WAN traffic patterns are not what they used to be. Data and business applications that once flowed through the data center into branch offices are now being delivered directly to offices via the Internet -- causing network administrators to rethink how they monitor their network and prioritize bandwidth.
While outbound quality of service (QoS) capabilities remain integral to wide area network (WAN) optimization and network monitoring, inbound QoS capabilities help network managers better control traffic coming into the increasingly decentralized WAN -- especially from mobile devices.
Employees are no longer tethered to their desks. They are consuming precious bandwidth via mobile devices, and they are making heavy use of unified communications (UC), collaboration tools and cloud-based applications. Inbound QoS can help enterprises prioritize bandwidth by determining an incoming application's business case, while also prioritizing latency-sensitive applications, such as corporate Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
Inbound QoS: Helping the enterprise prioritize bandwidth
Riverbed Technology recently introduced a new inbound QoS feature to complement the outbound QoS capabilities in its Riverbed Optimization System (RiOS) -- the operating system for its Steelhead WAN optimization appliances.
As more recreational traffic finds its way onto the network -- like Facebook and YouTube -- Riverbed QoS capabilities can help enterprises sort out and limit non-business traffic, said Eric Carter, senior product marketing manager for San Francisco-based Riverbed.
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"Our customers are investing more and more in UC, virtualization and cloud-based applications," he said. "While these tools are making [enterprises] more agile, it means more traffic coming in from a lot of different sources."
The inbound QoS function can be downloaded to existing Steelhead appliances at any or all branch locations, and is easy for IT to manage from a central location, Carter said.
Text 100, a worldwide public relations firm, has deployed both outbound and inbound QoS capabilities on the 23 Steelhead appliances deployed at its branch office locations.
Prior to implementing inbound QoS, Text 100's large New York branch was constantly maxing out its bandwidth, said Michael Grumley, director of IT for Text 100. IT struggled to identify the traffic responsible for saturating the network because only outgoing traffic was being monitored, not incoming traffic that hit the network when users clicked through to a website.
Text 100 public relations professionals often access consumer applications like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in a professional capacity, he said. Using Riverbed's inbound QoS to analyze this traffic allows a network manager to set and enforce usage policies and understand how network capacity is being consumed.
"We can keep track of traffic and allot bandwidth for certain kinds of traffic. We can give our business applications, like SharePoint, more bandwidth than applications like iTunes," Grumley said.
UC and mobility: Can Inbound QoS relieve the bandwidth burden?
While the need for inbound QoS capabilities is an emerging enterprise requirement, Riverbed isn't the only vendor on the market. Blue Coat Systems, Silver Peak Systems and Exinda Networks have also recently begun offering inbound QoS features.
UC and collaboration applications require both outbound and inbound QoS capabilities because many enterprises are routing UC traffic through multiple, separate links instead of through one WAN link right to the data center, said Paula Musich, senior analyst of enterprise networking and security for Washington, D.C.-based Current Analysis.
"Much more UC -- like multipoint video conferencing is happening, and enterprises are scrambling to maintain the quality of those connections," she said.
Inbound QoS will help with latency-sensitive applications -- like VoIP -- because network administrators can chose to prioritize this incoming traffic.
Bring your own device (BYOD) has also added to branch office bandwidth burdens and is sparking a need for inbound QoS functions, said Bob Laliberte, senior analyst for Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group.
"Monitoring this kind of traffic has suddenly become a much bigger issue," he said, noting that enterprises must first gain visibility into the changing traffic, and then manage it.
Inbound QoS is giving enterprises better granularity, and more room to pick and choose appropriate, business-related traffic.
"If a user is watching streaming video on YouTube, network administrators can see exactly where that inbound traffic is coming from, and determine if they want to prioritize business applications on top of it," he said.
The more BYOD takes hold, the more IT is going to have to better regulate traffic -- without shutting off recreational traffic entirely, he noted.