"March Madness"

April 14, 2009 (Networkworld) For the past several years, we've followed the impact of "March Madness" on corporate bandwidth consumption with interest and, from time to time, a bit of bemusement. Particularly as the first two rounds of the NCAA tourney approaches, the thoughts of corporate networking managers seem to turn to whether employees watching basketball at their desktops will have a significant adverse impact on their network's performance.

This was highlighted a couple of weeks ago when we received a copy of a corporate memo that stated, in part:

“The purpose of this communication is to remind all employees of our standards of conduct regarding usage of company systems and technical resources.

“We are all aware of the intensity of interest in ‘March Madness’ and the fact that today’s technology allows individuals to view the NCAA basketball playoffs live via streaming audio and video. However, usage of these services to view games during working hours can result in a substantial degradation of network services which can negatively impact critical Company business functions. Therefore, we ask that you refrain from using company systems to access streaming audio and video that are not business related to help ensure there are no negative impacts on our business functions.”

Well, why do you think the NCAA/CBS software included a “boss button” anyhow?

Our reaction is that this type of memo is borderline ridiculous. There are so many simple ways to solve the problem. Regular readers of this column know that there are many, many application delivery tools that could solve this problem. Or, even more simply, why not just block access to NCAA.com and CBS.com? (Should CBS.com normally be available because employees are allowed to catch up on “Survivor” during their lunch hour?)

Or if this is a real problem, why not set up one computer in a conference room, tune it in to the game of local interest, and let employees drop by.

Seriously, this brings a major issue. The first step in controlling network usage has to be the development of a reasonable “acceptable use” policy, and this has to be clearly communicated. And totally banning sites such as “YouTube” is not a reasonable policy. There’s a lot of entertaining fluff on YouTube. But there’s also a wealth of first-rate technology training. Similarly, there’s the question of the extent to which people are entertaining themselves instead of doing their jobs.

Therefore, corporate and IT management must work together to make a "best effort" to deploy management functionalities then make a best effort to enforce those policies. This starts with IT and corporate management working together to determine where threats and/or severe technical degradation are real vs. imagined. It all comes down to common sense, a factor that seems to be sadly lacking in many network infrastructures today.

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