Change Management when the Network Changes Us.

If you want to score some easy points with the geek crowd, tell them that DRM (Digital Rights Management) stinks. But with the stress of the elections, I could use a few easy points, so humor me.

When you’re evaluating a change to the network, you have to think – always – what will the real effect on network performance be? And this is important – if there’s one overarching theme this blog has had over the past two years, it is that the network does not begin and end with the router. It doesn’t even begin and end with applications. No – when you think about what the real effect on network performance will be, you have to think beyond the technical into the realms of the personal and psychological. That’s true end-to-end performance.

There are two stories that have been making their rounds through the Web recently; the first, which we’ve covered extensively, is the Australian Internet filtering software. The second, is the release of the highly anticipated Fallout 3 PC video game being bundled with SecuROM DRM software. This is notable for two reasons: First, Fallout 3’s publishers, Bethesda Softworks, earlier took a stand against DRM for the release of their other major product, Oblivion. Second, SecuROM, made by Sony, is particularly invasive, and particularly when used with EA’s hit, “Spore,” caused a particularly nasty backlash – which included a campaign to pirate the game via BitTorrent just to spite EA.

Bethesda Softworks insists that the SecuROM software is only used for a CD check and is not nearly as restrictive as the software that came with Spore.

A common complaint with DRM schemes is that they actually cause more problems for the people who legally purchase the game than for those who break the DRM in order to pirate the game. The worst DRM schemes can make using the product a hassle, cause system instability, and just generally be a pain in the butt, while doing nothing to stop piracy. The best DRM schemes don’t get in the end-user’s way, allows for reasonable use and portability, and is never under threat of expiration. Of course, these don’t do anything to stop piracy either, but let’s only concern ourselves with the latter for right now.

Point is, when you’re hassling only the people who adhere to the rules, you’re creating a situation where people will get around the rules.

In the earlier post we did on Australian net filtering; the point was made that for five dollars a month, you can set up a VPN in the United States get around all the restrictions of any of the proposed filters. However, in doing so, you’re essentially routing all traffic through the United States and back again to Australia – putting added stresses on the very expensive international pipes even when accessing local content that would have been better served via local pipes.

This is obviously a large-scale version of the problem, but enterprises that deny access (rather than de-prioritize bandwidth) to particular protocols, sites, or applications will find employees will get around the obstacles in order to do their job.

But even this is a very specific example of a larger point – one that goes beyond tactics, beyond strategy – to network philosophy. Even if you don’t think of it as a change to the network, when you change how users behave – even if it’s a new policy from the HR department that gets printed on a piece of paper, you change how the network is being used. Changes can occur to the network from outside the network as well – when culture changes, so does the way that people use the network.

All of this is leading to the point: Even though you aren’t planning on changing the network yourself, you should consider always keeping a close eye on your network with network performance monitoring tools. Change management is not just for when you change the network; change management is for when the network changes you.

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