Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Spotify - banned!

It's always interesting when another University hits the press - and any interest is usually accompanied by a sigh of relief that it's not us. This week it's the turn of Oxford University who have banned the use of Spotify on their campus network, and made it into many papers and web sites, but I think the news first broke on the University Student newspaper site. It interested me for a number of reasons - the first being that I use Spotify a lot, and am often to be heard using it to listen to music while I work. It's legal, only offers up adverts about every 20 minutes, and seems to use very little bandwidth. In fact, although we have nearly 25,000 students and assume many of them use it, it forms a very small part of our traffic - it doesn't even merit its own classification and is lumped into "miscellaneous". The big bandwidth usage comes from flash video and YouTube, and I can't imagine banning them.

So - why have Oxford chosen this application to ban? Well, I assume (although I could be wrong) that as their University Computer Usage Rules state that unauthorised use of peer to peer networking software is forbidden, and as Spotify is classed as peer to peer, it's banned. Were they right to do it? Well, it is obviously their decision and they have to do what's best for their network and users, but I do have my own opinion!

I think University IT departments have to embrace and facilitate the use of new technology - we should no longer be the gatekeepers, banning things because they use our precious resources. We will be fighting a losing battle if we try to do so - new things will always appear to replace the things we ban. How many of us tried to ban Skype because we were worried about the security issues and bandwidth use? Now it's a common way of communicating. Yes there are bandwidth issues with more and more services coming on stream, but with good monitoring and traffic management you can ensure that one type of traffic doesn't degrade the service for others.

I'm always depressed when I speak to people outside of our sector where access to social networking sites and other social media is banned - I really hope Universities never go down that route. The IT department as the department that likes to say "no" should be a thing of the past.

Edit: Just to confirm what I said in this post about Local Authorities...

6 comments:

James Hargrave said...

I use Spotify as well although mainly on my phone. Seems strange for Oxford to ban a legal service and difficult to see how it could use that much bandwidth as it is just audio. Seems particularly tough on students in residence who no doubt pay and might reasonably expect to be able to use the Internet for legal recreation. And yes the worst thing is that it paints IT as the bad guys who like to say no...

rps said...

Some might say it's because the Other Place is behind the times. I hesitate to say that (although I might think it), because I wonder how far Cambridge will be behind Oxford in banning Spotify. I hope they don't, because it is a wonderful service and, if I remember back ot my undergraduate days, music was one of the last things we could afford to buy. R

Martin said...

I'm glad our University is more enlightened! I think it's more about the p2p technology than the bandwidth. Spotify's not THAT popular yet, and it only streams as 128k if I remember rightly...

Chris Willis said...

I too was curious about spotify's bandwidth usage as I couldn't really see how 128Kb streams would be that much of a drain. It seems that there are concerns (both in Spotify support forums and on ISP forums) that it's the upload of files that can be an issue. The information I could find indicated that Spotify will cache your files (default is 10% of your free disk space) and then upload them to other users, fine.

However the problem is that the upload can't be throttled in anyway; so users were finding they were quickly using up monthly file transfer allocations with commercial ISPs.

Upstream bandwidth on commercial ISPs is usually very low (something like 256-512Kb/s) whereas here I find it's more like 40Mb/s. So I can see why Oxford (and possibly ourselves) might potentially have a problem.

All of the above said, testing it yesterday it never did anything noticeable in terms of upstream traffic!

Martha said...

Well done to Sheffield Uni for not blocking stuff like this

alexmuller said...

You're right that it's because of it using peer-to-peer technology that it's banned; though I've heard from a friend there that it actually still works fine, as does other P2P software like Skype - even though it's all technically banned.