How to deal with bandwidth hogs

InTown Suites, a low-cost hotel chain, had a problem with users of file sharing applications who were consuming all of its network bandwidth. Here’s how they solved the problem.


Based in Atlanta, InTown Suites has 139 properties around the country that use T-1 lines to link to a Cisco-powered virtual private network. InTown Suites provides its guests with free high-speed Internet access, but the bandwidth was being gobbled up by users of file sharing applications.

"We were having issues with guests file sharing using applications like BitTorrent and LimeWire," explained Stephen Bell, Director of IT for InTown Suites. "We would have one guest who would be file sharing, and that file sharing application would make so many connections that it would saturate the bandwidth on our T-1 and affect every other guest at that property."

Worse, InTown Suites employees couldn't access key web-based applications such as time and attendance and procurement because their T-1 lines were clogged.

InTown Suites tried blocking the IP and MAC addresses for the guests who were engaged in file sharing, but that didn't work for long.

"Most of these guests were savvy enough that they'd assign themselves another IP address or MAC address from [Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol], so we just went back and forth with the fight," Bell said.

InTown Suites didn't want to spend money on additional bandwidth because they believed it would just be consumed by the guests who were running file sharing applications. Instead, the company looked for a network appliance that would identify and block the file sharing traffic that was causing trouble.

"These file sharing applications are hard to identify because this particular traffic disguises itself as something else," Bell said. "We needed something that would look at the traffic and identify the traffic for what it really was."

Bell evaluated two devices that could do deep packet inspection: Packeteer (now owned by Blue Coat) and Exinda. Bell said the Exinda device was a better fit for his needs.

"The Packeteer did what it was supposed to do," Bell said. "It allowed us to isolate the office side from the guest side, prioritise the office side and manage the guest side bandwidth so it was more equitable. What it didn't do was specifically identify packets and block the traffic that we wanted to block. Exinda was a much better solution for our specific problem."

InTown Suites spent around $250,000 to purchase an Exinda device for each of its locations. The company uses these devices to prioritize office traffic and to block peer-to-peer traffic.

Bell said the Exinda devices were simple enough to configure and install that the company could use onsite staff rather than flying IT personnel out to each location for installation.

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