By: Jorge Abellas
"My Internet access is so slow! Do you know what is going on?"
If you are an IT manager responsible for Internet connectivity for your SMB (small to midsize business), this is one of the most horrifying questions you can hear from a user-even more so if that user happens to be your boss, or worse yet, the owner or CEO. Scarier still is that the answer to the question is usually, "I don't know."
Packet shaping will not add bandwidth to your Internet connection, but packet-shaping devices will enable you to more efficiently utilize your bandwidth and can delay costly Internet connection upgrades. Insuring against unexpected bandwidth hogs and being able to pinpoint sources of consumption is also useful.
Although the cost of Internet connectivity and private WAN transport continues to drop, the proliferation of hungry Internet applications such as P2P (peer to peer), video and audio streaming tends to eat all available bandwidth when allowed to. These applications can quickly asphyxiate critical and time-sensitive services, such as mail and VOIP, if left unchecked. Locking down desktops to prevent access to these applications is often not an option and, in my experience, tends to create a lot of headaches for the IT staff-not to mention the hostility it engenders in users.
In the past, blocking ports at the router would help, but P2P and other "entertainment" applications, wise to this trick, can usually work over the standard port 80.
Packet shapers are smarter than that. They inspect the traffic going through them and match the packet content at layer seven, the application layer, to a known library of characteristic signatures and use that to identify the type of traffic, even if it is flowing over a common port. Once the traffic is classified, traffic can be blocked and prioritized using QOS (quality-of-service) rules and intelligently allocate bandwidth.