Putting Bandwidth Hogs on a Diet

January 31, 2004

 

Only about 10 percent of Duke students are hogging 90 percent of the capacity of Duke's residential student network (ResNet), Duke computer network analysts have found. Quite often, these gigabyte gluttons are using "peer-to-peer" (P2P) file-sharing programs to download the collections of music or their favorite bootleg movies.

The result has been that ResNet has sometimes slowed to a crawl, frustrating students seeking to download information for their coursework, or to communicate with faculty or other students. To address the problem, Duke administrators have established the equivalent of a highway load limit, limiting Duke students to transmitting a (generous) five gigabytes of data to the Internet each day.

"We have what should be plenty of communications capacity or bandwidth--several times more than what's available at some major universities," says Tracy Futhey, vice president for information technology and chief information officer. She says that establishing reasonable limits on network use should give all students plenty of capacity for their academic and communications needs.

"It's a question of fairness," says Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs. "The Internet is essential for academic work, social communications, and all kinds of daily needs. We think we can improve things for the vast majority of students by making changes that are very unlikely to cause problems for anyone."

The new bandwidth policy came about in part at the urging of Duke Student Government (DSG). "I think this new bandwidth policy is a very fair way to handle the problems we've been having, and the university did a good job of making sure that students were involved in the decision-making," says junior Eileen Kuo, DSG's director of internal computing. "Other students I've spoken with seem to agree that they'd rather have a reasonable cap on their outbound traffic than bandwidth congestion, which prevents them from completing work."

Moneta emphasizes that students will be educated about wise use of bandwidth and how to protect their computers against hidden programs that might cause heavy traffic.

For example, says Chris Cramer, security officer at the Office of Information Technology, "Certain programs automatically try to upload whatever they call 'content' to the network. Content could even be a Word file. Almost every P2P program we've seen contains what's called 'spyware,' programs that monitor all network activity and see what you log into or what websites you've viewed, then send that information back to the spyware owner. A lot of these P2P places give away the P2P program and get paid for including spyware."

Moneta says offenders will be given fair warning--as many as five notices of violations--and exceptions will be made when there is a legitimate need for higher capacity. But students who continue to flout the policy will be damned to a sort of digital purgatory: The speed of their network connection will be throttled down to an embarrassingly slow rate for the rest of the semester.