by Mark Pearce, strategic alliance director, EMEA, Enterasys Networks

The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement is now well established in many law firms. A big advantage of this is that it allows staff to bring in their own smart phones and tablets, allowing them to share information whilst being mobile. iPhones and iPads are undeniably dominating the market here, due to Apple’s reputation of being the perceived market leader. The uncertain future of Blackberry revealed by IDC research, suggesting it will drop to just 1.5% of the mobile device market share over the next few years, means that the percentage of Apple and Android devices in the workplace is set to rise even further.

However, this influx of Apple devices into the legal world has caused an unexpected difficulty.

Apple products connect and access networks by a multicast Domain Naming system protocol called Bonjour. These devices use this to enable the automatic and easy discovery of computers, devices and services on IP networks. This allows Apple products to communicate with each other and the network, without the need to enter IP addresses, or configure DNS services.

Whilst this protocol is excellent in terms of it’s simplicity and ease-of-use, like many multicast services it causes a lot of chatty traffic or “noise” on the network. Other types of devices also use similar protocols.

This is not a problem in a small home network, but when you start to multiply out the number of Apple devices connecting to each other in a large enterprise, the amount of traffic can be substantial. Some organisations have reported that up to 90% of their bandwidth becomes swallowed by the Bonjour protocol. This results in a slow network, and poor communication between devices connected through the network.

Another problem that can occur in large enterprises is that broadcasts of service advertisements can only be seen by devices that are in the same Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN). Again, this is not a problem in homes or small businesses. However, in a large enterprise with a large multi-VLAN network, the Bonjour traffic will not span across VLANs, meaning that there will be some communication issues.

This is down to the fact that Apple products are designed for consumers rather than enterprise. Their focus is on usability rather than manageability. However, there are some steps you can take, to resolve these issues, and prevent it from hampering BYOD growth.

Points to evaluate:

The first step is to be aware of the problem. Once you understand the traffic caused by Bonjour, and other mechanisms, you may be able to account for some network issues. This will also prevent undue blame being placed on IT departments when the network is running slow!

You must understand which devices are being used in your firm, and which operating system they use. This means you can evaluate which protocols are being used, so you can judge which solutions to deploy.

Finally, you must assess the effect Bonjour is having on your network; whether all devices are communicating effectively, and how much bandwidth is being used up.

How to say Au Revoir to Bonjour traffic:

If Bonjour is causing a problem, the solution is not to block this traffic, but to manage it. There are two main ways in which you can deal with excessive traffic caused by Bonjour.

Good quality network products, already have inbuilt managers which can deal with traffic from Bonjour and all other protocols. These products create a separate domain for Bonjour and other such protocols.

If a change in network would not be viable, there are gateways available that will prevent Bonjour traffic from swallowing bandwidth. However it will only manage Bonjour, so will have no affect on traffic from other device types.

The key here is just to understand the issue and work with the best solution for you in order to manage the problem. If understood, and managed correctly, the network traffic caused by Bonjour need not prevent law firms from adopting or continuing a BYOD policy.