilization of bandwidth while it's in use, when compared with a browser's bursts of activity. The user loads the page, then there is a pause while the page is read, the form filled out, or what-have you. VOIP users tend to get cranky when there's even a brief interruption of their conversation, unlike browser users who are used to "Please wait while the page loads..." Also there may be more VOIP phones than computers in a facility. Admittedly it takes a lot of VOIP calls to use a significant chunk of bandwidth, but it can and does happen. A

jet_87kingrosh
jet_87kingrosh

G711 uses more than 64 kbps but G729 really a low bandwidth codec.

jhoward
jhoward

At the minimum QoS has to be involved at the LAN switch level for VoIP because as mentioned it does not deal well with waiting for browser data. In fact it is arguably more important than overall bandwidth as it isn't a high bandwidth user compared to browser data but it certainly requires stable throughput and low latency. In a hosted VoIP environment (converged voice and data) QoS from the CPE to the carrier are equally as important. A 1 second delay in loading a page is inconvenient - inserting random additional delays as low as 50-150ms in RTP causes static, pops and delays which make conversations difficult for many people. You would be surprised how sensitive some people are to subtle differences between VoIP and PSTN calls - volume being one that most people struggle with. Soft phones are the easiest example of this since they share CPU and NIC with the rest of the OS and the browser. When the CPU or NIC become bogged down the RTP suffers drops and delay. I am sure Skype users can relate.

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