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March Madness 2009: What network slowdown?

March Madness has officially started. Offices are buzzing with pick-to-win pools, friendly competition amongst peers and co-workers — and the network slowdown caused by streaming live videos of the game. Is your network up to snuff and prepared to handle the rush of the game as March Madness progresses?

The NCAA will be streaming live video of every game, from the round to the last – including a new high-quality option (requiring a Microsoft Silverlight download). CBS will also be providing the live games online, something it has been providing for free for the past four years. Just to provide some scope for how many people will be streaming this game online this year: In 2008, the online audience for the NCAA men’s tournament grew 165% over 2007 with 4.8 million viewers (way up from the 2006 number of 1.3 million people).

Streaming video, as opposed to another productivity buster like online shopping, affects the entire network. According to one calculation on the effect streaming video can have on the network, in a company of 10,000 employees, if 75 of them (on a 100-megabit network) were streaming video at the same time (on decent-quality video streams with other Internet apps going on), the network could be slowed down to a stop.

One company I talked to experienced a 2x increase in bandwidth utilization on Thursday; its normal average of 15MB increased to 30MB. This IT director told me there wasn’t a noticeable slowdown because the company is able to burst to 45MB, but if usage increased further, he was going to lower the priority of CBS SportsLine on the firewall to make the user experience poor and give more important applications better performance.

So that’s one approach to handling NCAA enthusiasts. What else can you do before or during non-work events likely to cause a network slowdown?

Strategically plan for the event with public viewing areas. Set up televisions within the office so employees can keep up with the live footage during breaks. The workplace can only go so far in accommodating employee interests during the day, but for some public interest events like the inauguration or national disaster updates, providing the televisions can help separate work from other things.

Limit the access with policies. Block video during the workday, providing only a limited window of opportunity for streaming or downloading (8-10 a.m. or 1-2 p.m., etc.). This may be away to provide a positive work experience while safeguarding the company from loss of productivity and network overload.

Block it. For many the hassles and risks are just not worth it, and blocking video on the network is a quick fix. The flip side of this? Some employees may try to access the video through less reputable sites, posing a security/virus risk.

The good news is, if you’re thinking about how to handle network slowdowns before it becomes a problem, you’re already strategically planning. Monitoring, preparing and understanding the risks are important when it comes to staying on top of your IT game.

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