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Socializing at work used to mean a trip to the watercooler, but today it can mean a traffic jam on your network. While many people, particularly in marketing and customer service roles, rely on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social networking applications to do their jobs, too much recreational use of social media can have an impact on your network and the availability of core business applications.
“While it varies from organization to organization, we have seen instances where as much of 60 percent or more of network resources are being consumed with things like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter,” said Patrick Wood, senior director of product management for Exinda, a provider of WAN optimization and application acceleration products based in Andover, Mass. “Nowadays, these applications that were once considered recreational have significant business value for many companies and are key to their marketing strategies and communication with customers and clients.”
Although purchasing more bandwidth is an option that has become more affordable, Wood suggested that in some cases, IT managers stabilize the performance of their network and ensure access to critical business applications by segmenting their network.
“You can use tools to slow Facebook access to a trickle,” he said. “While that will work in some cases, the key is understanding where your network bottlenecks are and how you want to control access. But if Facebook, Twitter or other applications that may not be necessary to your business are eating up 60 percent of your bandwidth, by gaining and understanding of how your network is performing, it might not be necessary to invest in more bandwidth.”
But what if the marketing or customer service teams are heavy users of social media technology as part of their job responsibilities? While it can take more effort on the part of the IT department, experts suggest that access to these technologies be based on job functions.
“While bandwidth and traffic-shaping tools can help ensure that critical applications such as your phone system, which are increasingly running on the network, aren’t brought down by recreational use of social media, it is clear that some jobs in an organization rely on social media much more than others,” said Andrew Rubin, CEO of Cymtec, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based provider of network performance and monitoring software. “The days of treating everyone equally when it comes to network access are over. You have to look at access to social networking not only look by population group, but industry by industry. Fashion or media companies might need more of their people using these tools than some other industries.”
Since it is not longer feasible in most business environments to block access to these sites entirely, IT managers need to work with other leaders in the organization to determine the appropriate social media policy for their business.
“As an IT manager, you have to talk to the business leaders in various departments and determine how much use is appropriate for the business, but in many instances, this is a conversation that hasn’t happened,” said Chris King, director of product marketing for Santa Clara-based Palo Alto Networks, a network security company.
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A recent study conducted by Palo Alto Networks found that roughly 36 percent of enterprise network traffic is comprised of hundreds of applications that can evade the controls of conventional security solutions by either using SSL or port-hopping capabilities. “So simply blocking these sites will not stop people from gaining access,” King said.
In some cases, there is a knee-jerk response on the risk of allowing users to engage in social media activities at work.
“A bad employee doesn’t need social media to be unproductive. But you have to have policies in place that are based on business needs and requirements and those policies need to be monitored and enforced,” King said.
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