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Unclogging Employee Bandwidth

February 25, 2001
Related Topics: Internet, Featured Article
When Victoria's Secret held its annual online lingerie fashion show last May,over two million viewers tuned in - most from their office PCs. The video Webcast gobbled up so much bandwidth that it tied up corporate networks, stealingspace needed for - gasp! - actual work activities.

    Just one employee streaming that particular Web cast was the equivalent ofdownloading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica onto his or her workplace network,says John Carrington, CEO of Websense, a provider of employee Internet managementsolutions.

    Few workers realize how their clandestine online activities can drasticallyslow down the company network. For example, if one employee is blissfully listeningto music online while another is trying to download a financial applicationfor her job, the latter's task can take twice as long.

T-1 traffic taming
    Most businesses today invest in costly high-speed Internet connections knownas T1 lines. Since few employees have high-speed access at home, many visitstreaming media-laden Web sites on the job.

    Some companies combat the problem by periodically denying access to certainWeb sites overused by its employees. This can involve buying expensive Layer7 programmable switches, which must then be integrated with existing routersand servers. Such a task can take weeks.

    Other businesses try to relieve gridlock by purchasing expensive new T1 lineswith more bandwidth from their Internet Service Provider (ISP). Yet this approachbackfires, as employees quickly pick up on the faster pace of their Internetplayground and use it for even more bandwidth-consuming activities.

    "Ironically, companies that put in higher bandwidth are [just] going to getless productivity out of their employees," says John Holobinko, CEO of AplionNetworks, a software developer.

Case study: Texaco
    A new solution is bandwidth prioritization, in which companies can prioritizeboth their Local Area Network (LAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) traffic so thatbusiness-critical applications can get through the network first.

    Texaco needed to make sure its business-critical network traffic - includingits THP financial database, SNA mainframe, and People Soft human resources software- was not slowed down by less critical traffic such as Web surfing.

    The company turned to Lightspeed Systems' QoS for E-Business, a network traffic-managementsolution that prioritizes network traffic not only by application, but in otherways as well, including by department and even by the calendar. For example,if the accounting department's "crunch time" is at the end of each month, companiescan "set" the network so that accounting gets high bandwidth priority duringthat week. And key business partners accessing the company's network resourcescan be prioritized over employees downloading music files.

    "The immediate savings was about $75,000 in hardware costs and approximately$3,000 in monthly circuit costs," says Richard Goldberg, then a senior networkengineer at Texaco, and now with Aera Energy. "We didn't have to go out andorder five new T1s for remote offices."

    The savings of keeping data accurate and timely were also of great benefit,Goldberg says, as were the ability to "reach into the network" and identifywhich applications were most important.

    Goldberg is also using Lightspeed Systems' QoS for E-Business in his currentjob. "The dollar crunching, business justification is twofold, limiting 'RealPlayer' traffic…and guaranteeing available bandwidth for SAP and Oracle," hesays.

    "[Also], we go through a hard month end close financially which creates a buzzof network activity, database snapshots, backups, copies and queries, and wecan prioritize traffic during the close."

More technologies that fight back
    Companies are just now realizing that adding bandwidth to solve network congestionis not a viable long-term solution, says Toby Velte, CEO of FireSummit.

    His company is coming out in March with a network traffic prioritization solutioncalled Viziq, which is currently being beta-tested the University of Wisconsin-Stout,the University of Minnesota's ITS Institute, and three Fortune 1000 companies.

    One major benefit of Viziq, says Velte, is that it can easily be installedand employed by business IT people - not just engineers. The company ships theserver component with the product preloaded, which is similar to a browser plug-in.

    Viziq is also very smart, he says. It has an intelligence engine that can dynamicallychange priorities when two similarly ranked applications are fighting for networkspace. There's also the issue of lunchtime surfing, which can tie a networkup considerably. If officials of the company are trying to have an Internet-basedconference during the middle of the day, the sound quality can be terrible.Viziq can be set to prioritize certain applications during this period, whenemployees are using their free time to surf yet can still harm the flow of business-criticalapplications.

    Many businesses overprovision their T1 lines because they have to, Velte says.With all the Web surfing and downloading of non-business-related files, theymust supply more bandwidth to keep the network congestion-free. If a companyis over provisioning its line by 20 to 30 percent, that's very expensive. Viziqcan eliminate those extra costs.

    Another popular solution is Internet filtering software such as Websense, whichhelps businesses monitor, report and manage how their employees are using theInternet. Yet such monitoring can be embarrassing to employees - a situationmany companies want to avoid in a tight labor market.

    Finally, there's Aplion Networks' Network Virtuoso Soloist, another bandwidthprioritization solution, which works in the following fashion. If an employeeis loading a Shockwave game, and his colleague in the next cubicle is tryingto download work-related software, the Shockwave game will automatically shutdown, freeing the line for the productive worker.

    An added feature is that companies can create "a managed Internet," so thatif an employee tries to access a forbidden Web site, the site will simply "timeout." Unlike Websense, there's no reporting on who tried to get onto the site- and no subsequent embarrassment. The employee will merely think it's a technicalproblem at the Web site.

    Currently Network Virtuoso Soloist is sold only to ISPs as an add-on serviceto their business customers. Companies can ask their ISPs if they offer theproduct.

    In the end, bandwidth prioritization is more effective than Web usage monitoring,says Holobinko. "It's the difference between just setting up a monitoring cameraon a highway - or shaping the traffic on the highway itself to everybody's bestinterest."

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