For the uninitiated, QoS (Quality of Service) sounds like some magical technology from the distant land of networking. However, IT pros know better, simply because they have to wrestle with thorny networking problems on a regular basis and are now looking at QoS as a way to make those problems disappear.
The real magic behind QoS comes from proper implementation, however pulling the QoS rabbit out of the networking hat takes more than incantations and spells – it takes knowledge and proper execution to successfully apply the technology to a network. However, that knowledge starts with understanding exactly how QoS works to improve network traffic flow for high value packets and related services.
Although an oversimplification, the best way to describe how QoS works is that it prioritizes network traffic – in effect, giving more bandwidth to important traffic and slowing down the not so important traffic. In other words, the most important packets (as defined by the IT professional) move to the front of the line, guaranteeing a predictable result.
Although QoS has been around for some time, most IT pros have gone the route of over provisioning the network to avoid the types of problems that QoS would most likely solve. The reason being that in the past QoS required specialized routers, switches and other equipment to properly execute and improve network performance. Simply put, it was cheaper and easier to increase bandwidth than it was to implement a technology such as QoS.
But the times are changing, and support for QoS is being integrated into more and more products and bandwidth utilization is on the upswing, thanks to the increased adoption of high utilization technologies, such as VoIP, streaming video, video conferencing, multimedia, high performance databases and business operation platforms. Another element driving IT to consider QoS is that Bandwidth scale is somewhat limited by technological limits. Over the years, connectivity has evolved from 10base-T to 100Base-T to Gigabit Ethernet – however, going beyond those speeds requires a significant investment, in everything from switching infrastructure to new cabling to new endpoint hardware.
That means overprovisioning bandwidth is no longer viable to meet increasing network traffic demands and other methods must be implemented and that is exactly where QoS can save the day. That said, IT shouldn’t just dive into QoS configuration, there are steps and procedures that must be followed to make sure QoS can deliver on its promises.
Frank J. Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the technology market. He has written articles for a variety of technology and business publications, and he worked previously as executive technology editor at eWeek and director of the CRN Test Center.
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