Advertising and Network Bandwidth

eyeballA study was done at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia that showed a significant decrease in network bandwidth on an enterprise network through the application of an ad blocker. In the study the group created an enterprise network and then implemented Adblock Plus to eliminate advertising and the associated video trailers. They found that at the peak the ad blocking reduced network traffic by as much as 40%.

As is usual with these kinds of studies you have to look at the specific circumstances before jumping to the conclusion that ad blocking could do the same for all enterprise networks. In this case the network was created specifically to undertake the test. And I would assume that most of the volunteers using the network are students, and as such they might view more content with video than older workers.

But even when considering those caveats it was an impressive result and it demonstrates how overwhelmingly prevalent and video-laden web advertising has become. You can’t surf web pages or look at social media without getting inundated by video, most of it unwanted.

And all of this unwanted video really adds up to real bandwidth. I see where people with data caps on their bandwidth usage are always amazed at the amount of bandwidth they used, and unwanted video is probably a big reason for the extra bandwidth. Nowadays I would think that spending time on a social media site like Facebook could be more bandwidth intensive than watching Netflix.

The study does suggest to enterprise network administrators that they should consider implementing a network version of an ad blocker. While that might not result in a 40% traffic reduction across the network, even half of that would be very impressive.

If you don’t use an ad blocker you may have noticed that some web sites seem to load very slowly. This happens pretty routinely with many of the prevalent news sites which make their money from advertising. Look at sites like the Huffington Post and you’ll see it’s full of ads. According to Adblock Plus, the first article I pulled up on Huffington Post had 56 separate ad scripts running.

It is the process of filling the many ads on web sites that slows them down. Web sites contain two kinds of advertising. There are embedded ads that a web site owner puts directly onto their site and locks. Embedded ads cannot be accessed or changed by an outside party. But there are also remnant ads, which are ads that fit into blank spaces left for that purpose by the website owner. It is the process of filling ads into these spaces that causes the delay loading the page.

There is a whole industry of companies that compete for the open ad slots on web pages – companies like Google (Doubleclick), Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook, AOL, AppNexus, Openx, Adroll, RightMedia, and dECN. Each of these companies sell internet advertising and the remnant ads slots are where they place most of their ad inventory.

When somebody puts a remnant ad space on their web site it is open real estate and there is an auction where the highest bidder for an ad spot will gain access. It is the process of going through multiple rounds of auctions for ad slots that ultimately can slow a site down.

And all of this takes bandwidth. If you run a network, cutting down on the ad auctions and cutting out the trailer videos can significantly cut down the traffic you are seeing from web browsing. And as a side benefit, ad blocking also eliminates some of the more vicious viruses that can be embedded in advertising these days. Adoption of ad blockers is growing rapidly by individuals, but I see some sense in network owners encouraging the use of more ad blocking as another good traffic management tool.

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