If you think of your communications network as a vast motorway, you'll be familiar with the frustration of unexpected bottlenecks.
We've all been in a situation where one moment traffic flow is well distributed between several lanes, then suddenly needs to merge into one, slowing it down considerably, or stopping it altogether.
What is a network bottleneck?
In a network context, it's much the same. A network bottleneck occurs when data flow slows significantly because the network's capacity to handle the current volume of traffic has diminished or failed.
A network bottleneck can cause congestion that could severely disrupt your unified communications and network processes, and even see your entire network out of action.
Any organization experiencing network data interruption will know that the resulting downtime reduces productivity, and costs money.
In this article, we'll cover network bandwidth bottlenecks, why they happen, how to handle network data interruption caused by congestion, and how to ensure that your computing and network resources are kept at the best possible capacity.
For more in-depth information on network congestion, read our comprehensive guide Network congestion and how to fix it
What causes network bottlenecks?
Today's workplace networks are very complex. This is largely due to hybrid and remote working, and because of the demands on bandwidth utilization, a network bottleneck can happen unexpectedly.
An issue with network configuration, for example, is a common computing bottleneck culprit. Bandwidth capacity, issues with microprocessor circuitry, and too many devices, are all network bottleneck causes.
An overload on internal server resources, such as central processing unit (CPU) power, RAM or input/output can also result in data flow slowing down.
We'll discuss the most common possible technical causes of a network bottleneck in a moment, but if your organization has experienced recent rapid growth, it could be that your network hasn’t evolved to accommodate this growth.
It's possible that you could now be experiencing far more network traffic than when your network was originally built. This unexpected additional traffic could be affecting network resources, and potentially preventing your organization from maximizing its bottom line.
But let's go into more detail about some of the most common causes of network bottlenecks, how to resolve them, and keep your network traffic flowing.
Improve network performance with our in-depth guide Network Troubleshooting with IR Collaborate
Network bottleneck problem: Insufficient network bandwidth
Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be moved between two points within a network, and is measures in Mbps (Megabits Per Second). As bandwidth affects how fast your internet is, a network bottleneck can occur when too many devices or network applications generate a large volume of traffic all at once.
In this case, packets can become backed up on their data path between network devices. This excessive activity is caused by 'bandwidth hogs' - devices or applications that either monopolize the available bandwidth by using too much data, or running too frequently. Network monitoring tools can help you identify bandwidth hogs and regulate data flow within your system.
Here are some scenarios that consume a large amount of bandwidth, particularly now that hybrid working is a way of life:
When video conferencing is the primary way you hold meetings, it can consume large amounts of bandwidth
Using primarily cloud applications can use excessive bandwidth
Frequently uploading and downloading large files
All of these types of activities use up more bandwidth than simpler activities like sending emails.
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How to fix it
Analyze and monitor network traffic patterns. Identify the peak times of day when the user network is particularly busy.
Prioritize network traffic so that bandwidth is reserved for specific users, devices or platforms at the busiest times.
Talk to your service provider about increasing your bandwidth to allow for more simultaneous data use.
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Network bottleneck problem: Device overload or malfunction
Multiple devices connected to your network can slow it down considerably and cause bottlenecks. You may have too many switches between your workstations and your servers, or you may have multiple devices aggregated on a single segment.
Or often, a single device can malfunction and overload your systems with fake traffic. Also, legacy network equipment that has become outdated such as network router, servers, cable connections, and other network equipment can cause network bottlenecks and affect network traffic.
How to fix it
If a specific workstation within your system is experiencing network congestion, try connecting it to a different switch port or try replacing the cable.
You could also try reducing the number of switches between servers and workstations.
If you're using old equipment to run new programs and applications that require more power and processing capacities than the old equipment can handle, consider replacing your devices.
It’s important to take stock of your devices and determine what needs your attention, for example any upgrades, updates, or replacements.
Network bottleneck problem: Outdated or insufficient switch port
Common network issues that can cause bottlenecks and affect network capacity relate to network switches, like an older network switch that doesn’t support the latest data transfer technology.
For example, you may want to transfer files from your server to your computer, which may be capable of shifting data at super-fast speeds, say via a Gigabit ethernet port. But if that data has to travel through a corresponding switch port that that only offers a legacy 10/100, then slower speeds and possible bottlenecks will occur.
How to fix it
Replacing or upgrading your switch port with something more up to date, should improve performance and address bottlenecks.
Network bottleneck problem: Server Overload
Many organizations have limited, legacy data center networks that were originally designed to consolidate all application resources within a single server. A bottleneck can happen within your network server/s due to excessive contention for internal resources. This includes your central processing unit (CPU) power, memory, or Disk I/O (input/output). This can result in data speed reducing to the speed of the slowest point in the data path, and causing a bottleneck.
How to fix it:
Load balancing can allow networks to distribute traffic across multiple servers. A load balancer is positioned in front of a server pool, and routes traffic to the appropriate server. Some cloud providers offer their own load balancers, so you should discuss load balancing with your provider.
As well as load balancing, most cloud providers offer autoscaling, which can automatically scale compute resources up and down depending on the demand at a given time.
Find out how performance testing can streamline an grow your business with our Definitive Guide to Performance testing
Another way to help reduce the possibility of a bottleneck is to segment your network. This strategy involves dividing your larger network off into smaller sub-networks which can help avoid an overflow of network traffic congestion. Segmenting your network allows you to concentrate resources into specific areas for easier monitoring and more strategic insights.
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How IR can help with your network bottleneck issues
If your organization is experiencing network congestion and you’re not sure where it’s coming from, the right network monitoring, management and discovery tool can help provide answers. IR Collaborate is that tool.
With IR Collaborate, you can see your entire UC environment, and easily identify bottlenecks from a single pane of glass.
As hybrid working is now an accepted part of life, a seamless user experience is crucial. The need for high up-time, fast problem resolution, and intelligent insight has never been more important. When systems are slow or congested, it significantly affects productivity, and in turn, your company's bottom line.
A critical strategy to achieve better data flow, reduce network bottlenecks and manage network congestion is to monitor your UC system.
By monitoring and managing your company’s virtual network performance, cloud servers, and all other wireless networks and devices, you can identify devices, servers, and even track users who account for congestion and network bottlenecks.
The multitude of cloud collaboration platforms means that organizations all over the globe are managing increasingly complex unified communications environments. With this complexity, in a multi-vendor unified communications ecosystem, we quickly find and resolve performance issues in real-time – across your on-premises, cloud or hybrid environments.