By Michael O’Dwyer - Tech Data Guest Blogger
An Irishman based in Hong Kong, Michael O’Dwyer is a business & technology journalist, independent consultant and writer who specializes in writing for enterprise, small business and IT audiences. With 20+ years of experience in everything from IT and electronic component-level failure analysis to process improvement and supply chains, Michael is a sought-after writer whose quality sources, deep research and quirky sense of humor ensures he’s welcome in high-profile publications such as The Street and Fortune 100 IT portals.
Not found in Webster’s, ‘I don’t care’ is nonetheless part and parcel of our workplace vocab, whether we vocalize it or not.
As a former IT drone, I certainly wouldn’t accept a carefree attitude to bandwidth issues and definitely wouldn’t field ongoing complaints from network users when I know the location and reason for network disruption.
Why should you care about bandwidth hogs? Insufficient bandwidth affects productivity. Less work is completed, and profits suffer. Adopting a casual “IT will sort it out, that’s their job” attitude is of no benefit whatsoever and breeds resentment amongst your support staff. Identification and immediate removal of bandwidth hogs may seem like the ideal solution, but for obvious reasons that won’t happen.
The alternative is bandwidth monitoring for the identification of problem areas or users, and a documented internet usage policy defines what is not allowed and the penalties for ignoring instructions.
Bandwidth monitoring is a valuable tool in identifying bandwidth hogs. Picture the scene. It’s 7am, and some cubicle dwellers arrive a little early to catch up on email from the previous day. They discover that email delivery is painfully slow and they are unable to access the internet. The CEO pops his head in to complain about the network, seeking an IT response. IT, keeping regular hours, are nowhere to be found. What’s the problem?
One user, in his wisdom, decided to schedule a torrent client (P2P networks that are notorious for providing illegal downloads of movies, music, and software) to run outside office hours. His colleagues, knowing his habits and seeing the rapidly flickering LEDs on the network card, disconnect his desktop’s network cable and the network returned to normal. “Big deal,” you might say. It happened before official work hours…
However, the torrent client also prevented scheduled incremental server backups, company-wide Microsoft Exchange mail delivery and threat definition updates for security suites, as it sucked all available bandwidth. Did this particular bandwidth hog increase or decrease risk, in your opinion?
In this instance, bandwidth monitoring (if IT were present) could have easily identified the problem. Although companies generally avoid managing bandwidth per user, it is a feasible option. This means every user has a defined amount of bandwidth available. Unfortunately, it’s generally considered impractical as there are times when additional bandwidth is necessary, when using VoIP, for example.
In the above example, a user downloaded material from a torrent site. It’s not a stretch to conclude that some users will download software from these sites and install unauthorized software on company desktops, not appreciating or caring about the risks of doing so. Such software may have embedded malware or keyloggers that transmit gathered data to a remote server, consuming bandwidth in the process. The software could create a backdoor for the hacker, allowing complete access to your network. As if these problems are not enough to alarm you, consider what will happen if illegal software is discovered during an external software audit. The financial penalties and reputational damage are often substantial.
The Company Strikes Back
Of course, bandwidth hogs can disrupt your network in other ways--the use of streaming video or gaming sites, for example. Other unintentional activities can include synchronization tasks for offsite storage (DropBox etc.), VoIP usage, email spam, and automatic system updates.
For the most part, bandwidth issues can be traced to a specific user or IP address and involve misuse of company property. While I’m a privacy advocate, as the company owns all the network infrastructure and the related software, it has every right to ensure that network uptime is optimized. This is typically achieved by monitoring the network, using a variety of tools. Working hours are for work tasks. Personal social media updates are not part of that and should be performed during official breaks and on your own devices.
To maximize bandwidth availability, I believe it is best that only company-owned devices are allowed on the network i.e. no BYOD program. Cellphone data plans are typically restrictive and jumping onto the company Wi-Fi to run data-intensive updates, or stream video can only reduce network efficiency, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Companies that ship product work to fixed deadlines. How will you feel when shipping documents are not sent out in time because several of your employees got the urge to watch hilarious cat videos on YouTube?
In conclusion, think carefully before you say that you don’t care about bandwidth hogs as to volunteer this opinion says more about you than you’d like. It shows a complete lack of awareness of the importance of bandwidth. Without bandwidth, a business cannot function, regardless of industry or size. Try going without a data connection for 48 hours… IT operations is pervasive and is required in every facet of the company. In addition, without executive buy-in, IT teams are wasting their time trying to enforce internet usage policies, if they even exist.
As technology evolves and increased bandwidth is necessary, do yourself a favor and ensure your network can handle the increased traffic. Invest in a suitable network monitoring tool. It would also be wise to perform due diligence on network capacity planning, by identifying users who double as bandwidth hogs and ensure your company’s survival in a competitive marketplace.