As soon as football season ends, everyone looks for the next great excitement. Some take a warm vacation mid-February to break up the winter, or maybe look forward to Mardi Gras. Whatever that great excitement is, it is inevitable that many will find March Madness. March Madness is one of the most exciting times of the year. Whether you fill out a bracket and join an office pool or catch a few minutes in a crowded bar, this annual event will affect you in some way.

For those of us in the corporate world, it may affect us more than desired. It will distract us as fellow employees discuss the games and talk about their brackets. It may also put a pinch on the network, hampering our ability to do our jobs. For the past few years it is estimated that the cost oflost worker productivity due to employees watching games, filling out brackets, and talking trash, is in the billions of dollars. Last year research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated that the 2008 tournament would contribute a productivity loss of $1.7 billion. This year CEO John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas stated that there will undoubtedly be an impact of productivity loss, but has determined that effects are immeasurable.

Akamai Technologies provides a distributed solution that helps many media companies meet the demands of their client base. Back in August 2005, Akamai began keeping track of online media consumption around the world and correlated significant news events to highest peak bandwidth consumption. Five of the top 15 events are March Madness-related, with the third-highest being Day One of the 2008 tournament. With these types of trends, Day One of March Madness 2009 will likely top this list as well.

With the U.S. economy as frail as ever, can it endure losing billions in wasted dollars to this event? Probably not! With more and more layoffs occurring every day, employees should know they need to be focused on their work or they could be the next out the door. Maybe it’s time to help employees become more focused at work by updating or creating an Internet usage policy.

As a field engineer I’ve visited dozens of clients and many do not have a Web filter in place. They simply can’t afford the cost to deploy a filter or haven’t prioritized the issue of Internet misuse on their network. With March Madness minutes away, it may be time to start watching Internet use to save money on bandwidth and lost worker productivity.

As network engineers around the globe are experiencing an ever-shrinking budget and no time to deploy a Web filter, what are their options? They are most likely thinking, “I can revise my Internet usage policy, but how am I going to enforce it? How can I see what my users are doing without sniffing the traffic?” One very feasible option that is available on almost every corporate network is Cisco NetFlow.

NetFlow has been around for over a decade and is available on most Cisco routers. NetFlow will give you 100% visibility into the traffic on your network and is very easy to set up. There are many NetFlow vendors out there, but only a few that can provide a free solution.

There is plenty of documentation available for enabling NetFlow, along with free software solutions for analysis for use on your existing networking equipment. There is little excuse for companies to not put together a stronger usage policy in hopes of putting a stop to, or at least a dent in, the massive productivity loss during this annual event.

NetFlow analysis can be a great tool in helping define an Internet usage policy. It can show you that there may be streaming media on your network. It can help show how much YouTube traffic is on your network as well . Check out a sample Internet usage policy that has been shaped using NetFlow analysis.

Thomas

Thomas Pore is the Director of IT and Field Engineering at Plixer. He developed and leads, the Malware Incident Response and Advanced NetFlow Training programs which are being offered in cities across the USA. He is also an adjunct professor at the local community college and teaches ethical hacking. Thomas travels the globe meeting with customers and trying improve the Scrutinizer network incident response system. He helps clients optimize threat detection strategies and aids in the configuration of custom incident response solutions. He has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Dickinson College.

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