How businesses can deal with bandwidth spikes

Among all the various issues faced by businesses, and small businesses in particular, sudden spikes in bandwidth often rank some way down the list of priorities. Businesses are often understandably focused on core business tasks, and with day-to-day operational matters, finance, marketing and HR to deal with, IT problems can sometimes end up taking a back seat.

But while IT issues are often overlooked, the impact that they can have on small businesses cannot be underestimated. Given that almost all businesses today make use of some form of technology, problems with the IT infrastructure can have huge effects on business productivity and performance. While there are often many different factors that feed into this issue, IT slowdown resulting from spikes in network traffic can be a significant contributor.

The implementation of an effective IT monitoring solution can offer a variety of benefits to businesses of all sizes. At a granular level, it can let IT administrators know when and where there are blockages or bottlenecks on the system, so that they can act to alleviate this pressure immediately. This capability is hugely important to ensuring that a business can run effectively on a day-to-day basis.

Investing in IT monitoring

At a more strategic level, IT monitoring can have an even greater impact. The ability to pinpoint where there are issues on the network, and which aspects of it are particularly at risk, can allow an organization’s IT team to take a longer-term view of its existing infrastructure. Identifying these issues and pressure points means that they can improve productivity within their company, and hopefully avoid the potentially costly downtime that could occur further down the line if the network stops functioning due to an outage or overload. The insight that this provides also has an additional benefit in allowing IT directors to plan their IT budgets accordingly, by allowing them to assess the performance and necessity of all devices that make up the network, and alter the strategy accordingly.

One of the most obvious advantages of IT monitoring solutions is the fact that they make it simple for IT teams to identify sudden or particularly alarming spikes in network traffic by communicating this data through graphical interfaces. However, sometimes being alerted to the problem is not enough. Rather, the real challenge for administrators is to solve the mystery of what’s causing the peak in traffic in the first place, considering how to fix it, and making the necessary changes so that it does not become a recurring issue.

Of course, every network is different. Depending on the size and nature of a particular business, the issues facing an IT infrastructure will differ. Here are the 5 most common causes of bandwidth spikes:

  • Scheduled backups inside the LAN: Many backup products can be scheduled to run at a specified time, and if they overlap they can cause overloads on any connection
  • Remote backup tools: Many companies use cloud-based solutions for their backups. Uploading large backups can cause serious load issues, and can slow down internet connections significantly
  • Virus scanner or software updates that are distributed inside the LAN
  • Mail server problems: A remote mail server may repeatedly try to deliver a 15MB email to a company email server every five minutes, for instance, even though the target server has been set to deny access. This can, once again, create overload issues for the infrastructure
  • Malware outbreaks and hacking attempts

While this list covers some of the most common problems, factors contributing to bandwidth spikes are by no means limited to these. In fact, there are some elements that are only set to increase stress on the network as we move forward into the next stage of business IT. Just some of these include: video conferencing, something that businesses will use more and more of as workforces become ever more dispersed and focused on remote working, and large downloads by network users, as more and more data and information is shared between both businesses and individuals.

Assessing bandwidth spikes

Ultimately, though, while the issues discussed above can be used as a reference point for what may be causing a specific issue, it is important that IT teams dedicate some time to basic network troubleshooting, which is the best and essentially only way for administrators to diagnose what is causing spikes. With the use of an IT monitoring tool there are a number of initial steps that businesses can take to get to the bottom of the issue.

The first is to consider whether there is a pattern in the spikes. Do they appear at roughly the same intervals? Do they show up during business hours, most likely indicating that a user is causing the peak, or later on, suggesting a scheduled issue? If a pattern is identified, then the next step is to try and find other monitoring points elsewhere on the system that match it. The key is to compare the pattern with other processes on the network. For instance, a CPU load peak on one of the servers may be in sync with the bandwidth load. Using a packet sniffer or flow monitoring tool to analyze the traffic can also help. This may not be easy for modern switched networks, but it is the best way to find out which computer system is causing the spike.

Clearly, businesses have numerous considerations aside from IT issues, but the impact of network slowdown on business performance should not be taken lightly. Having an effective network monitoring tool in place is very much the first step, but developing a comprehensive understanding of the potential causes of bandwidth spikes and how to resolve them is of paramount importance to any businesses’ IT team, and can ultimately pay dividends in the long term.

By Dick Paessler for