Traffic shaping is a technique used for bandwidth management on computer networks. It delays some or all of the data to make them comply with the desired traffic profile. That way, network traffic management is optimized, or its performance is guaranteed.
Traffic shaping improves latency or increases the usable bandwidth for some packets by delaying others. As such, it is often confused with traffic policing, which is the practice of packet dropping and packet marking. Packet dropping occurs when traffic gets dropped from a network when the latter gets congested. Packet marking, meanwhile, is the practice of classifying traffic into different priority levels or classes.
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Traffic shaping, in sum, makes network communication faster by allowing organizations to manage bandwidth efficiently. With its help, the most mission-critical tasks get done more quickly without losing out on less critical processes.
How Does Traffic Shaping Work?
Traffic shaping starts with categorizing the different kinds of traffic that flow through a network. Organizations that maintain online shops, for example, may want to prioritize transaction traffic over that concerned with administrative tasks. That way, their customers will never have to wait to be served, dampening their experience.
The traffic coming from systems and applications other than the online shop, however, doesn’t get dropped or discarded. It is simply delayed. Once the network has been decongested, the traffic that has been postponed gets processed.
After categorization, the next step is to manage the network bandwidth using an application delivery controller, which applies specific traffic shaping criteria to the incoming and outgoing data.
Here’s a diagram depicting traffic shaping.
In it, you can see that more bandwidth is allocated to high-priority traffic, followed by medium-priority traffic and, finally, low-priority traffic.
What Are the Uses of Traffic Shaping?
Traffic shaping provides several benefits, including:
- Allows organizations to comply with contract stipulations
- Lets Internet service providers (ISPs) employ teletraffic engineering, a required Internet Traffic Management Practice (ITMP)
- Enables ISPs to limit the resources peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks consume
- Allows data centers to maintain service-level agreements (SLAs)
- Lets organizations that need to abide by IEEE 802.1Qav perform Audio Video Bridging
- Speeds up the flow of network traffic
- Adds bandwidth
- Avoids network congestion by detecting abnormalities in bandwidth consumption
- Blocks attacker IP addresses
- Enhances application performance
- Ensures high-quality transmission for critical applications
- Guarantees tiered-service level offerings to end-users
- Limits unwanted traffic
- Maximizes resources
- Is a must for network firewalls
What Are the Usual Traffic Shaping Methods?
There are two ways to apply traffic shaping, namely:
- Application-based traffic shaping: As the name suggests, traffic is prioritized based on the application it’s for. Organizations use fingerprinting tools to identify the application associated with a data packet and then apply traffic shaping policies to it. Take a look at its diagram.
- Route-based traffic shaping: This method determines traffic priority based on its source and intended destination. It prevents applications from bypassing traffic shaping policies.
How Does Traffic Shaping Differ from Traffic Policing?
We mentioned the two methods of handling traffic earlier. But while they are often confused for one another, they have a distinct difference.
Traffic shaping only delays traffic but doesn’t drop it. Traffic policing, meanwhile, drops data instead of just postponing its processing.
Why Is Traffic Shaping Important?
All networks have a finite amount of bandwidth. Traffic shaping aids in bandwidth management, thus ensuring the optimal performance of critical applications and the delivery of time-sensitive data.
Organizations that rely most on online sales, for instance, can apply application-based traffic shaping to prioritize all data going to and coming from their e-commerce application. Those that need quick responses from C-suites regularly, meanwhile, can apply route-based traffic shaping to prioritize messages going to and coming from the executives’ inboxes based on their IP addresses.
Traffic shaping is also helpful in defending against bandwidth-abusing distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. It can protect networks and applications from abnormal traffic spikes, regulate abusive users, and prevent attacks from overwhelming network resources.
You now know what traffic shaping is and why it is crucial for all types of organizations. It can ensure better network and application performance and thwart very harmful DDoS attacks.