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We have a number of users who have MP3s in their home directories which are stored on our centralized file server. This has a negative affect on how long our backups take, how much drives space we need to have, etc. I thought about sending e-mails out for people to remove it with a notice that it would be deleted by a certain day but I don't feel that this is the right way to go about this. Many of these employees have music because it helps them work more efficiently and they don't have quantities that are excessive but the amount in sum across all the employees is still significant.

I have come up with a couple of ideas but each have their own problems:

  • Idea: Allow Users to stream music instead of storing it
  • Problem: Takes up too much bandwidth
  • Idea: Move all the music to the users' local machines
  • Problem: This would take significant effort on my department's part and we would then be responsible for doing things like redirecting the default directories for iTunes on people's computers so that data is stored locally
  • Idea: Encourage people to purchase their own portable MP3 players by leveraging our corporate discount to offer employees discounted players
  • Problem: Some of our users listen to podcasts, something that I have found extremely beneficial in my job, and may not have a computer at home to synchronize with

What are some good ways to handle respecting our users and getting the productivity and morale benefits that music affords without having to store users' music on our file server?

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I almost cried... –  gWaldo Nov 18 '10 at 20:08
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What are the good ways of respecting your users? Well for me that would be reminding them that music players are cheap these days and then telling them that they've got a week before the global delete takes care of their MP3 files. –  RobM Nov 18 '10 at 20:29
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Companies can be sued for pirated music on their network, especially if it's on servers and not desktops. The company is going to have a tough time proving it owns the CDs that the MP3 was ripped from. –  mfinni Nov 18 '10 at 21:34
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To clarify on the "owns the CDs that the MP3 was ripped from"; owning the CD actually does not confer you any additional rights in this case; and even if it did, the CDs almost certainly belong to the employees, NOT the company, so this is a very cut-and-dry case of illegal file sharing (between the employee and the company server). –  GWLlosa Nov 18 '10 at 22:05
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Problems like this require a management solution, not system administration. –  John Gardeniers Nov 19 '10 at 1:39
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18 Answers

up vote 46 down vote accepted

I'd be tempted to ask senior management just to send out a "remove and don't do it again" email - then you can do a monthly scan and give the management a list of those still doing it.

It's not a technical issue so don't make it one.

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I cannot upvote this enough. There is a fine line between personal use and legitimate business needs. If it crosses into a realm where it either costs the company actual monies (in the form of backups) or IT time...it's no longer "personal use". –  GregD Nov 18 '10 at 19:23
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I completely agree. If a user needs music to be productive, an MP3 player or desk radio of some sort should be the only option. Saving music on the servers or streaming music are both hard costs that can and should be avoided. –  DanBig Nov 18 '10 at 19:44
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It would cost you less in the long run to just purchase an iPod for each user... –  GregD Nov 18 '10 at 19:54
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Whoa. Way to ruin the work environment. And how does prescribing MP3 players or desk radio (hark, anachronism) address this? Having music on the PC is so much more practical. Just give the users some storage space that isn’t backed up. Don’t swing the banhammer. About the “hard costs” – doesn’t every piece of equipment for the employees and every can of milk in the fridge incur costs? Aren’t milk-saving companies the epitome of the evil company nobody likes to work for? –  Konrad Rudolph Nov 18 '10 at 21:10
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Stolen milk too, mmmm...delicious stolen milk hmmm –  Chopper3 Nov 18 '10 at 22:28
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Whatever you do, you are going to need management support for it. IT can rarely set its own policies without this support (especially if your policy affects management - like if they are also storing mp3s on the server...) Users generally get upset when things stop working the way they always have as well so you are going to need to communicate with them BEFORE you make any changes too. Company storage of mp3s is not a good idea even if you don't have any SLA on the data and it could disappear at any time since it could lead to legal issues (can you be certain that NONE of the mp3s are copyrighted?). Again, this is a small chance, but it is still there.

