UK IT managers believe they are losing control over what applications are running on their networks, with more than half believing that 40 percent or more of their network bandwidth is being consumed by recreational or non-business critical applications.

This was one of a number of alarming statistics revealed in a recent survey carried out by Blue Coat Systems.

The Blue Coat survey interviewed 1,000 IT managers and directors, as well as network and security managers worldwide, in organisations with over 500 personnel. In the UK however, they talked to 100 network managers to gather their local data.

More than half of UK respondents said 40 percent of their bandwidth is being swallowed by non-business critical applications, and they also confessed that they lack the granular visibility into the type of applications running across their networks. Indeed, 50 percent of respondents believe that IT knows about 60 percent or less of the actual applications being run on the network.

"We did not ask respondents to break it down, but what we have seen over the years, is the growth of the 'not all good, not all bad' applications such as YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, as well as things like news, shopping, all of which take up bandwidth," said Nigel Hawthorn VP international marketing and channels at Blue Coat.

"These applications are usually not controlled, because it is difficult to work out what the appropriate policy should be," he told Techworld. "No IT person wants to be a killjoy, and you could also say that some of that content can also be used for business. For example, we (Blue Coat) have used LinkedIn in the past to recruit staff, whereas I have viewed product demonstrations on YouTube etc. It is difficult for IT to make decision about what is and what isn't important."

The survey also found that 56 percent of respondents said they strongly agree that SOA and Web 2.0 technologies, such as mash-ups and dynamic content, have made it more difficult to determine the nature of application traffic on the network and whether the content is harmful or otherwise.

Hawthorn believes that this is because the world has moved on from a few years ago, when the usual monitoring devices examined traffic by protocol. "Nowadays, there are so many points of access via browser, which means that it is difficult to work out what is going on," he said. He equated it to the Post Office knowing how many parcels they are delivering, but not knowing the parcel's weight or size.

And of course, with browsers being used to access business applications such as Salesforce.com, Oracle, SAP, as well as things such as LinkedIn or eBay, this raises potential security concerns.

"People expect access to things like Skype or YouTube, and indeed some of these applications are great business enablers," Hawthorn said. "But also applications such as these are another threat and potential time waster."

Survey respondents had a strong consensus around the impact of malicious web threats, which grew by a factor of three times in 2008; 85 percent of respondents believe that this has had a detrimental impact on their network.

And the survey also found that network managers are seeing a vast increase in the number of applications being supported on the network - 51 percent claim that the number of applications that staff have in use on the corporate network has risen by 200 percent or more over the last two years.

"This is an amazing increase in complexity for the IT manager to deal with," said Hawthorn. He believes IT managers need to discover how much of their bandwidth is being used by non critical applications.

"The technology is available from us and from others that can define what applications are using bandwidth," he said. Once this is known, then IT can decide what traffic gets priority. For example, web browsing could be assigned a low priority, whereas use of SAP or Oracle for example will gain a higher priority. With many applications now moving to browser-based interfaces, this point is becoming increasingly important, he feels.

Hawthorn is also concerned that there is a degree of complacency creeping in as well. "When we plug in a PacketShaper appliance on a network, we almost always find something that IT didn't know was on their network and is consuming bandwidth," he said. And this seems to be case, no matter what the size of organisation or the vertical market the company operates in, said Hawthorn.

"IT needs to have the ability to make decisions about these types of applications, but first they need the visibility to make these decisions. People are over promoting their systems abilities at the moment, claiming to have better visibility than they actual do."

Of course, he pointed out that Blue Coat Application Delivery Network infrastructure has been specifically designed to offer network managers comprehensive visibility into the nature of applications running on the network, which allows IT to classify, prioritise and accelerate what is business critical, and meter or block what is non-essential or malicious in nature.

Starting prices range from £2,000 ($2,850) excluding VAT upwards, depending on size of organisation and bandwidth.