The total cost of bandwidth has dropped in the Middle East in recent years, but demand for it continues to rise. Meanwhile, critical applications that depend on sufficient bandwidth are becoming even more important.
It’s clear that bandwidth has become a big deal for many Middle Eastern firms. And so has how they manage it.
Sam Johnston, Equinix’s director of Cloud & IT Services recently wrote a brief that looked at how Middle Eastern firms can best use the available tools to manage bandwidth.
He starts by noting that while the availability of more and faster data pipes in the Middle East (particularly between Europe and Asia) has driven down the cost of delivering bandwidth there, increasing demand has negated those reductions. In fact, the Middle East’s average bandwidth costs are several times higher than anywhere else in the world. That’s a problem for businesses and service providers who want to adopt new technology, or grow outside the region.
“This is definitely something all stakeholders in the region should monitor in order to ensure the region is competitive in the information technology space,” Johnston wrote.
The problem spans the range of Middle Eastern enterprises, threatens user experience, and it’s getting tougher to do something about it. For instance, Johnston notes that much of the bandwidth consumed is for video, and the only way to reduce bandwidth there is force customers to select lower quality video. That’s a tough sell.
But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done.
Johnston recommended that enterprises start with quantitative monitoring of data traffic, to see who’s using what bandwidth. From there, data quotas and billing for usage are two ways enterprises can keep heavy users in check. The next step would be introduce and enforce Internet usage policies, though Johnston warns it’s now often tough to distinguish between “good” and “bad” usage. For instance, he notes, an employee watching YouTube isn’t necessarily looking at cat videos nowadays – that user could be looking at product demos and training videos.
Johnston said that’s one reason he doesn’t recommend blanket bans for sites. But he added it doesn’t mean that more selective bans can’t work. For instance, a point of a sale terminal isn’t going to need to download a YouTube video.
Johnston added that more advanced technologies can be used to reduce bandwidth, typically hardware or software devices that sit like a security guard at the edge of the network and enforce company usage policies. But since more sites are “encrypted by default” these days, companies are limited to looking at where data packets are going to and from and trying to figure out what the service might be.
Companies can determine what applications are priorities are at the network level. For instance, voice and video traffic often gets priority so that large data transfers can be done smoothly. Business applications might come next. And companies can de-prioritize or block traffic they know isn’t work- related, like peer-to-peer traffic.
At the end of the brief, Johnston noted another consideration: the significant amount of bandwidth demanded by certain cloud services, which can be bandwidth-intensive. To alleviate that pressure, Johnston recommended network monitoring and using services that can give a detailed accounting of employee usage of consumer cloud services and a risk profile report for each worker.
“Such reporting can be not only a good way to control the use of cloud computing (for example, by delivering less bandwidth intensive local alternatives), but also to improve security by restricting access to insecure services,” Johnston wrote.