Depending on your file server, you may be able to exclude certain file types from being stored at all, and you can usually exclude certain file types from backups as well depending on the backup software. Windows 2003 has File Server Resource Manager that allows you to set quotas, file screens, etc...

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+1, +1, +1. It is always a losing proposition trying to find a technical solution to a personal problem. –  jgoldschrafe Nov 18 '10 at 19:28
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Thank you for the additional heads up about being able to filter file types right on the file server. I didn't realize that was possible. –  Chris Magnuson Nov 18 '10 at 22:36
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I'm afraid that there isn't an answer that either you or your users are going to like. This type of issue plagues many IT departments. I'm lucky because I work for a government agency, where it's strictly forbidden to rip MP3s to the network (for that matter, they're strictly prohibited from connecting ANY personal device to the network). We have specific policies in place prohibiting it.

We encourage people to bring portable radios or MP3 players instead. That's the easiest route.

Edited to add: The minute you lay your hands (IT) on this issue will be the minute that your users expect numerous things to happen. One, that you'll help them restore all the MP3s they deleted. Two, you'll help them rip CDs they brought. Three, make it easier for them to share music with other employees...and the list goes on and on.

This is a Pandora's box that you don't want to open my friend, because it will only end in frustration from an IT standpoint. DO NOT ALLOW THIS.

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In the limited experience I have, people already expect these things just because your in IT - the network storage aspect doesn't change much in this regard. In either case you can just refuse to support it. –  Joshua Enfield Nov 18 '10 at 19:55
    
It's been my experience that expectations can be managed really well with IT policies and procedures. –  GregD Nov 18 '10 at 21:00
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Godwin's Law? Seriously? Here? –  Dennis Williamson Nov 19 '10 at 1:22
    
And it got an upboat? –  GregD Nov 19 '10 at 1:34
    
Is that comment worth flagging, or preserving for the sheer numbskullery? –  mfinni Nov 19 '10 at 4:23
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Exclude music and video directories from your backups entirely, and let your coworkers know that those directories are provided as-is, not backed up and they shouldn't put important stuff there.

If legal/copyright issues are a concern, have employees sign a waiver that says anything they put in those directories is solely their own responsibility.

I have seen a lot of companies where the IT department is a total pain-in-the-ass, making their coworkers miserable day after day. Please work hard towards not being one of those. Keep in mind that you are there to help your coworkers make the best of their working day :)

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Users are clever. They will just stick their music in other directories that are backed up. –  Cypher Nov 20 '10 at 1:01
    
@Cypher that is a completely different use-case! The question refers to users saving their music on their work computers so that they can listen to it (and that causes backups to bloat), and not users piggybacking on company backups for their personal usage. –  ANeves Jan 17 at 10:27
    
@ANeves Actually, that's not correct. See the first sentence of the question. :-) I'll clarify that this is a good answer and will indeed help with backup bloat, there may be a need to do a bit more than just exclude directories (circumstances depending, of course). –  Cypher Jan 17 at 17:03
    
I agree that it is a good answer. But it seems we understand the question differently: the way I read the first sentence of the question, the mp3s ending up in backups is just a side-effect of the user's actions - and not the aim of the users when they put the files there. –  ANeves Jan 17 at 17:12
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I had the same issue at my company, what I ended up doing in the end was creating a separate network share dedicated to music. Backups are limited to a single weekly sync. We call the share 'play', and its reserved for non-essential data, anything that ends up there might disappear forever :)

Bonus edit: just checked the share size:

[ben@kentro play]# du -h
  ...
712G    .

Yikes!

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My inner BOFH recommends RAID 0 storage made up exclusively from old laptop hard drives... –  gWaldo Nov 18 '10 at 20:07
    
We use a 24 disk raid 1 setup, good enough :) –  ben lemasurier Nov 18 '10 at 21:48
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Much better to allow a pressure valve for this impulse than to divert IT and management time onto trying to squash it. But it does depend a bit on the company culture. –  poolie Nov 19 '10 at 3:01
    
I should add, we've got a pretty rad culture :) –  ben lemasurier Nov 19 '10 at 5:13
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I’m not an employer nor a sysadmin so I can only offer an employee’s perspective:

A company that bans me from storing music on my work PC sucks.

