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News Editor

Not-so-must-see TV

Apr 17, 20066 mins
Data Center

What do you say we plop a TV set on the desk of every employee in your organization.

Sounds nuts, you say? . . . Already done, isn’t it?

Aren’t PCs with a broadband connection becoming more indistinguishable from a TV with each passing day? Much of college basketball’s March Madness tournament was available — live — thanks to the good folks at CBS, who were so cognizant of what that would mean for network managers that they offered advice for blocking the broadcasts. ABC just made a splash by announcing it will offer free online access to prime-time programs such as “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” the day after they air. . . . Can the soaps be far behind?

Here’s a pitch I saw from one Web site: “Take A Quick TV Break! Are you feeling that the day is getting too long and you’re falling asleep at your desk? Sneak in a quick energizer. Let us show you how to use your PC to catch a comedy just to brighten your day, update yourself with a quick news clip, or watch your favorite artist’s music video!”

Knowing those exclamation points would register as darts for network professionals, I turned last week to the members of  this blog’s e-mail list — the Buzzblog Brigade — for their views on this PC-to-TV evolution. A

few of the comments were published in my print ‘Net Buzz column, but here’s a more comprehensive selection from the replies I received:

“We’re going to see a lot more places clamping down. For starters, bandwidth has limits, and if a large portion of a workplace’s population is watching ‘Lost,’ that isn’t going to be good for network performance,” writes John Gog, network system administrator for the city of Birmingham, Ala. “But my bigger issue is the waste of time. I get very tired of hearing how people are working soooo many hours, when those same people (in many cases) are spending hours each week doing personal surfing. Having survived the NCAA tournament, which had users watching games and spending time fiddling with their brackets, the thought of them now watching primetime programming during work hours is sickening.”

“I am not an ‘all work, no play’ individual by any means (as any of my coworkers would willing tell you), but I do believe that you work first, then play.  When play, though, can affect the work of others by taking away network resources, then it’s not appropriate at any time.’

“I’ve worked in state and local government.  When I was with the state, they were pretty draconian about limiting Internet access.  The city I work for now has taken the opposite approach.  I’ve seen abuses in both environments.  At the state, that meant taking access away from those who abused it.  I suspect that sort of thing will come to pass here, too.”

And let’s not forget the audiophiles.

“We have already found ourselves having to block radio station Web sites,” writes Bill Dotson, IT manager for Crown Packaging in Chesterfield, Mo. “Users don’t realize (or even consider) the amount of bandwidth it takes to listen to streaming audio. I’m sure they’ll give equal consideration to bandwidth when watching television over the ’Net. And since many of those ‘televised’ programs come from sites that are not blocked by our Web filters, I’m sure we’ll struggle to prevent users from bringing our network to its knees while they watch ‘Desperate Housewives’ at their desk.”

“I fully expect at some point someone will download an entire episode of some TV show and then e-mail it to one of their friends, further bogging down our network. Maybe educating users about bandwidth-intensive activities is the way to go. Then again, maybe I can teach a turtle to tango.”

“And we thought the big problem was spam and malware.”

Joel Trammell, CEO of NetQoS, which provides software to monitor application performance across WANs, sees real risk for TCP-based business apps.

“The problem that is probably least well understood is how UDP-based traffic such as VoIP and real-time video can starve out TCP-based business applications,” writes Trammel.

“Since TCP responds to packet loss by throttling back, its performance can be dramatically affected by the introduction of real-time protocols. People are beginning to see this happen as the amount of VoIP traffic across their network grows dramatically. In most deployments VoIP is prioritized ahead of all other traffic and will perform reasonably well on a well provisioned enterprise network. However TCP-based business applications will experience tremendous variation in response times across the network. Users find wide variations in performance (one time it takes a second to load a page, the next time 10 seconds) particularly frustrating since they don’t know what to expect.”

“Enterprise network managers need to instrument their infrastructure so that they can quantify these performance changes and understand the impact of new applications and traffic types as they appear.”

Some organizations are already in just just-say-no mode.

“My company has already clamped down. No March Madness. No Internet radio,” writes Howard Stewart, RIS/PACS administrator at Southern Ohio Medical Center in Portsmouth. “They don’t mind us wasting a little time on low-bandwidth activities, but until we see some major upgrades to the network infrastructure we won’t be getting any Web TV.”

It’s certainly possible to go overboard on the filtering, says one Brigade member.

“As one who came from the academic IT world into the IT world of a small business, I can admit that I have not limited or filtered Web usage in either position,” writes Jason Thomas. “I don’t think you can be too restrictive, as inevitably someone will need one of these ‘services’ to actually get a job done.  At the very minimum, any firm should be investing in some type of packet-shaping/traffic-monitoring tool to mitigate the effect downloads of this type of information will have on their network.”

At least one reader sees hope on the horizon.

 “Sure, every PC is now a TV/storm drain for bandwidth. But with the proliferation of attack-mitigation devices and Internet-filtering appliances, our job is getting a little easier — at least on the technical side,” writes Glenn Freel, a systems administrator.  “We are currently filtering Web use through a URL-based appliance. We’re also em­ploying a device that gives very customizable and automated reports based on top destination ports, source or destination IP addresses, machine names, users ranked by traffic, or any activity on ports known to be [peer to peer] or other problem areas. Such reports give a network admin a very good idea of what his or her typical baseline should look like. That reduces the problems you speak of down to that whole icky ‘human’ factor.” 

“I try to keep on top of things, such as knowing beforehand that CBS was going with the March Madness deliveries. But with the proper precautions in place, most of my worry was whether I could resist the temptation myself.”

News Editor

In addition to my editing duties, I have written Buzzblog since January, 2006 and wrote the 'Net Buzz column in Network World's dearly departed print edition for 13 years. Feel free to e-mail me at