The New Media Ecosystem: Resistance Is Futile (And Could Even Be Fatal)

Gamers, YouTubers, and MySpace cadets are sitting in the next cubicles. Stop fighting them and, instead, welcome them into your corporate network.
Businesses must develop an effective strategy to address these emerging challenges. The following steps will be important in ensuring business continuity:

State the rules. Companies must define a clear policy on acceptable Internet use at work. Rather than a top-down approach, employees from different divisions, levels, and, most important, age groups should be involved in developing a high-level set of guidelines. Clear reasons for blocking sites, where necessary, should be spelled out for employees. And the policy should recognize that new technologies and capabilities will constantly be emerging, and it should provide guidelines for regular updates and addendums to keep it relevant.

Put Big Brother on guard. Installing network intelligence software and deep packet inspection technology that tracks the volume and type of traffic on corporate networks will give IT managers insight into how their networks function. It will also help in medium-term bandwidth planning. Employees should be told how monitoring will be conducted, and care must be taken to address privacy concerns. Data gained from tracking tools should be shared with employees to help them understand the reasons for installing them in the first place.

Block where necessary. Companies should explore filtering software that can block access to banned sites but should limit the number of sites that are blocked. Communicating the rationale for these restrictions will facilitate employee acceptance. Sharing data measuring the impact on productivity will be particularly helpful.

Web filtering software can also be used to track and control employee Web usage in other ways. For example, the city of Pittsburgh uses a Web filtering program to enforce a policy limiting its 1,300 employees to 30 minutes a day of free Net surfing.

Prepare for the multimedia onslaught. Bandwidth requirements will scale rapidly as the amount of multimedia content on the Internet grows. IT managers must be prepared to support the rapidly growing bandwidth demands that will result. In particular, as video becomes more established, traffic will grow exponentially.

chart: Bandwidth Squeeze
Certainly, telecom providers anticipate significant bandwidth requirements from Internet video. More than half of the respondents in a recent Heavy Reading survey of Internet service providers say that they don't have enough bandwidth to support both their own IPTV services and the explosion of Internet video (see chart, "Bandwidth Squeeze"). Just as they're deploying fiber-based networks to support growing traffic, enterprises must also create additional capacity on their own networks.

Control bandwidth hogs. Given the bandwidth requirements of video, corporate networks can get clogged rapidly. In addition to expanding bandwidth, enterprises can use WAN optimization products to prioritize, compress, cache, and control video on their networks. Florida's Charlotte County school district has Internet connections in its classrooms and uses videos from online sources to aid teachers. Over the last 12 months, use of video in the classroom more than quadrupled. The heavy bandwidth load degraded video quality and the network performance of applications. The county invested in WAN optimization technology and now can prioritize video traffic and cache videos locally, opening up network bandwidth for other applications.

Watch the little boxes. MP3 players and other portable storage devices such as USB keys are a significant security threat, given the ease with which employees can transfer files from a Web-connected PC to a portable device and walk out the door. Employers may need to disable USB ports or use port-control software to minimize the threat to sensitive information. Rather than let employees download sensitive content to their PCs, that content should be stored on secure servers where possible.

No wires doesn't mean no problems. While mobile multimedia is still in the early stages of development, we expect mobile networks increasingly will be used to access multimedia content and visit community sites. As a result, many of the dangers associated with the wireline Web will emerge on the mobile Web. Recently, malicious software called Commwarrior targeted phones with the Symbian operating system, which is installed on Nokia phones and is the most popular OS for smartphones. Commwarrior used MMS, or Multimedia Messaging Service, which can be sent worldwide, so the virus can proliferate rapidly. Security vendors such as Symantec, F-Secure, and McAfee have countered with mobile antivirus offerings.

Get interactive. Social networking won't go away, and business technology managers must prepare for spikes in DNS traffic as social networking sites pull content from all over the Internet to create a single page. Virgin Media, a U.K. cable operator, has reported that DNS traffic from MySpace grew almost 40% in the last 10 months and now accounts for 10% of Virgin's DNS traffic, while traffic from YouTube and Facebook has doubled. Network operators are reporting that DNS traffic, which used to double every year, is now doubling every six months. Enterprises must focus on intelligently scaling and upgrading DNS architectures to deal with higher volumes, as well as greater threats from attackers. Consistent monitoring even after a DNS upgrade will be required to track future growth.

Look both ways. Companies face increasing challenges with intellectual property protection and regulatory compliance as employees are able to distribute content as well as download it. "There's a sort of Maslow's hierarchy of needs for companies here," says Andrew Lochart, VP of marketing at St. Bernard Software, which provides content management and Web filtering software. First, they focused on what could be coming in, and the priority was virus protection and then spam blocking, Lochart says. "But now we're also seeing concerns about what's leaving the organization." he says. There's greater emphasis on data leakage protection and content management and filtering, initially focused on e-mail but now much broader in scope. Employees can post to various social networking sites, so employers need to be able to monitor HTTP traffic as well.

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First in a series of articles assessing the future of the Internet. For more, check out, with its ThinkerNet blog of more than 65 Internet contributors, including Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale, and General Motors CIO Ralph Szygenda, as well as videos, Webinars, news, and more.
Communicate. The most important step for enterprise IT is to communicate regularly with employees. Involving employees in policy development and sharing data on traffic, network outages, and other adverse impacts of online usage can head off resentment and backlash. It's a mistake to roll out these solutions without some kind of "employee orientation," Lochart says. "They have to understand the rationale for the policy."

Cluing in the troops--whether in the military or in the cubicles down the hall--about security and productivity concerns can help minimize the need to block access to offending Web sites. While following the Defense Department's lead and blocking access to a bunch of sites is quick and easy, there are other ways to deal with the onslaught of rich media applications--the very applications that could make your employees more connected and productive.

Aditya Kishore is a senior analyst at Heavy Reading.

Illustration by Yuan Lee

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