At one time, the phrase “Big Brother” conjured images of Wally protecting and setting examples for the “Beaver.” George Orwell came along and forever contaminated the warmth and security suggested by the words “Big Brother” with his classic novel, 1984. Ever since, it’s implied complete control, intrusive monitoring of activities, removal of privacy, and the immediate reporting of any unorthodox behavior. All of this is followed by swift retribution. Fortunately, Orwell’s cautionary tale didn’t come to pass. However, I submit for your consideration there’s a place in our world for Big Brother-like control and totalitarian policing: business computer networks.

Technology to monitor computer networks has come far in recent years. It’s now a comfortable blend of the big brother who beat up those bullies who put your bike up a tree and the Orwellian “Party.” In fact, we can each be a Big Brother when looking over the technology used to run our businesses.

Network monitoring services can now report the status of your world in the most violating detail imaginable. Reports show all devices on the network and their status. Surveillance reveals the rouge system in accounting where the latest security patches haven’t been applied and the system belonging to the shipping clerk who just loaded the latest Internet file-sharing software that will be responsible for numerous others calling the help desk because the Internet is slow. In the background, quietly, all of the logs from the routers, switches, and firewalls are dredged for the slightest sign of a violation of acceptable protocol. Perhaps an attack from outside the network is discovered or, more likely, an attack from inside. In either case, it’s better to know someone is looking for any exploitable vulnerability than not to know at all.

Servers are scrutinized even to the component level. If a hard disk has correctable errors while writing to the disk, nobody ever knows the hard disk is about to go bad, unless it’s monitored and an alarm sent: “Hard Disk 0 in YOURSERVER-22 Indicates Imminent Failure.” Wouldn’t it be nice to know these things before they happen? Today’s monitoring technology can provide this and much more to prompt for preventative maintenance before components fail.

It sounds like a lot of work watching and sifting through all that goes on in a busy network environment. The reality is that all of this can be automated so weekly status reports are e-mailed and alerts are sent via text messages or pages to whoever needs to receive them.

Much like 1984, a violation can result in immediate action. With remote control services and secure encrypted virtual private networks (SSL-VPNs) connected via the Internet, a support tech can look at many problems via a Web browser from anywhere in the world within minutes of receiving an alert. The need for help can be recognized, and your Big Brother can be there in time to keep those bullies from ever putting your bike up in that tree.

Today, any size business can have a Big Brother looking after their network for as little as $250 each month while having the combined functionality of monitoring and remote support systems costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is made possible by providing monitoring service much like an application service provider. Rather than a company buying the entire solution, only the portions needed are rented from a service provider. Pricing typically scales with the number and type of devices to be monitored. Most service providers offer three variations, tailored to fit with the IT staffing of a company.

• Small Businesses: The service provider monitors the network and responds to all alerts. This usually is used in companies where there’s no IT staff and the service provider is providing IT support or staffing.
• Medium Businesses: The service provider monitors the network, and specific alerts are sent to the company’s IT staff, while others may be sent directly to the service provider, depending on the severity. This is popular in companies with a PC tech on staff but no network support staff.
• Large/Enterprise Businesses: The service provider monitors the network and sends all alerts and reports to the company’s IT staff. The IT staff would have complete access to all reporting functions and would rarely engage the service provider for support.

Does your current monitoring solution only send alerts when something has already failed? Do you have avoidable and unexpected downtime resulting from failing devices? What happens on the un-monitored network that supports your business? Are users installing grey copies of software or illegally sharing movies and music, any of which puts your business at legal risk? Network monitoring can help your business reduce support calls and get your IT budget under control. After consulting with them, I find many business owners want their own Big Brother, watching closely and carefully, knowing all that’s going on, and protecting their business.

Remote Network Monitoring and Orwell’s 1984 both make us ask ourselves the same question: are we ready for the future? IBI