The iPhone video threat: Can networks keep up?

With 9 billion video downloads last year over wireless, business and cell networks are becoming overwhelmed

Organizations are cracking down

John Collins, the CIO at Prairie Cardiovascular, a Midwest health care company with 28 facilities, is already feeling the pain from the doctors coming into one of his facilities with their brand-new iPhones. Collins has faced numerous incidents of slowing networks and was forced to institute a policy that completely turned off wireless streaming video to its staff of doctors, nurses, and administrators. Collins also uses SurfControl from WebSense to block all shopping sites.

Prairie Cardiovascular's policies came about after the health care organization began experiencing serious problems with slow access over its Wi-Fi network. IT analyzed the system using a combination of Aruba Networks' built-in diagnostics, SurfControl, and features on its Nortel switch to identify and manage access, ultimately identifying shopping sites and video as the root cause.

"Most of these [28] facilities have VPN back to me. What would happen to the network if a doctor wants to stream a soccer match from India? I can't allow it. I need my EMR data and diagnostic imaging data going back and forth during the day," says Collins.

Nevertheless, after vociferous complaints from a number of physicians who wanted to do watch video streams over their handhelds, Collins relented just a bit and opened up the network for doctors' personal use for a half hour during the day and one hour at night.

Prudential Fox Roche, the third-largest US real estate firm, also had a problem with employees bringing in their wireless devices for video surfing, so it too tried to limit the use of video-oriented sites such as YouTube over its wireless network. "We do get overloaded with streaming," says William Friemann, the firm's vice president of technology operations, security, and compliance. Prudential offices typically have a single T1 line as the backbone for its wireless network, and a lone user can hog three-quarters of that with a video download. In fact, one employee was terminated for his refusal to stop streaming. "It was constant even after numerous warnings," Friemann said.

But Friemann says he can't shut down video streaming because Prudential also uses streaming for e-learning; the marketing department uses the technology extensively as well.

With tight budgets, Prudential won't increase bandwidth to satisfy YouTube users. "We are just not going to buy additional bandwidth," Friemann notes.

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Ephraim Schwartz

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