Last time we looked at the various hardware that makes up the local network, and we used a survey form to identify all of the critical information about not only the server and workstations, but also the various other network components.
While it might seem as though the question of who is using the network is identical to the question of what is on the network it is not. In these days of shared workstations, multiple shifts, and remote desktop services, it is not uncommon for more than one user to make use of a particular computer. You may very well encounter networks that have more than twice as many ‘user accounts’ (user profiles) as hardware resources. A network centered on a Terminal Server might have as many as 30 QuickBooks users associated with that terminal server.
Users and resources are not the same thing
But physical machines and connections are just one aspect of network user profiles. Many companies run a series of ‘virtual servers’ building different virtual networks based within the same hardware architecture. So it becomes necessary to identify users with specific networks, even if those differing networks run under a shared domain. VLANs (virtual local area networks) play an important role in networking, enabling network engineers to segment portions of individual networks for security, management and scalability. The emergence of virtualization and cloud computing networks make VLANs even more important. VLANs are key to providing management in a world of virtualization, even where virtual machines are constantly migrating and challenging the very basics of network management.
So when we speak of ‘who’ uses the network, we are not only talking about users, but just as importantly the various virtualized resources in use.
Users generally don't care about how the technology works; they just care that it works. To ensure a good network experience, you should do benchmarking testing to determine the maximum number of desktops your environment can handle. Many times we believe that our environment can support more users than it truly can, which leads to resource or storage bottlenecks and a poor end-user experience. Account for user activities and resource consumption so you get the best user experience.
It’s not always just the ‘Who’ as it is the ‘What’ sometimes
We can focus on the technology all day, but the reality is that network users drive network performance as much, if not more so, than our network itself. So the question is not just ‘who’ is using the network, but what are they using it for?
Are employees shopping on eBay or wasting time on Facebook all day, doing everything but working? Or worse, are they stealing company intellectual property, or perhaps just sending it off premises against company policy? OK, so you don’t intend to monitor every little thing your employees are doing over the network, but how about when all those little things consume so much bandwidth that your entire network slows to a halt?
Unfortunately things are getting worse day by day, people needing to make phone calls can’t get a free connection because of bandwidth limitations, or people needing to remote into your terminal server can’t make a connection because of insufficient bandwidth. Your internet provider has told you that you should have plenty of bandwidth to support the number of people and connections based upon standard user profiles. So what’s the problem? Well as it turns out the ‘network nightmare’ in this case arises from the fact that some of your people have ‘Facebook’ open every minute they are at work, and these are not the employees with assigned ‘social media’ responsibilities. There is one employee who is logged into eBay during her entire work day, always on the lookout for the newest fashions. What about the ‘gamesman’ who has ‘Kingdom of Darkness’ or some other multi-level game of conquest running in the background ready to make a move between issuing purchase orders.
You have a business to run, and it runs across YOUR network and YOUR internet connection, you are not shelling out the big bucks for high-speed capabilities so that your employees can play their games, shop for shoes, or chat it up with their social network. Nor do you have time to track down all the offenders one-by-one, this is when ‘network activity monitoring’ software will allow you to monitor your entire network and PC traffic. The sophistication of this type of software varies greatly depending on the level of information you need.
Some of these applications permit you to monitor and control web surfing history, tracking in real-time all URLs visited by any browser on the network, even when an employee has configured their browser to be using ‘private’ mode. Some software allows you to monitor usage of their software applications; are they launching QuickBooks at the start of the day, and then making only a few entries each day, or are they continually saving transactions to the Company file.
How about all those email communications? In today’s growing environment of ‘off-site exchange servers’ such as Microsoft 365, a great deal of bandwidth is used in not only transmitting but uploading and download emails to the server for storage, but depending on the configuration you, the company owner, may not even have access to that email history. What about those people who choose to use their own ‘email’ as opposed to ‘the company’ email? Seems like there has been a lot of news within government circles over this topic lately. Why are they using their own account, are they sending your business information over their personal email, and if so to whom? Some User and Network Resource monitoring packages provide the ability to store complete histories for any email that flows across your network, regardless of originating email account.
Summary and Disclosure
Monitoring your network is protecting your investment; however, with that said, you need to consult a networking security specialist and/or attorney in your state, prior to implementing any of these solutions, as some states have in fact implemented legislation limiting the ability of employers to monitor their networks and employees use of computer and networking resources.
This article is not intended to provide any legal advice as it relates to network monitoring activities, consult local counsel for any specific requirements that may apply.