Streaming Olympics video will drain corporate bandwidth

Companies that don't have robust network monitoring and management technology in place may run into bandwidth trouble when NBC starts streaming 2,200 hours of live video during the 2008 Summer Olympics. At this point, network administrators should be educating users and coming up with creative solutions to help keep the business running.

NBC's plan to stream 2,200 hours of live video coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics will put a serious strain on corporate networks.

It's a common refrain. Every year, vendors warn their customers that a major sporting event or news event is going to be a drag on bandwidth. The NCAA men's basketball tournament is a common culprit. Some companies feel the pain. Others don't even notice.

"I am not too worried about it overall," said Chuck Kramer, senior vice president and CTO of Social & Scientific Systems, a government contractor that focuses on public health issues. "We don't block such sites, though we do have some software that performs that function. We try to control such activities through policy, and we do have a firm policy that streaming video and audio must be business related. Our filtering software produces reports that -- if they show a transgression -- we address directly with the user and their supervisor."

But the sheer volume of Olympics coverage, combined with the fact that there is a half-day's time difference between the United States and China, means that many workers will be visiting sites such as NBCOlympics.com for live video or other news sites such as CNN.com for coverage of the games during business hours. There is something for everyone, whether employees are fans of swimming, gymnastics, basketball or Greco-Roman wrestling.

This video could particularly hurt wide area network (WAN) connectivity at branch offices. "If you have just five people downloading this stuff, it's likely to consume a full T1 line," said Eileen Haggerty, director of product marketing with NetScout, a developer of network management and monitoring software.

Companies with good visibility into their networks -- with tools that can identify source and destination addresses, port type and traffic types -- will be in good shape, according to Haggerty. Other companies might be better served relying on educating users in advance of the games.

"Most employees don't know the bandwidth impact of these streaming sessions," she said.

CIO Leslie Bauer realized that Olympics coverage could have an impact on her company, Radio One, a media company that operates radio stations, websites, a magazine and a cable network.

"I was watching the news this morning about the Olympics, and I thought about it. Well, I want to follow [American swimmer] Michael Phelps, and I'm sure a lot of other people do, too," Bauer said. "Half my company is going to be doing the same thing. I think it will impact our [network] performance."

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Managing streaming protocols on your network

Radio One hasn't implemented MPLS QoS, which would allow Bauer to manage traffic across her WAN. She has some freeware monitoring tools in place that her staff uses to watch bandwidth consumption. But with an IT staff of 11 managing 20 corporate sites, there is only so much real-time monitoring she can do.

"What we do right now is monitor the bandwidth," she said. "We're not tracking each and every site people are going to. We look at utilization. We get utilization reports and [ask] how the traffic is in each particular market. That's how we determine when somebody is justified an upgrade."

"At this point, there isn't anything we can do about [the Olympics]," Bauer said. "What I was going to do was send an email to all users that will say something like: 'The Olympics are coming up, and I know there is a lot of interest. But please be mindful that we have a business to run and [watching the Olympics] should be a low priority in terms of bandwidth.' "

Haggerty said companies can also take a human resources approach to the issue. The IT organization could set up a PC with a large-screen monitor in the office cafeteria that would run streaming video of the games. Instead of having 15 people sitting at their desks sucking up bandwidth individually, a savvy network administrator could bring all those people together to watch the Olympics during their break.

From an IT perspective, almost any company has the ability to get information out of its network, even if there isn't a networking monitoring tool in place, according to Dan Strohl, a services and training manager at Fluke Networks, a provider of network testing, monitoring and analysis tools.

"Almost everyone has some way of getting information out of their systems," he said. "It might not be the most efficient or best way, but whether through their ISP [Internet service provider], getting reports through them, or through getting basic reports through their routers, almost everybody has something they can get and look at."

Strohl said a particular challenge for organizations, regardless of what tools they have in place, will be the data sources of Olympics video.

"It's not all going to come from where you expect it," he said. An organization can't put together a quick filter to block traffic from CNN or NBC. "It's coming from all over the place. The major data streams CNN and NBC use don't come from them at all. They come from Limelight Networks, a vendor that specializes in taking data and providing it to customers. All CNN and NBC do is provide links and redirect data streams. So blocking a few vendors is not necessarily going to block people from getting to this information."

Getting through the Olympics won't be enough, Strohl said. He recommends that companies think long term, because the presidential election is on the way, and there's never an end to major sporting events. "Even if you have to hack it together this time," he said, "think how you're going to handle it next time in a way that's more approachable."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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