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Preparing for the Growing Wave of Mobile Traffic

After decades spent designing networks and analyzing application performance, one message rings loud and clear for me--capacity management continues to become increasingly complex. This has never been truer than with the growing use of mobile devices. As mobile devices proliferate and enterprises support the BYOD (bring your own device) model, network managers will experience mounting pressure to ensure that their networks can withstand the explosive growth of mobile device-related data. This column examines the volume of data that mobile devices are capable of adding to the network.

Mobile devices are roaming computers that run applications...lots of them! Users routinely install new applications with the press of a few buttons. Furthermore, the use of these applications does not follow any pattern or schedule, which makes the task of capacity planning more challenging. It is this very reason why capacity planning and application analysis have never been more important, especially as mobile device-related data consumption continues to grow exponentially.

To satisfy my curiosity, I decided to test various iPad apps to quantify the amount of data consumed. The objective of the test was quite simple: I wanted to compare the volume of data consumed using a native iPad app versus accessing the same content using a Web browser on both the iPad (Safari) and a PC (Internet Explorer).

My mobile device of choice is an iPad, which I use for professional and personal reading, keeping up with daily events, research, e-mail, and just about anything else. I decided to pick two applications--The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and The Weather Channel (TWC). The reason I picked these applications is because the respective information can be accessed using BOTH an iPad app AND a Web browser on both platforms. To ensure my results were consistent, I conducted testing over the course of a week.

The data consumed using the Web browser on the iPad and on a PC to access the WSJ home page was similar--both averaging around 2.2MB in total consumption (sent and received). The same test was run accessing the TWC site, which revealed similar results (around .9MB in total consumption). Although the iPad Web browser consumed slightly more data than the PC web browser for TWC, the difference was not enough to warrant further investigation.

However, using the iPad apps to read the WSJ and TWC tells is a very different story. The WSJ on average consumed 47MB of data when downloading a daily issue, while TWC consumed on average 7MB just to display the main menu!

In other words, the WSJ iPad app consumed 21 times more data than accessing the WSJ homepage via a Web browser, and the TWC app consumed over 7 times more data than accessing the TWC main menu via a Web browser. Putting aside the obvious fact that the experience of using a native iPad app is designed to deliver a richer, multimedia experience, the point here is that this experience comes at a price.

The takeaway is that network capacity planning will play an increasingly vital role as mobile device usage continues to grow, so brace yourself.

Stay tuned for future columns which explore how the growth and evolution of mobile computing in the enterprise will affect application and network performance.