Friday July 27th 2012, around 4 billion people watched the opening ceremony of the 30th Olympic Games in London. A perfect time for people to log on to the corporate network and watch the ceremony via streaming video.
In fact, during the Olympic Games there are hundreds of perfect times, to log on to their company’s network to watch athletes from 205 nations take part in over 300 events.
TV and cable networks around the world are promising more coverage and accessibility than ever. For die hard fans, this represents about 5,000 hours of broadcast. Unlike previous Olympics, where most people had to be tethered to their PCs to watch streaming video or hear live coverage of events, this is likely to be the year that smart phones, tablets and devices become the preferred method of keeping track of favorite sports and athletes. Indeed, a recent survey found that 40% of Americans who will watch the Olympics, will be watching it on more than one device. While these numbers are impressive, a more sobering fact for business is that a significant portion of ‘Olympic watching’ will take place during office hours and using the bandwidth of the corporate network rather than one’s own wireless data plan.
But, it is not just streaming video that business needs to contend with on their networks. During the last Olympics in 2008, there were some 100 million users of Facebook. Now that number is close to one billion. There will be literally tens of thousands of Facebook fan pages popping up and being accessed from around the world – many from corporate networks. Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt has over 7 million fans on his Facebook page, while Michael Phelps (probably the only time he will find himself in 2nd place) is runner up to Usain with some 4 million fans. And then there is twitter, which has grown from 6m to 140million users in the years since the Beijing Olympics. While a 140 character message is nothing in terms of data on a corporate network, times it by several thousand and add a bitly link to an inspiring, cool or funny YouTube video and the seemingly harmless tweet suddenly becomes a nightmare for the managers of the corporate network.
While the Olympic Games is one of the world’s biggest and best pageants, and great entertainment for all, it also represents a productivity challenge of Olympic proportions to businesses unprepared for the onslaught to their networks.
During the Olympics, it is going to be a huge challenge for network administrators to efficiently deliver business-critical corporate solutions while contending with employee’s use of ‘wasteful’ applications that give them access to the Olympics. Critical applications need bandwidth prioritization while video, multimedia and social media applications need to be bandwidth-throttled or completely blocked. It used to be that firewalls were installed to protect from viruses and malware to keep the corporate network safe and secure. However, modern next-generation firewalls are much more advanced and able to protect the productivity of the network, too. The corporate network represents the central nervous system for many businesses. If it goes down, all business literally stops. Similarly, if it slows down because its bandwidth is being sucked dry from video, live streaming of TV, or Facebook and Twitter usage, so too business slows down.
Next-generation firewalls include technology such as application intelligence and control functionality which literally does what it says; it allows a company to determine what applications can be used on the network by which employees. This seemingly simply benefit has the potential to keep businesses moving during the Olympics by protecting the corporate network, not only from outside malicious attacks from cyber scams and threats, but also from a very different internal threat: employees using the bandwidth of the corporate network to watch, share, listen to the Olympics.
The technology behind application intelligence and control is massively complex and very few IT security companies are able to deliver it. Not only does it allow a business to pre-determine who gets access to what applications on a corporate network, it can also determine if and when this access is throttled or completely switched on and off. And, even if an employee is given access to streaming video applications during the Olympics, this next generation technology can ensure the authenticity of the content coming into the network by inspecting each packet of data as it comes in via deep packet inspection.
Many companies still attempt to protect their network with first-generation firewalls that use something called ‘stateful packet inspection’. However, this technology only blocks threats by evaluating the ports and protocols used by network layer traffic. It effectively means these firewalls can only see data and are blind to applications so are unable to prioritize productive and secure versus unproductive and potentially insecure traffic. Next-generation firewalls use an innovation known as ‘deep packet inspection’ to scan the entire packet payload of everything coming in and out of the network to provide advanced intrusion prevention, anti-malware, content filtering and anti-spam. Because they provide insight into the applications themselves, this provides a critical network and business management benefit. Businesses can control which applications are allowed on the network so mission-critical applications, including LiveMeeting, Salesforce.com® SharePoint® and many other applications have priority over unproductive web surfing, YouTube watching or Facebook activities.
Undoubtedly, during the Olympic Games in London, hundreds and thousands of businesses around the world are going to say “What’s happening on my network? Who’s wasting my bandwidth? Why is my network so slow?” Chances are they do not have next-generation firewalls and application intelligence and control.
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