Understanding what your internet is being used for and how to control it

Darren Gore
Understanding what your internet is being used for and how to control it

Over the past five years, more and more software vendors like Xero, MYOB, Microsoft, SalesForce and more have been developing and moving their software applications into a full web based, app and cloud environment. As discussed in a recent blog post, we are moving away from a centralised network and server infrastructure to the use of pure internet-based services along with all of our core software applications and all of the associated data in the cloud.

So the question must be asked, how are we monitoring, managing and protecting what is one of the most important assets in our IT environment: Internet Connectivity?

Let me give you some examples of how your previously metered commodity, bandwidth, can quickly be chewed up in today’s modern IT environment. If you need a refresher on any of these internet terms, feel free to visit this Internet Terms and Definitions blog post.

 

Updates

This is something people often forget about, but in a lot of networks we run both wireless and cabled environments. Every Windows 10 PC you run will want to download Windows Updates, as they should, to keep them secure. The problem  is that some of these updates are Gigabytes in size, and given the opportunity they will take as much of your bandwidth as they possibly can to get that update done quickly. The same thing goes for your computer software application updates like Office, Adobe PDF Reader, Google Chrome etc. Added to this, you also have anti-virus updates. It would not be difficult for a PC to chew between 2 and 5GB of downloads per month, if you have 20 updates then that’s a lot of data downloaded and bandwidth utilised.

Now add to this your wireless network. At Calibre One, we have wireless across all four of our office locations across the country, and my iPhone connects to the Wireless network as soon as I walk in the office. Now my iPhone, probably like yours, is set to automatically download updates when on wireless. When writing this blog post I noted that the top five updates together used up around 600MB of data, this also includes system updates.

Hopefully you are starting to get the drift: updates can kill your internet connection. So how would you be able to observe or control this?

 

Peer to Peer Traffic

This one is a little more obscure, but something to be very aware of. Peer to peer traffic is used to move data between machines over the internet. It is commonly used for people to share things like music, movies or games, generally illegally. This is, however, a common practice. If you have staff that have programs like uTorrent on their PC then they can download these file types.

I have seen it happen where staff forget that the program is running on their work PC, they bring it in to work and it keeps downloading whatever they had started at home, this can again chew up significant bandwidth. Question is, how would you know, and could you slow it or ideally ban it all together?

 

Cloud File Storage

This one has become very popular today because of services like DropBox and OneDrive. These are great cloud applications that enable you to store your files easily and securely in the cloud, and sync what you want to your local PC. You can then share this with others by the simple use of a HTML link. Where I have seen this go wrong is where someone accidentally drops some large files into DropBox, it could be pictures or videos as an example.

Now let’s say five people in the office all have their PC set to download anything that moves into the shared folder that this person just dropped the large files into. You can guess what happens next. You got it, all five PCs start downloading these large files at the same time, once again crashing your internet connection. Again, how would you know, and could you slow it, stop it or control it?

 

Video Streaming

Again this has become more popular in recent years due to the introduction of services like Netflix, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and more. Now you may think, this is not so relevant to me, in the office we don’t allow people to watch videos. Whilst this may be true, remember when I said many businesses have a wireless network and people automatically connect their iPhones to it? Well during their lunch break, and let’s be honest, probably during work time as well, they will be on their phone on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat and guess what, all of these applications by default will start streaming videos when they pass by a video on their feed, once again using up bandwidth.

In terms of the commercial aspect though, services like Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, WebEx and other video conferencing services are becoming commonplace in many businesses. Now as an example, for every video stream you do on a Skype for Business Video call, you use about 1.5Mbps in upload and download. Now if you have three or four people in that video call then add 1.5Mbps for each additional video stream, again this can very quickly use up a lot of bandwidth.

All of these examples come back to the same question, we in most instance need and will become more reliant on these services, so how do we go about having visibility over what we are using and also how can we begin to control it?

 

Layer 7 Application Visibility

The solution to the above questions is something called Layer 7 Application Visibility. Essentially, what this does is take all of the traffic you send in and out of the internet, looks at it, and utilising a very big database, it tags the traffic. For example, it can tag:

  • Facebook Traffic
  • Windows, Anti-Virus or iOS updates
  • Netflix
  • Video Streaming
  • Skype for Business
  • Office 365 Exchange and SharePoint Traffic
  • Dropbox or OneDrive Traffic

I have one of these devices on my home NBN internet connection, I have included a diagram below of what this looks like.

You can see below that my housemates like YouTube and Netflix, as it accounts for 15% of our traffic. What I can also quickly see is the amount of internet traffic being used in total. The view below shows a week’s usage and we have not used more than 20Mbps, we have a 100M/40M NBN connection, so no troubles on our network of over usage.

 

Ok, so now that I have some visibility of what my internet traffic is being used for, what can I do next? Well let’s say I could see on my network that there was a significant amount of Netflix traffic and I wanted to see who was creating it. I could click on the Netflix traffic type and it would give me a usage summary of just Netflix, this is good to show me peaks and troughs and when it is being used. I can also see a list of the devices that are generating the Netflix traffic.

Now, let’s say I wanted to put some controls around usage of Netflix, I can use something called traffic shaping control as seen below. This enables me to specifically target Netflix traffic and put some shaping rules and controls around it. In this case I have elected to shape the Netflix traffic to 1Mbps or 1% of my total available bandwidth. This means no matter who connects to the internet from what device, the network will not allow any more than 1Mbps to be used on Netflix.

I’ll now loop back to some examples made in the first four points, if you can understand the principles I have shown here using Netflix as an example then you can understand how powerful this can be in monitoring, managing and controlling your bandwidth and ensuring it is used to provide the best performance for your users on primary business applications like emails, accounting, banking etc.

Solutions like this are not expensive to deploy, they can start as low as $800, but they are now becoming a critical part of every IT environment from the small five user environments up to the 1,000s in the enterprise environments.

If you would like to learn more about this technology or control over your bandwidth efficiency overall, please visit our SD-WAN Services Page For further information!

If you have any other general questions, feel free to comment here and we’ll respond to you as soon as we can!