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10 things you can do to conserve Internet bandwidth

By Brien Posey | May 21, 2011, 6:59 AM PDT

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:

10 ways to detect computer malware

10 more ways to detect computer malware

The 10 faces of computer malware

Five tips for spotting the signs of malware

Rescue CDs: Tips for fighting malware

10 free anti-malware tools worth checking out

Virus & Spyware Removal Checklist

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.
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