Cyberslacking – the new drain on corporate bandwidth

Networking

As super-fast broadband becomes standard issue in the workplace, a new generation of so-called ‘cyberslacking’ workers are increasingly seeing their offices as the best place to surf online.

From gaming sites where usage surges during the lunch hour, to online retailers experiencing their heaviest traffic flow during the working day, the use of company resources for employee cyberslacking activities can lead to bandwidth becoming clogged, resulting in a degradation of the overall enterprise network performance.

Arguably it is the popularity of online gaming that is the key driver of this trend. With the UK games market expected to rise by 2% in the next 12 months and £3.6bn being spent on games in the UK alone this year, the gaming industry is showing no signs of slowing down.

In fact, the UK National Gamer’s Survey 2011 estimates that 31 million active gamers spend a combined total of 43 million hours playing online each day, and it is a fair bet that not all of this time is spent at home.

In an attempt to control this trend, many businesses are now harnessing the power of online gaming for their internal incentive programmes, spot-competitions or knowledge checks, to keep employees on their toes, engaged and achieving through enjoyment.

With countless surveys and research reports highlighting the importance of regular breaks and the positive impact on productivity and efficiency, employers must embrace the expectations of the new workforce of digital natives or risk losing the best people to more flexible companies.

Whether endorsed by employers or not, the increasing popularity of online gaming undeniably puts extra pressure on businesses to make sure that their networks aren’t overburdened by online gaming at the office.

Networks are being forced to adapt. A particular requirement for them is preparing for greater capacity in order to avoid damaging both service quality and the trust of end users. Much as we’ve seen with network traffic drivers such as video-on-demand and cloud computing recently, online gaming will similarly create ever-increasing demands on bandwidth requirements.

Networks will need to evolve to be able to cope with the significant data transfer levels generated not only by the sheer volume of users playing online, but also by the rich media content required by the games themselves.

With the advent and evolution of more HD and even 3D gaming content, these demands will only continue to grow. While logically, the potential bottlenecks in networks (the slower access and edge portions) will have to be the first to adapt, the core networks will need to follow suit soon afterwards.

Online games also fundamentally change the way people use their broadband connection. Traditionally, an average broadband user would download significantly more data to their access device than upload to a different location through the web – creating an asymmetrical data transfer profile.

The growth of online gaming throws this traditional setup out of balance. For instance, playing a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) such as World of Warcraft, users create much higher ‘upstream’ data flows than in traditional broadband usage – through both game data transfers, as well as, increasingly, voice.

Today’s networks do, generally, manage to carry the gaming related traffic without major issues. However, the growing strain on the underlying infrastructure will undoubtedly force network managers within enterprises to take it into consideration in their long-term network evolution planning.

With cloud-based games services on the rise, and ever more creative and inventive titles being released, the popularity of online gaming will only continue to grow. Now is the time for enterprises to consider both the implications of the cyberslacking trend and the recent shift in online behaviour and begin investing in new future-proof, scalable solutions in order to cope with the imminent surge in demand.

With the right network delivering the right information to the right hands, it’s more than a network — it’s truly a strategic business asset.

Mervyn Kelly, EMEA marketing director, Ciena.

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