Consumerisation + iPlayer = corporate bandwidth problem?
This year’s computing buzzword is probably ‘consumerisation’. It is used to describe the growing influence of staff in the choice and use of corporate computing devices – and one effect of this consumerisation is that the demarcation lines between corporate and personal use are at best blurred and more likely non-existent.
Nigel Hawthorn, VP EMEA marketing at Blue Coat, believes this growing consumerisation may have another effect – a strain on corporate network bandwidths. Hawthorn has a history of predicting the unexpected. Back at the beginning of the summer, he suggested that some company networks would be overwhelmed by their own staff watching the World Cup live on company bandwidth (FIFA World Cup: the world’s biggest ever DoS?). He was confident enough to declare that if wrong, he’d eat his shirt; and he did not have to eat his shirt.
Now he points out that the latest version of the BBC’s iPlayer, coupled with consumerisation, has the potential to place a growing and sustained strain on UK bandwidths. “The iPlayer’s new version has some great new features on it,” he told me. “and there are two that are particularly important from a network manager’s point of view. Firstly, iPlayer can now support HD. What’s that – 3.2 Mb per second; where it’s just 1.6 for non-HD? And secondly, and probably more insidiously because users might not realise what they are doing, you can now set a particular programme or set of programmes as one of your favourites, and say that you want your PC to automatically download each new episode as soon as it is broadcast. So the PC sits there, boots up in the morning, and because the user has at some time in the past said ‘I love Eastenders’, it downloads last night’s Eastenders to the PC, even if that user never goes back and watches it.”
Network managers would do well to think about this. Consider the temptation on staff. Fewer people are seeing much difference between company computing and home computing. They check and respond to their company email at home on their own bandwidth; why shouldn’t they be just as relaxed at work with the company bandwidth? So what is wrong with downloading last night’s television to watch while having a sandwich lunch at your desk? Or to have something to watch on your laptop during the hour-long train commute home?
Then do the math. If just ten members of staff have got the iPlayer app on their PCs and have set it to download one or more favourites, that could be something like 15Gb of non work-related downloads, probably in one go when people boot up their PCs in the morning. And if those people haven’t downloaded, but all decide to watch streaming programmes during the same lunch-break, we’re talking about something like 32Mb/sec. Could your network cope?
The consumerisation of computing is just beginning. The use of the internet as the source of all video entertainment is growing. So the demand on company bandwidth from non work-related staff downloads is likely to grow exponentially over the next couple of years. This means that it will be essential to develop ‘acceptable use policies’ that are in themselves acceptable and yet enforceable. This will require a clear view into the use of your networks, and strong control over that use. And that requires the products of companies like Blue Coat.