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Network World Fusion

Is rock and roll bad for your net?


February 15, 2000
Web posted at: 8:29 a.m. EST (1329 GMT)

by Carolyn Duffy Marsan

(IDG) -- As more Internet users tune in to music-oriented Web sites, corporate network managers are starting to see bandwidth problems caused by downloading and sharing of oversized music files.

Of particular concern is, a controversial music file-sharing and chat site that is such a bandwidth hog it has prompted several universities to block access in recent weeks. Other problematic sites include, an online retailer that lets users sample songs before buying music, and, which features links to dozens of streaming audio formats.

"About 8% of our network bandwidth is going to all the music sites," says Jeff Uslan, manager of information protection at Twentieth Century Fox, which uses Elron Software's CommandView Internet Manager to monitor employee Internet usage.

Uslan says he's seen heavy traffic to the online music community and RealNetworks' site for downloading audio players. While he isn't blocking music sites yet, Uslan says he chastised one employee for hogging bandwidth while listening to Internet radio on her desktop.

"It would be cheaper for us to go out and buy radios for all our employees than to increase our bandwidth for these sites," Uslan says.

Danny Daniels, manager of IS at Above Board Electronics, a San Jose fastener distributor, says he has seen some users downloading music files based on the MP3 compression format, but the files haven't created a serious bandwidth problem yet.

"Every two weeks, our music usage is doubling," says Daniels, who monitors his 65-user network with an Internet Products' iPrism content-filtering device. "At some point in time, this is going to present a big-enough problem that we will block all audio-type sites."

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Popularity problem

Music is becoming a more popular 'Net application, with 40% of Internet users saying they visited a music site in the past year, according to Jupiter Communications. Much of that visiting goes on at work, where corporate PCs often come bundled with sound cards, speakers, network cards and multimedia software.

Over the past few months, net managers have begun to see the negative impact that music Web sites and the sharing of music files - which can range in size from 5M to 8M bytes - can have on the performance of Internet connections, LANs and individual desktops.

"Companies are seeing a lot more downloads over the Internet, including music files, video clips and large graphic files," says Stephen Elliot, a Gartner Group analyst who follows network and system management software. "But network managers are so busy, their solution is often to increase bandwidth rather than to filter out certain sites."

Elliot warns that corporations need to be aware of the legal liabilities they face with music files in particular because many are pirated and do not meet copyright laws.

"Companies need to be careful about illegal MP3s," he says.

Higher-learning crackdown

It was a combination of concern about bandwidth problems and legal liabilities that led several universities - including Northwestern University, Hofstra University, Oregon State University, Ohio State University and the University of Illinois - to block is unique because it lets users share their collections of MP3 files and download music from each other rather than from a central server. When end users download client software, they turn their PCs into servers from which they serve up MP3 files to other users (see graphic below).

The site makes it extremely easy to find digital songs and directly link to the person with that MP3 file. However, as grew in popularity on campuses, it became a bandwidth drain for Internet connections and LANs.

"We found at least 75 servers on campus, and there were probably many more than that," says Lanny Udey, associate dean for learning and IT at Hofstra. "Because of the way the application works, they were stealing our bandwidth."

So in November, Hofstra blocked the site - the first and only Internet site it has blocked.

"We don't have a complaint about people downloading legitimate MP3 files. We have a problem with our users running unauthorized servers," Udey says, adding that "most of the users didn't know they were serving up the files."

At Northwestern, was eating up 20% to 30% of the bandwidth on the university's 622M bit/sec backbone network. "We tried dealing with it by contacting the students involved, but it was like putting your finger in the dike," says Roger Safian, Northwestern's information security coordinator. "We couldn't do it fast enough, so we had to deal with it at the source."

Safian says he finally blocked all addresses at the network's routers in December. So far, reaction on campus has been OK. "Everyone sees that the network seems peppier," he says. Oregon State, which was one of the first universities to block, in October, is using the publicity surrounding that unpopular decision to begin a discussion with students and faculty about appropriate use of the university's network.

"We don't have enough budget dollars to increase our bandwidth every 90 days," says Curt Pederson, vice provost for information services. "I'm discouraging faculty from listening to the radio or talk shows over the Internet or running stock tickers. . . . I've even stopped checking my own stocks during my lunch hour."

Several options

Corporations interested in blocking music Web sites such as have several options, including cutting off access at the router or firewall, asking their ISPs to block certain sites or using an Internet content-filtering product.

Officials at Applied Theory, a New York ISP that blocked for Hofstra, say companies should keep a close eye on music sites because they can cause sudden traffic spikes. In particular, companies with T-1s or fractional T-1s need to be careful.

"These sites can have a large impact really quickly," says Bob Riley, director of product development at Applied Theory. "With, you can set it up to download a whole bunch of files and then go to lunch. In most cases, the end users have no idea what that's doing to your network."

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