Of course finding a solution will cost resources (and effectively money). But so do all other investments for the employees, from the second monitor to a fridge full of milk and all the other stuff.

I was under the impression that abolishing fresh milk to cut costs is universally seen as a douchey move. In fact, Joel even uses this as a hook in a promo movie for Fog Creek, to offset himself from those big, unfriendly corporations.

If music makes programmers productive, giving them second-best solutions isn’t a smart move, in my opinion.

Instead of mandating portable MP3 players or blaring radios, can’t the company reserve a remote folder for storage that isn’t backed up?

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Is this policy universally bad, or is there any way for the company to turn this into a positive? For example, a company that prevents me from listening to music sucks, but a company that gives me $100 to buy an MP3 player is awesome, right? –  Zoot Nov 18 '10 at 22:09
    
Not storing music on work PCs isn't that bad ... yes, it means I can't share out my collection of odd xmas music ... but it's nowhere near as obnoxious as the 'no plugging personal devices into government computers' rule which meant I had to get extra cables so I wasn't crawling under my desk each day to keep my ipod charged. –  Joe H. Nov 19 '10 at 2:08
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@Zoot: well at least they’re making an effort but I for one prefer having a decent software to play my music instead of an inherently user-unfriendly MP3 player. Even a sucky software like iTunes beats the best MP3 player hands down. –  Konrad Rudolph Nov 19 '10 at 10:19
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Hardware is cheap, employees are expensive. If adding $100 in hardware/infrastructure and $50/mo in support costs PER USER allows your users to be even 5% more effective, then it is a good business decision. Buy more hard drives and a faster network for your backup system, or a faster network to allow streaming. Happy employees are productive employees.

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Or, buy them a new iPod touch/MP3 player of choice and offer them a new one every two years that they remain employees. –  Zoot Nov 20 '10 at 22:04
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To start I'd enforce quotas for the home directories and exclude *.mp3, *.mp4, *.ogg, *.wma *.whatever-other-stuff you don't want backed up.

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I thought about this too but I imagine the day when the CEO or one of the other executives or mangers walks into my office and says that they need me to recover the recording of an executive meeting that they accidentally deleted from their home directory, which just so happened to be in MP3 format. –  Chris Magnuson Nov 18 '10 at 19:12
    
As described by the OP, that means that they can't store it at all, which means that they will stream it, using bandwidth. Now if you put that restriction into the backup software instead, that solves the problem - less bandwidth, and shorter backup times. –  mfinni Nov 18 '10 at 19:14
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Hey I really like this solution. Tbh though, I don't think excluding MP3 format is such a problem. The CEO etc should not be storing recordings of offical meetings, adhoc meetings even, should not be stored on the home drive. They should be stored in the correct location on the companies network share for that team/department. –  Anonymous Type Nov 19 '10 at 0:47
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Probably better to exclude a standardized music directory name than to exclude by extension. –  Jefromi Nov 19 '10 at 5:01
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One possibility is that you could create an MP3 share for every user on some USB drives hooked up to your system (or some sort of other cheaper storage) depending on the size of your company. The only downside is that you or your company might get in trouble if these are copyrighted mp3s -- that seems a bit paranoid to me for a small/medium company though.

You could then not worry about backing up these shares. Also, it wouldn't help the file storage issues but you could always exclude *.mp3 from backups. But then you might loose actual needed mp3 content.

My vote would be just to go and delete them periodically for anything outside of iTunes which you could control with the GPO. I think saying "No Music" would really hurt Moral, but I never got much kickback when trying to tell them that these files had to be local -- users were understanding. You can make a help document that explains how to move it and send automated warnings. You could even say it has to be legal data as well in that document.

