IT's Olympic challenge: Live-streaming employees

BYOD may win Olympic gold in controlling streaming-video costs

IT managers in businesses and governments are taking steps to ensure that the Summer Olympics do not bust networks or budgets. The opportunity for problems is there.

The Olympics will be live-streamed, and London's time difference means that many events will occur during the U.S. workday.

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Employers say, minimally, they'll be monitoring networks and will be prepared to cut off streaming access if they must. Some IT managers are reminding staff about network corporate policies.

Another problem is the potential for out-of-control mobile costs. Many employers support far more streaming-capable devices today than they did for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The iPhone was just a year old when the Beijing games began. The iPad and Android smartphones had yet to arrive. All these devices encourage streaming with the help of apps. The carriers have responded to this with data caps.

For employers that supply mobile equipment and pay carrier bills directly, there's the risk that streaming employees could exceed usage limits and drive up mobile budgets. But bring-your-own-device ( BYOD) policies have also introduced another model, where employers offer reimbursement up to a certain point or stipends.

Tom Amburgey, CIO of the town of Wellington, Fla., said that in terms of mobile charges, they recently implemented a reimbursement program for mobile users "so we are not directly paying for data charges, and if users go over, it will be at their personal expense" -- a benefit of BYOD, he noted. "With that in mind, we are sending out warnings," Amburgey said, about the video usage "and the charges they may occur, simply as a friendly reminder."

Similarly, Deborah Gash, vice president and CIO of Saint Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Mo., said the hospital has moved to a stipend system for smart devices "so no worries about additional charges."

One company that has insight into mobile bills across its customer base is Tangoe, a telecom expense management firm. Tangoe sees potential problems for companies that pay the bills directly, especially with the carrier data caps. Daniel Rudich, the senior vice president in charge of real time expense management at Tangoe, said the Olympics could have a 5 percent to 10 percent impact on their overall mobile budgets if users aren't prepared for it.

Big problems can come from individual employees traveling overseas, Rudich said. One Tangoe client had an employee who racked up more than $30,000 in charges thanks to a Final Four app that continuously updated scores. Another employee cost a company $175,000 in roaming charges on an air card after downloading the entire first season of the TV show "Seinfeld" in a country that lacked English language TV.

In terms of networks, seven IT managers that Computerworld contacted and all said they will be monitoring networks for streaming usage, and will prepare to take action if needed. Many already have in place what they need to control usage.

"I have some concerns, although nothing major," said Eric Lindgren, CIO of PerkinElmer, a medical device maker, of the Olympics. The company's network traffic is already prioritized with quality-of-service (QoS) technologies "so Internet traffic will always get a lower priority so as not to impact our business critical applications, such as SAP," he said.

Brandon Jackson, the CIO of Gaston County, N.C., said the county's current default "is to block streaming-media sites for most of our 1,200 users." However, he said exceptions are made for those workers who have "a documented business case" for accessing streaming media.

Vendors are also expecting a rise in traffic. Ramsey McGrory, the CEO of AddThis, the social media platform that allows users to easily share content, said the company expects content sharing activity to be about 30 percent higher than has been seen at other larger events, such as the Superbowl. The company plans to have extra staff on hand to keep an eye on activity. Stewart Allen, the CTO of AddThis, said, "We're going to expect a surge in sharing social activity -- it will be a sustained surge."

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com. See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com. Read more about bring your own device (BYOD) in Computerworld's Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Topic Center.

This story, "IT's Olympic challenge: Live-streaming employees" was originally published by Computerworld .

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