Effects of High Bandwidth Applications on the MSP

Remember those car commercials that proudly proclaimed “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile”?  Well, if you’re in the business of providing managed IT services, you’ve probably noticed that this is not your father’s network traffic, either. The data that flows across today’s networks is increasingly bandwidth hungry. Many modern applications are video-centric, which makes for a rich user experience but presents a challenge for those who must deal with maintaining optimal performance for multiple customers.

File size: Better is bigger

A decade ago, the typical files sent across a business network consisted of word processing documents, presentations made up of slides containing mostly bulleted text lists, simple diagrams and low resolutions photos, and web pages made up of text and small graphics. All that has changed, and changed drastically. Today’s businesses are utilizing high definition video, sound files, slideshows that incorporate sophisticated multimedia components, and web pages that stream real time content or function as full-fledged productivity applications.

What does that mean for practical purposes? A brief, text-only Word doc might use only a few kilobytes of file space and a medium resolution .jpg or .gif might average a few hundred kilobytes. A good quality audio file of several minutes, on the other hand, will take several megabytes and an HD video file can require hundreds of megabytes per minute of footage.

File sizes obviously affect the need for storage capacity, but file sizes also impact performance. Larger files will generally take longer to transfer across the network, and will take longer to open once they reach the destination computer. File size may also have a monetary impact on a user’s bottom line: If the Internet Services provider charges per megabyte or gigabyte of data transfer (metered services) or places caps on data usage, larger files mean paying extra.

Taking charge of performance

In a world of huge files and high bandwidth applications, it’s essential for an MSP’s infrastructure to be robust enough to handle high traffic volumes without becoming a performance bottleneck for customers. As a service provider, you act as a “middle man” and if customers perceive that you’re slowing them down, they won’t be happy campers.

A key word in the concept of Managed Service Provider is the first one: management. The first step in getting a handle on performance is to deploy a platform that gives you real-time performance data on a continual basis. A good reporting feature is a must. The data is, of course, only a starting point. It lets you determine where performance bottlenecks are so you can remedy them – whether that means upgrading your hardware, optimizing software, changing your Internet services plan, reconfiguring your workflow, etc.

Managing customer expectations

Customers look to MSPs to take the burdens off their own staffs. One reason they may move to an MSP to begin with is the recognition that changing business needs have created a situation in which their IT personnel and/or their internal infrastructures aren’t prepared to handle the new demands of today’s network applications. Sometimes customers may expect MSPs to perform miracles; it’s important not to “oversell” or make promises (regarding performance or any other aspects of your business) that you can’t keep.

Ensure that customers understand that performance within their internal networks is dependent on their own infrastructures; there’s not much you can do about that. It may seem obvious to you, but don’t assume that it’s obvious to the customer. That’s especially true when the customer is a small business where the “IT staff” is the one guy in the company who knows a little more about computers than the rest.

Be prepared

The old boy scout motto, “Be prepared,” applies to MSPs, too. If high bandwidth applications and large files haven’t had an impact on your business yet, that doesn’t mean they won’t in the near future. Prepare by assessing your infrastructure’s ability to deliver top performance in a world where the nature and volume of network traffic is changing rapidly.

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