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A Guide to Identifying & Reducing Network Congestion

To understand how to prevent almost anything, it is often critical to first understand some of the causes of the thing we want to avoid. For congested networks, the method used to fix the issue can often be directly related to the reason. Imagine trying to fix a leak without understanding precisely what is causing the leak or its origin.

What is Network Congestion?

Congestion refers to when a network is overloaded with data (like roads with cars or the like). In some cases, street traffic is the result of a temporary situation, like high-volume or accidents, much in the same way as congestion on our networks. Other cases present more dynamic or overarching issues, like poor design or needed repairs—more significant matters that require their type of solutions.

Causes of Network Congestion

Over-Used Devices

Not all devices are created equal. Some devices are designed to handle more traffic than others. Examples of devices such as routers, switches, and firewalls are constructed with expectations for network throughput. Adding to the confusion, the assigned capacity for a given device is a theoretical value. In other words, the stated capacity for a device may not be the precise ability the device will manage in real-world scenarios. Pushing devices to their max (reported) capacity can often result in over-utilization of the device.

In many cases, structures for using multiple devices are designed with hierarchies. A higher-level device will often serve lower-level devices. It’s critical within a hierarchy to ensure that the lower-level devices are not requiring more than the higher-level device is capable of supporting. Such incongruencies lead to bottlenecks in the flow of data. Continuing our anecdote about

street traffic, this would be similar to when a multi-lane freeway merges into two or fewer lanes.

Too many devices

It’s also important to clarify when a network might be using too many devices. Given that every network has a precise level of support it can provide, issues may arise if this capacity is being too strained with an excessive volume of devices. Too many devices can easily lead to a network that is receiving a surplus of requests for data.

Antiquated hardware

It is vital to acknowledge when the figurative streets to which our traffic is traveling may be outdated or requiring repair/updates. The same goes for our hardware. Any discussion about hardware also extends to wire and cable connections between devices. For example, ethernet cables differ in their maximum data speed and require updates or replacements as your business grows and matures over time.

Deficient design or poor configuration

Each network needs to be designed—or structured—in ways tailored to your operation’s needs. As an obvious example, a small-scale company with only a dozen or so employees requires a dramatically different architecture than a network servicing hundreds. But the cases are too common that a network does not scale in proportion to the operation it supports. A network needs to be optimized to provide connection to all segments while maximizing performance across each of those segments. Designing subnets is a viable way to allocate performance where it is needed the most—or the least. Subnets can be created around where you are sure a lot of data will be required and sized appropriately for this purpose.

Fixes for Network Congestion

Traffic monitoring

Any starting point for determining a solution for over-utilized devices, too many devices, or an insufficient network design must begin by assessing the action. Monitoring network traffic will provide the insight sufficient for identifying problem areas. It will help determine where congestion may exist. It can also illuminate under-utilized regions that may be re-allocated to perform better in a different area. As problems surface, you will have an awareness of how to make adjustments to design and usage. In many cases, tools are available to install for the sake of monitoring, which will allow you to optimize solutions to congestion.


A network that can transmit more data is less likely to experience issues of congestion. The simple solution to increasing the amount of transferable information is to increase your network’s bandwidth. It is critical to remember a common proverb: a chain is only as strong as the weakest link. In many respects, this is true for a network. A network’s slowest component is commonly linked to its overall performance. Once you’ve monitored your network and identified how data traffic is flowing, you can upgrade your network’s slowest parts to maximize the benefit of increasing your bandwidth.

Segmenting and Prioritizing

Another benefit of monitoring traffic is the capacity to design or re-design a network optimized for your needs. Towards that end, segmenting your network into smaller sub-networks will increase efficiency and create space to establish practical priorities. This not only produces a more viable network, but it also permits more accurate monitoring. Through segmentation, you can reduce or increase data traffic to positively impact congestion areas. You can do so with more accurate data and less guesswork.

Prioritization simply refers to your capacity to minimize congestion by giving due emphasis (priority) to key network processes. When non-essential or less essential services receive lower priority, a network reduces its likelihood of congestion. Of course, it is necessary to apply care and precision to prioritizing, because the wrong configuration or design can exacerbate issues meant to be resolved. This process can hugely benefit from the correct software or a team of technology experts to support and implement the appropriate design.

Other areas to explore when considering network congestion include using redundancy models, assessing security attacks, LAN performance tests, over-subscription, or TCP/IP protocol settings.


For experienced advice and support on designing or implementing effective measures for reducing network congestion, you can explore expert technology solutions for business strategy by setting up a consultation with Network Coverage.

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