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					The IT Impact of Enterprise RSS
A NewsGator Technical White Paper
July 2006
                                                                    The IT Impact of Enterprise RSS




INTRODUCTION
With its rapid adoption over the course of the last three years, RSS has become the standard for delivering
and syndicating content from blogs, news sites, podcasts and increasingly, internal applications. A recent
survey from Pew Internet Foundation found that nearly 1 in 3 individuals consume RSS feeds in one
manner or another. The RSS consumption is not limited to personal use either. A recent survey we
conducted of customers of online and desktop products found that 63% of respondents subscribed to
work-related RSS feeds and 86% of those who subscribed to work-related feeds spent more than 2 hours a
week reading them. CIOs have started to take notice as evidenced by a CIO Insight survey from May of
2006 that found that 63% of CIOs have either deployed, are in the process of deploying, or are evaluating
RSS.
With the rapid growth on both the RSS publishing and consumption side, the impact on IT staff and
infrastructure is significant. The dominant method of reading RSS feeds is through RSS readers, Web or
client-based software that manages subscriptions, fetches new articles and delivers them in a single location
for users to consume. As RSS readers proliferate around organizations, with or without the explicit
knowledge and/or permissions from IT departments, their impact on bandwidth consumption, security,
and most importantly, IT staff, needs to be explored.
In this white paper, we examine the impact that RSS readers have on IT departments. We also discuss how
NewsGator Enterprise Server, a centrally-managed and administered RSS aggregation platform, can
minimize the impact to IT on a number of different fronts.

THE INDIVIDUAL READER APPROACH
As RSS readers were first unveiled in 2002 to subscribe to feeds from popular blogs, dozens of free or low-cost
options have been available to employees. Ranging from free Web-based readers to low-cost ($50 or less) plug-ins for
Microsoft Outlook® and desktop clients for PCs and Macs, these readers required little to no installation support from
IT. While the Web-based readers were extremely popular with people reading feeds solely for personal enjoyment, the
Outlook clients and desktop readers became popular with business users, particularly when they could get reimbursed
or the company was purchasing on their behalf. Outlook-based readers were natural fits for employees who “lived” in
Outlook much of the day, and the desktop readers typically offered a richer set of features, particularly for users who
subscribed to large numbers of feeds.
Prior to having corporative initiatives in place for RSS, blogging or Web 2.0 technologies, IT departments typically
could not make deploying a standard RSS reader throughout their organization a top priority. With small numbers of
readers installed by end users in usage within a given organization, the impact on infrastructure and IT staff wasn’t
significant. However, as internal RSS feeds start proliferating from content management systems, enterprise
applications and internal blogs and companies begin undertaking formal initiatives around Web 2.0 technologies, the




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impact on IT has the potential to be much more significant. We examine that impact below from the perspective of
bandwidth, security, control, and employee effectiveness.

Bandwidth Consumption

For Web-based readers such as NewsGator Online or Bloglines, bandwidth consumption is typically not a significant
issue as the heavy lifting is done on the server-side (provider) and the browser simply retrieves an HTML page. But for
Outlook plug-ins, desktop readers and browser plug-ins (Firefox, Safari and the upcoming IE7), each client has to poll
each URL at specific intervals and retrieve any new posts. For externally published feeds, this is occurring through the
corporate gateway to the internet, where bandwidth is the most expensive. The graphic below shows how content has
to get retrieved from separately for each different reader.




                                 Content                                     Consumption




If only a handful of people are subscribing to feeds, it’s not a big issue. But when you get to a lot of users subscribing
to a lot of feeds, it starts adding up. The example below explains this further.
    •      Organization with 3,000 RSS readers, each subscribes to 25 feeds
    •      The average feed has 10 posts, each of which is 2KB in size
    •      Users can customize the settings for how often feeds are retrieved, but the default is usually every half hour
Based on the above example, the maximum bandwidth consumption at any given moment would be (assuming all
users were polling simultaneously) equal to: (3000 users) x (250 posts) x (2KB per post) = 1.5 GB. It is safe to assume
that not everyone would be accessing feeds at the exact same time, but even at 10-20% of the traffic occurring at the
same time, you would still be talking about a noticeable increase in bandwidth consumption.

