Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not purported as fact|
"Traffic shaping" is something that has been around for a long time but has
only recently had any real impact on your average Net user.
the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook
are revealed for all to see!
But now, the effects of traffic shaping are now being clearly felt by a
growing number of Net users, and some of them are not happy.
So what is traffic shaping and why are so many ISPs doing it?
Bandwidth, especially international bandwidth, costs money. If an ISP
is able to squeeze more out of the bandwidth they've got then they can
support a greater number of customers for a given investment in the
expensive data circuits that connect them to the rest of the Net.
Coming Up This Week|
In response to reader demand, I'll be publishing and archiving an updated
version of my guide to website promotion and online marketing. If you've
got a website that needs more traffic, or if you're trying to sell
products or services online then this is the type of information that
you can pay big money for elsewhere. Don't miss it.
The situation is a bit like that facing many large cities where the amount
of traffic continues to grow but the council wishes to avoid investing in
expensive new roading.
The alternative to increasing the number of lanes on main highways is to
try and "manage" the traffic flows more efficiently. One of the most
obvious examples of this are the bus-only lanes that exist on many motorway
systems (that's freeway systems for Aardvark's US readers).
Because a single bus often carries as many people as 30 or 40 cars, the
flow of people into or out of a city at peak times can be significantly
improved by setting aside a special lane just for them. This is an
example of "shaping" the flow of traffic.
Another good example are the passing lanes we see on the main highways -- these
allow slow and fast vehicles to use the same road without too much
The situation many ISPs find themselves facing is very similar.
As customer numbers grow, the data circuits that connect the ISPs computers
to the rest of the Net become increasingly congested, especially at peak
times such as early evenings.
The simplest, and most expensive solution is to simply buy some more bandwidth.
Understandably however, many ISPs consider this an option of last resort -- preferring
instead to try and "shape" the traffic flows so as to try and ease the
The first time many Net users noticed the effects of traffic shaping was when
Telecom/Xtra decided to restrict data flows on the ports used for P2P file-trading
networks. By doing this they effectively freed up more bandwidth for others
who were simply surfing the web.
Another method (which I've bitched about before) of reducing congestion on
an ISP's data circuits is to operate a caching proxy server for web traffic --
however, when configured correctly, this has a far less obvious effect on
a user's online experience.
I know that the tech staff and management of many NZ ISPs read Aardvark so
I'd like them to contact me with details of what (if any) shaping
they're performing on their traffic or if they're buying "pre-shaped" traffic
from their upstream provider.
Let me point out that, just like bus lanes, traffic shaping isn't necessarily
a bad thing -- after all, an ISP that manages their traffic efficiently is
likely to be faster (overall) than one who doesn't. However, it would be
nice to know who's shaping and who's not.
Remember -- those who remain silent shall speak a thousand words :-)
The most disheartening thing about this whole situation is the way that the promises
which accompanied the commissioning of the Southern Cross cable have turned to dust.
This new cable was supposed
to provide us with massive international bandwidth so that we could at last
enjoy streaming video, faster websurfing, etc, etc. The reality is that,
due to the very high costs, few ISPs can afford to actually purchase all the
bandwidth they'd like and are increasingly forced to resort to agressive caching and
traffic shaping to survive.
That Xtra appears to be the leader in these tactics just reinforces the
widespread belief that, in the face of a somewhat depressed telcommunications
marketplace, Telecom are overly focused on cost-cutting, to the detriment
Hard To Believe -- But...
Last week I offered the chance for some lucky company to sponsor this
And what a deal I was offering...
For the equivalent of a $15 CPM (cost per thousand impressions), the sponsor
would get to reach a very targeted, mainly Kiwi (but with some
Australian, US and European readers thrown in for good measure) audience
of IT/Net professionals and hard-core users through an exclusive
placement on this page.
Is that too expensive? I don't think so, just compare it to the
that IDG charges for front-page banners or the $110 they charge for "sykscraper"
Unfortunately, despite my very well priced offer, you don't see a sponsor
on this page.
Maybe if I promise not to write any more bad things about Telecom...
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