IT limits mp3 download space

After students complained of slow download times as a result of new software implemented over the summer, Northwestern Information Technology on Oct. 14 increased the amount of bandwidth allotted to downloading mp3s and other “high-demand” files.

In late June, IT started using the software PacketShaper, produced by the California-based Internet application company Packeteer. PacketShaper allows a network to allocate the amount of space on the network for certain applications. The software allows IT to limit usage of high-demand applications such as those used for music and high-tech video games.

“All traffic is not really created equal,” Packeteer spokesman Wilson Craig said.

Downloading mp3s can account for up to 85 percent of the Internet traffic at universities, he added.

After limiting the amount of bandwidth to about 10 percent of NU’s near-150 megabytes-per-second network in June, IT eased restrictions so that between 25 and 50 percent of the network is available for such downloads.

Bandwidth was increased to 25 percent from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m on weekdays, and 50 percent on weekends and between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays. The maximum bandwidth available for normal applications, such as surfing the Web and checking e-mail, is 100 percent at all times.

IT limits access more during the day, when NU faculty and staff use the network. IT wants to be certain that Internet access will be available for everyone, said Tom Board, director of technology support services.

Medill sophomore Mike DePilla said he downloaded about 800 mp3s last year but hasn’t gotten many this year partly because of the slow downloads.

“It’s really frustrating compared to last year when you’d turn your head around and a new song would be on your hard drive,” he said. “But it’s better than nothing. That we can do this at all outweighs the fact that we can’t do it at super-high speeds.”

Board said that in the past, certain applications have consumed too much bandwidth, blocking normal usage such as surfing the Web. Board said IT decided last fall that it needed to ensure reliable usage of less demanding applications.

“The highway is only so wide,” Board said.

NU is not the only university to begin using Packeteer’s software. Craig said more than 300 colleges and universities nationwide use PacketShaper. Some Packeteer clients include Stanford University, AT&T and the New York Stock Exchange.

“Universities are a small but growing market for us,” Craig said.

The software does not affect traffic between two computers on NU’s system, Board said.

PacketShaper monitors only the bandwidth of a particular application and does not monitor the content, Board said.

“We have no interest in what individuals are doing on the network,” he said. “We have better things to do.”

Weinberg freshman Layla Bermeo said NU should have the right to limit bandwidth if student downloading prevents access to educational Web services such as Blackboard CourseInfo.

“That’s why it’s the school’s Internet service that they let us use,” Bermeo said.