Security

While individual readers offer the ability to deliver authenticated feeds, either internal or external, by prompting for
user names and passwords or including that information in the tokens passed to the content source, they don’t have
the ability to use Windows logon or single sign-on capabilities. In the case of internal feeds, this often causes extra
work on the part of the support staff to assist users who don’t understand which credentials are required or have
simply forgotten them.
The biggest problem with secured feeds and individual client readers is that IT staffs have no way of knowing whether
credentials entered into these programs are protected adequately. If a user enters a network username and password
into an RSS reader on a laptop which is subsequently lost, there is a very real possibility of this compromising many




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other systems. Microsoft chose not to deal with this issue in Internet Explorer 7 and will not be providing the
capability for users to access feeds that require the storage of credentials.

IT Staffing Impact

While client-based RSS readers are very easy to install (a recent NewsGator Survey found more than 99% of
NewsGator Inbox, FeedDemon and NetNewsWire users installed their software on their own), that doesn’t mean they
don’t impact IT departments from a resource standpoint. Although the early adopters of software like RSS readers
tend to be technologically-savvy, IT staffs have learned through painful experience that the addition of each new
program to a user workstation produces more chances for issues and support calls. If the company chooses to
standardize on a particular reader and roll it out to a large number of users, this can cause a significant impact on IT
departments in three areas- software support, infrastructure management, and OPML distribution.
Once the software is chosen, it is the responsibility of the IT staff to ensure that it gets deployed on every machine.
Even for companies with centralized software deployment solutions, a fair number of machines typically fail to install.
Upgrades suffer similar challenges, and with software that is evolving as rapidly as RSS readers, IT groups should plan
on one or two upgrades each year. Once the software is installed, the help desk will need to respond to support calls.
Users from sales, marketing, human resources and many other departments are not going to be content with posting
comments on public support forums, so they will likely look for internal support. Since RSS is new to most users,
training and support can be significant if the experience is unlike prior usage or the usability of the solution has not
been refined well over time.
From an infrastructure management perspective, individual use readers also cause issues. We addressed the bandwidth
impact in the previous section, but these problems can become severe with RSS readers making frequent requests over
portions of the network that are already overtaxed. Low-bandwidth connections can quickly become saturated by
repeated requests for content – especially in the case of some feeds which can contain several hundred posts.
Finally, if the individual readers are part of a larger Web 2.0 strategy, the company will likely be publishing a number of
internal blogs or feeds to which it will want the entire organization or a group to be subscribed. If those feeds number
more than a handful, the easiest way to distribute those is through an OPML file, which can be imported as a file or
linked to a URL. Ensuring that the OPML is properly loaded onto each reader will likely require work on the part of
IT. As new feeds are added to the OPML file, the same process will need to be repeated.

NEWSGATOR ENTERPRISE SERVER
A number of companies have started to consider alternatives to deploying individual readers throughout the
organization. NewsGator Enterprise Server (NGES) is a server-based, behind-the-firewall solution for centrally
managing and administering feeds and subscriptions. As opposed to deploying readers on every user’s computer,
NGES uses a clientless deployment model and allows users to view feeds in Outlook, on an intranet site or via a
portal. The impact on IT departments is significantly less than it is with large deployments of individual-use readers.
More detail is provided in the following sections.

