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What is Burstable Bandwidth and Why Do You Need it?

By: Ernest Sampera on August 7, 2019

Network connectivity is vital to most of today’s organizations regardless of the services they provide. Determining their estimated bandwidth usage can often be a challenge, however, especially when it involves provisioning services that don’t conform to predictable traffic patterns. That’s why many colocation customers are turning to burstable bandwidth strategies to meet their data transfer and network security needs.

Network Bandwidth Usage

Companies that deliver online services spend a lot of time thinking about bandwidth, and for good reason. Low bandwidth can lead to slow data transfer speeds, which results in a poor user experience that will drive away customers. Bandwidth measures how much data can be delivered over a network connection band over a period of time, so higher bandwidth generally results in faster download speeds and better overall performance. While there are other important factors that influence performance, particularly latency and throughput, bandwidth is often privileged because it’s something that a company can more or less control.

Data center customers have a variety of bandwidth options when setting up their networks in a colocation environment. By partnering with a high-quality internet service provider (ISP), they can get access to higher bandwidth connections to ensure their services are fast and reliable. Some carriers may have monthly data transfer limits that constrain how much data traffic is allotted to customers, but there are also colocation solutions for unlimited bandwidth.

What is Burstable Bandwidth?

One of the challenges with evaluating bandwidth needs has to do with the amount of data traffic a network is expected to handle on a regular basis. It’s highly unlikely that companies will need to use their maximum bandwidth at all times. Their data transfer usage will rise and fall based on traffic patterns. If, for instance, their network receives the most traffic in the evening, they might push the limits of their bandwidth in the evening but spend most of the day barely using the bandwidth they’re paying for to accommodate high-traffic periods. The risk is that one of those high traffic periods could exceed bandwidth limitations, causing network services to slow to a crawl.

Burstable bandwidth offers a unique solution to this problem. With a burstable bandwidth plan, the customer chooses a base sustained bandwidth, usually enough to handle an average day of traffic with a bit of room to handle slightly higher volume. This establishes a baseline data transfer rate that the network will generally be able to accommodate. The customer then sets a burstable bandwidth plan that uses an open network port to deliver additional bandwidth on demand. When network traffic hits the limits of the dedicated bandwidth plan, the burstable bandwidth (sometimes called a fractional commit) provides additional capacity to handle the high data volume.

Burstable Billing Models

With burstable bandwidth, companies can make sure they always have the bandwidth necessary to handle fluctuations in network traffic. Deciding on the best way to pay for that, however, can be a challenge. Generally speaking ISPs and colocation providers offer two different approaches to burstable billing:

  • Fixed or Flat Rate Burstable Billing: Under this plan, a customer determines how much burstable bandwidth they need and provisions that capacity at a flat rate.
  • 95th Percentile Burstable Billing: This more flexible approach takes into account that most networks are overprovisioned and generally only use about 95 percent of their available bandwidth on average. A 95th percentile plan monitors bandwidth usage and eliminates the top five percent of usage periods before charging customers for overages. Although these plans typically charge more per burstable Mbps than fixed plans, they offer a unique “pay as you go model” that makes sense for networks that only occasionally experience traffic spikes.

Burstable Bandwidth and Volumetric Attacks

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) volumetric attacks have become one of the most important cybersecurity concerns for many organizations. Easy to orchestrate, these attacks leverage the basic functionality of network infrastructure to overwhelm servers with access requests. Burstable bandwidth offers companies a powerful tool in their efforts to defend their networks against these attacks. Since a typical DDoS attack seeks to crash a server by flooding its bandwidth, burstable bandwidth provides a measure of flexibility when such an attack is launched.

While no amount of bandwidth can accommodate a large scale DDoS attack like the 1.3 terabit assault launched on GitHub in 2018, having burstable bandwidth to spare can enhance a network’s resiliency and give it time to implement proactive DDoS mitigation measures. This is particularly true of blended ISP connections like vX\defend, which uses multiple service providers to reroute legitimate traffic and shut down a connection that comes under attack. A burstable bandwidth plan ensures that those mitigation strategies will have the bandwidth to accommodate rerouted traffic to continue delivering reliable services and preserve SLA uptime.

Burstable bandwidth is a valuable asset for organizations that need to manage unpredictable fluctuations in their network traffic. As a DDoS mitigation tool, it also helps to keep vital services up and running to preserve data availability and SLA uptime. Whether offered through a dedicated ISP or through a data center’s colocation services, companies would be well served to incorporate burstable bandwidth into their network and data center infrastructure.

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