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I like the idea but it would still put a burden on our IT department both in terms of labor and legal requirements to support and maintain something like this. Most of our users are not technically savvy enough to be able to manage their music files themselves aside from what something like iTunes does for them by default. If I could control iTunes through GPO that would be moving in the right direction but I still don't like taking on the legal responsibility for storing files that may have been downloaded illegally. –  Chris Magnuson Nov 18 '10 at 19:10
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Also, I really like your idea of the iPod (or whatever) discount. Might generate good will while solving a problem :-) –  Kyle Brandt Nov 18 '10 at 19:22
    
+1 for Morale consideration. –  Joshua Enfield Nov 18 '10 at 20:08
    
Not necessarily on USB drives, just on a network drive. Also, one could put a "Music" link in everyone's home directory pointing to the share. That would make it near-painless for unsophisticated users. Of course, that share isn't backed up. Your Chairman's mp3 board meeting recording would be in the normal user space, so it would be backed up. –  mpez0 Nov 18 '10 at 21:03
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I'd suggest promoting the personal music player policy. It encourages users to continue listening to the music that helps their productivity, but limits your liability. Set a policy for storage of personal data and usage of streaming services on work computers/networks.

Some employees have purchased smartphones for the purpose of streaming music during work hours without using company bandwidth. The guy across the aisle from me does that.

You could also search for .mp3 files and email the users reminders about responsible computer use, but this risks straying into the "Mordac the Preventer" territory of system administration.

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No one seems to be mentioning the legal side of things here. There are huge copyright infringement issues surrounding storing MP3s on corporate servers. Any CIO worth his/her salt will ban MP3 storage on corporate PCs or servers.

I LMAO when I read "A company that bans me from storing music on my work PC sucks.", above.

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Legal side of things wasn't part of the question. It was a technical question about how to solve an issue where a key assumption is that the users have taken the time to responsibly acquire MP3 music. –  Anonymous Type Nov 19 '10 at 0:49
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@Simon: is there a copyright issue with this? I don’t think so. As long as the company servers aren’t used for sharing (which, to be honest, is common practice at many workplaces), I don’t see any problems. There is no automatic copyright infringement just because something is stored on company-owned computers. If that were the case, every single-license software ever acquired by anyone at a company would infringe copyright. –  Konrad Rudolph Nov 19 '10 at 10:27
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Actually, in this case, there is a pretty clear-cut copyright issue. Someone buys a CD. That gives them the CD, and the right to play the music on the CD. That is the extent of the 'rights' that they have from owning the CD. The servers, presumably, belong to the company. So the person has made an illegal copy of a CD (the .mp3) and illegally distributed it (to the company share) and every time it is backed up, ANOTHER ILLEGAL COPY IS MADE. –  GWLlosa Nov 19 '10 at 14:59
    
Add to that, if the company makes a policy decision to support/encourage the infringing behavior (the proposed IT policies would all apply), they are even more culpable. –  cdkMoose Nov 19 '10 at 16:41
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@GWL and the others here: I remain unconvinced. Nobody has addressed my software license point which should be completely analogous, but is common practice (nb: assume here that I bought the license, not the company … but even then, the same issues would exist regarding storage and copies). – Then there’s the backup issue; of course, this will depend on the country in question but at least in Germany, creating a backup is not, and was never, a copyright infringement. Distribution on a share is another matter entirely, and I have explicitly excluded that from my consideration above. –  Konrad Rudolph Nov 21 '10 at 9:21
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Enforce quotas for backed-up directories, and leave some larger storage available for non-critical data.

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If you're in europe, Spotify solves your problem. Or redirect "My Music" to their local harddrive if you're on the windows platform.

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I don't even know why this is an issue tbh.

We don't allow people to store personal music/video files on company machines. We don't do it because of storage implications as that's a relative non-issue - we do it because we don't know, and don't have the resource to find out if we did want to know, the copyright situation of those files.

Some people seem to view music files differently to the way they would if, say, a user wanted to store a bunch of ripped video games on a company owned machine.