Bandwidth

In the previous section, we discussed the impact on each user polling for feeds through the corporate gateway to the
internet as well as internally on the company network. In many cases, more than one person within a company
subscribes to the same feeds, particularly popular internal blogs and competitive news sites. With NewsGator
Enterprise Server, you can avoid having multiple users ever retrieve same feed. NGES acts as a traffic cop and gets
the feed one time, then distributes it internally to all subscribed users. In addition, NGES only distributes the feed




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when requested through the web interface or only distributes the new articles in the feed when integrated with
Microsoft Exchange. In a typical deployment, this reduces the bandwidth through the corporate gateway by more than
75%.
Taking the same example as before, the savings are demonstrated below:
    •      Organization with 3,000 RSS readers, each subscribes to 25 feeds
    •      The average feed has 10 posts, each of which is 2KB in size
    •      Only two posts a day are updated in the average feed
    •      Only fifty percent of the feeds are unique (meaning that roughly half of the total subscribed feeds are
           subscribed to by only one person).
    •      Administrators customize the settings for how often feeds are retrieved, but the default is usually every half
           hour
Based on the above example, the maximum bandwidth consumption at any given moment would be (assuming that
both new posts were updated at the same time) equal to: (3000 users) x (25 feeds)/2=37,500 feeds x 2 posts (2KB per
post) = 150 MB. NGES also has the capability of ensuring that not all 37,500 posts are pulled simultaneously, instead
it distributes the polling over a period of time, significantly reducing the bandwidth consumption at the edge of the
network. Distribution from NGES to Outlook via exchange would require some bandwidth: (3000 users) x (25 feeds)
x (2 posts x 2KB) = 300KB. In reality, not all users would be pulling feeds simultaneously, so the likely impact would
be closer to 30 to 60KB. The graphic below depicts this model.




                              Content                                 Consumption


                                                    Enterprise
                                                     Server




Security

NewsGator Enterprise Server allows you to deliver secure RSS feeds without overly burdening the users or the support
staff. In addition to supporting authentication via user name or password, administrators can also allow users to use
their Windows logon as authentication for a secure internal feed. In addition, since NewsGator is tightly integrated
with Exchange and Active Directory, the product can utilize the single-sign capabilities provided through Active
Directory.
For Windows 2003 domains, NewsGator Enterprise Server supports protocol transitioning and constrained delegation
to allow subscribing to and retrieving network-secured feeds without ever storing the user’s credentials in the NGES
database.




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Hardware
NewsGator Enterprise Server allows users to access their RSS feeds on the Web or via Outlook, without any client
software to install. Instead of synchronizing feeds from the Web directly to Outlook (which requires a client
installation), NewsGator Enterprise Server integrates directly through Exchange via the WebDAV protocol to deliver
feeds right to a folder with Outlook.
As a server-based product that lives behind the corporate firewall, there is software to install and hardware to maintain
at the server level. NewsGator Enterprise Server is installed on a Microsoft Windows 2000 or 2003 server. It is
connected to a server running Microsoft SQL Server. To integrate with Active Directory for group and user
management and single sign-on, a domain user with read access to the AD server must be provided during installation.
To take advantage of the Exchange integration to deliver articles to Outlook without requiring client software, an
Exchange account with send as and receive as permissions for the Exchange users is required. The diagram below
provides a high-level model for the NewsGator Enterprise Server and how it fits within a corporate environment.




IT Staffing Impact

Although NewsGator requires an IT staff resource to install the product and manage connections between it and SQL
Server, Exchange and Active Directory, there is no requirement to support or maintain desktop clients. In addition,
management of the system from the perspective of subscribing users or groups to feeds or maintaining the taxonomy
is not usually the responsibility of IT. In most cases, librarians, knowledge managers or even group (functional)
administrators have the responsibility of handling those tasks.




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CONCLUSION
As more and more important, relevant content becomes available in RSS, both that manage content creation, licensing
and distribution, and those that consume that content, will demand the ability to access via an RSS reader. While
individual-use readers can fill this demand, they often cause as many problems as they solve from an IT standpoint.
Products that allow for centralized management and administration of RSS feeds and subscriptions are quickly being
adopted because they offer a clear advantage over individual readers, particularly from an IT perspective. To find out
additional technical details about NewsGator Enterprise Server, please e-mail sales@newsgator.com.




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