The Olympics fill most Americans with inspiration and national pride. They make Cathy McClain anxious.
McClain, a divisional chief information officer at Brunswick, which makes boats, bowling balls and other recreational equipment, is as patriotic as the next person. But she’s also responsible for maintaining her company’s computer network. And this year, NBC plans to stream footage of the games over the Internet.
Brunswick’s employees are sports enthusiasts by nature, so McClain anticipates that many will try to watch the games while at work. She isn’t worried about lost productivity, though – she’s afraid the network will crash and bring business to a screeching halt. Networks are only able to transmit so much data before they slow down or crash. Streaming-video files can be thousands of times larger than, say, a Web site.
In Brunswick’s case, only about 15 workers can watch streaming videos simultaneously before the network starts having problems. It’s not an isolated problem: A recent poll of CIOs by Blue Coat Systems, which makes software that helps businesses manage their networks, found that 95% were concerned about the impact workers watching the Olympics online would affect their networks.
McClain can’t just block streaming videos. Some Brunswick employees, the marketing department for example, have to watch the Olympics for work reasons. And blocking sites doesn’t fit with the company culture. Instead, she’s letting workers do whatever they want. But if the network becomes strained, a message will pop up on employees’ computers asking whether they’re watching the video for work-related reasons, and if not, could they please wait until off-peak hours.
The messages explain that Brunswick is trying to save money and McClain includes her phone number so that anyone who has a question can call for an explanation. And they don’t block the video – they just ask workers if they have to watch right now.
It’s a backlash-free way to protect the network. “My community is polite,” McClain tells us. “They get it.”