An 8gb USB stick costs next to nothing, if people want to play their music on a company PC they're welcome, just don't store it on one.

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Assuming that your client computers have plenty of drive space, use Group Policy to redirect the My Music profile folder to a local path (such as its default location, or something like "C:\Local\Music". Once this setting is in effect, users won't have to do anything special to get Windows Media Player or iTunes to rip to that local directory.

For whatever my 2 cents is worth, I definitely get both of the arguments being made here. I've tried to split the difference in my own environment -- I redirect their My Music folders to a local share, and I make it clear that while users are more than welcome to listen to (and store) music on their workstations, this is an activity that we ALLOW, not SUPPORT. Helpdesk tickets regarding music will be openly mocked.

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Pragmatism rules !!

  1. Make a drive with one (or two) top level folders - music and video.

  2. hide the drive so it is not discoverable - tell some users it exists.

  3. forget about it - the users will self regulate.

Why hide it - so a simple audit will not find it. Tell no one. move on...

Your IT dept cannot afford to manage it - your company cannot afford to moderate/police it - even acknowledging its existence is dodgy.

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Even if I hide it there is still one person who operates with such transparency that they would make sure everyone is aware of the drives existance and would monitor it to make sure that it was healthy and functioning properly, never letting it be forgotten about, me. Given that I can't (and wouldn't) hide this from myself then what I would refer to as the sweeping it under a rug option, isn't an option. –  Chris Magnuson Nov 19 '10 at 14:33
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Where did the music come from? If they're downloading it on their company PC, you have some bigger issues. If they're plugging in their portable MP3 players, that has to stop: there's no reason why they need to setup iTunes or whatever and have their personal library on their own machines.

Regardless, you'll need to get buy-in/support from senior management, but I've had no issues implementing the following policy on my customer's offices:

  1. For communal areas, reception, etc., 9 times out of 10 they're happy with a radio: they can't listen to anything NSFW, so your local "easy rock" suffices. We just bought a couple of combo docking station/radios for < $100 at a big box electronics store.

  2. For everyone else, plug in your earphones into your mp3 device: trying to find a room or cubicle that can all agree on music isn't something you can solve with technology.

  3. Setup file screening on your servers: Windows 2003 R2 and 2008 support file screening where you can setup a policy to forbid certain file types from being stored on your file servers. You could push out a scheduled task on each workstation that deletes audio files but you have to be careful not to blow away legitimate files (like audio dictation, or any sound alerts that may be required for an application).

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When last I had to address this, I took an old PC, some old 250GB HDDs that weren't being used any longer, got the company to spring four hundred quid for a cheap RAID card, and built a terabyte server for "content". I could have done it with software RAID if i wanted to spend absolutely no money at all.

IT management knew about it in a "plausibly deniable" way, that is, I told them in such a way that noone could prove I told them.

Then I let the users know that it was there. They were almost all developers, and developers work better when they have their music and cached radio and stupid games and whatever available to hand, nd easily shareable with their friends (not as in "copy this", but as in "listen to this, it's on the media box"). I told them the server wasn't being backed up, but it was RAIDed, so the content probably wouldn't just vanish. I told them that if I found their streamed content taking up space on the production file servers, I'd summarily delete it and kill them with a stick.

It worked very well, for a time; I got about a third of my main file server back, they got music and video as they pleased, and everyone was happy. Eventually, senior management found out about it and got quietly pissed because of the liability issues some have raised above, and it was turned off. Of course, the developers got wind of this (when I told them), and as I had predicted, we ran out of space on the main file server within a week.

There have been notes above regarding the legality of ripping one's own CDs. I'm no lawyer, but I think there are grounds to suspect as FUD the "oh gods oh gods the server is made of company bits on company property we're all going to die and the riaa will eat our babies eek eek" position that some senior managers take. There is somewhat less doubt about whether developers will have and share this content at work, so it always seemed to me that a pragmatic accord was better.

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