YouTube's Ripple Effect

Monday Nov 13th 2006 by Sandra Gittlen
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The rapid growth of video-on-demand creates major challenges for IT departments.

If IT executives were wondering how video-on-demand would effect their network, the immense popularity of YouTube.com is giving them a clear idea.

“I am sure that YouTube and other on-demand video sites are having an effect on network performance with regard to Internet speeds and also overall bandwidth,” says Chris Ferski, vice president of IT at investment banking firm Goldsmith Agio Helms in Minneapolis.

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“YouTube...[is] listed as an adult site because there is adult-like content.”

Tom Gonzales, Colorado SECU

Since its start in early 2005, YouTube, which Google recently agreed to acquire for $1.65 billion in stock, has created a phenomenon in corporate America, causing employees to forward and re-forward links to streaming media. From the video diary of LonelyGirl15 to the replay of John Kerry’s botched campaign joke, YouTube is a mecca for pop culture – a step beyond the exchange of mpeg movies.

Like many of his peers, Ferski is keeping a close watch on his users’ traffic patterns and says he is concerned about “Internet-based sources.”

With YouTube claiming more than 100 million video views per day, Vic Berger, technologist at tech retailer and service provider CDW in Vernon Hills, Ill., says IT managers should be worried.

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“Everyone is dealing with the rise in interest in YouTube, CNN.com and other video-on-demand sites. It has an effect on employee productivity as well as network and other resources,” he says. “There are compounding factors from viewing these sites.”

Berger says IT managers must be aware of the impact video-on-demand viewing has on their network. “If I’m sucking 20 percent, 30 percent or 50 percent of the bandwidth from hitting a media site, then I’m taking that bandwidth away from other things,” he says.

To combat the "YouTube problem," Tom Gonzales, senior network administrator at Denver-based Colorado State Employees’ Credit Union, takes a hard line. “YouTube [and other video-on-demand sites] are blocked by default on our Internet filter. It’s listed as an adult site because there is adult-like content,” he says.

Gonzales says the use of video-on-demand for non-work activities is clearly addressed in the company’s acceptable use policy.

“People will put in requests to bypass the filter and view the video. My team will check it out and if it’s not harmful and the vice president okays it, we’ll let them watch it,” he says.

Next page: Storing it Locally

To prevent everyone from accessing the streaming media at one time – which drains the network of bandwidth and other resources – Gonzales stores the downloaded clip for a short period of time on the company server.

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However, he concedes that remote offices do not have the same flexibility because the WAN pipe to their offices is more constrained.

Gonzales says the requirement for corporate users to request access to the video is a successful deterrent. “We don’t get a lot of requests for things that are just for fun,” he says. In fact, the request approach saves on bandwidth, servers and desktop resources.

Berger agrees with Gonzales that companies should explicitly cover the use of video in their acceptable use policies. “Acceptable use policies should always evolve to include current technology,” he says. But he adds that network monitoring tools that alert IT managers to use of those types of sites is also critical. “It doesn’t have to be used in a Big Brother way, but if I constantly monitor and meter my network, I can notice a spike,” he says.

Monitoring tools also allow IT managers to limit individual access to Internet sites. “Selective blocking means your CEO can access the site, but the production facility can’t,” Berger says.

He cautions IT managers not to jump to increase bandwidth if they notice a significant impact on their network. Instead, he recommends studying the traffic patterns and using network management tools to limit use during peak times.

Companies should also be careful not to ban the use of video-on-demand completely. “There are lots of practical uses for video-on-demand technology such as training. It can be a real business multiplier,” he says.

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