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IT managers boot up for fan fever

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Currently, a whole host of international sporting events are underway and the accompanying fan support is reaching fever pitch. Only a select few will actually get the opportunity to support their hero’s from the stands, while the rest will be following the action thanks to state-of the-art streaming to official broadcasters and a proliferation of online media and social networking sites.

At the recent IT Web Security Summit held in South Africa in May 2010, more than 40% of IT Managers interviewed felt that upcoming sporting extravaganzas will have a significant impact on their company’s ability to function properly. Since many tournament timetables necessitate the scheduling of matches during work hours, concerns around internet resources are justified as companies may well find corporate bandwidth fully occupied by streaming video and popular social networking banter.

The invasion of fan fever will be particularly problematic in those organisations where no formal policies or technologies are in place to prioritise vital business applications and ensure the most efficient delivery of video streaming. Aside from the adverse effects on applications and communications, this flood of traffic further exposes organisations to potential security risks. Without the appropriate controls and filters for web-based traffic in place, many companies could find their business coming to a standstill.

Is ‚Ban the Fan’ really feasible?

Some companies are taking a zero tolerance approach, instituting a complete lock down on online streaming sites. In reality, this does little to deter an avid supporter who will in turn go to great lengths to circumvent these measures. Blocking actual protocols used for streaming is another option, but fails to discriminate between actual work-related media and fan frenzy, causing frustrations of its own.

Given the huge national pride that is generated around some tournaments, a complete ban on sport in the workplace could also seem a little unpatriotic. However IT managers do have the responsibility to keep critical internet resources protected and optimised for business use.

Creating a Win/Win Situation

Employees are often blissfully unaware of the performance implications that continuous live streaming has on company Internet gateways or the Wide Area Networks (WAN) or the resulting impact in branches and applications. Educating staff around the effects of multiple video streaming sessions on the corporate network and possible security risks can assist but will not alleviate the problem.

IT management can still take steps to improve their network infrastructure to reduce stream usage, optimise streaming data and allow users to time-shift matches to normal breaks in the working day:

¬∑ Consider resetting bandwidth management devices at the Internet egress point to define one ‚approved’ stream provider and give this high priority. Employees can be encouraged to use the approved stream for the duration of tournaments, while other streams are lower priority or blocked.

¬∑ Install appliances within the organisation’s network to split the streams ‚ meaning that a single stream request can be sent to multiple users simultaneously, reducing the upstream bandwidth required.

· Many stream splitting-appliances can also cache streams, allowing users to time-shift and view matches later at a more convenient Рand productive Рtime.

· Deploy WAN optimisation appliances that support streaming data between offices in order to cache and optimise the protocols between them.

These tactics permit acceptable access video content while minimising the load on the Internet gateway and branch offices by caching locally through a proxy appliance.

To further assist IT Managers mitigate the risks around potential streaming traffic, Dimension Data and Blue Coat have released two pieces: a white paper covering ‚How to Manage Online Streaming Content’ as well as the ‚Web Security Report for 2009′. Should you wish to receive these reports, please click here.

By stopping to consider the added pressure on network resources and the amplified security risks these global sporting tournaments create and looking at sensible ways in which to manage these effectively, organisations can ensure that non-essential application traffic does not interfere with crucial business operations, yet still keep flags and staff morale flying high.

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