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March Madness! Preventing network overload

Don't let March Madness maniacs bring down your office networks. Here are some steps to prevent network strain from increased Web usage during the NCAA tournament.

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It's March Madness. But for most network IT administrators at small and medium-sized businesses, the madness is more than college basketball. In the office, it's preventing IT networks from overloading and contracting viruses as employees follow NCAA Tournament games via streaming video on As employees log on to watch the games on the Internet from their desks or check scores on their BlackBerrys and brag to colleagues on instant messenger about their bracket picks, suddenly that T1 interface can't handle the surge in network traffic.

What to do?

Mike Hronek, presales network engineer at CDW Corp. in Vernon Hills, Ill., suggests that companies recalibrate their network's data settings at the router/Layer 3 switch level. Here's how:

  • For companies that don't require streaming media for daily operations, prioritize traffic on your network by giving higher priority to e-mail, database, transactional and/or other core business applications, and low priority to bandwidth eaters such as streaming media.

    "Users will get choppy results if and when they access the games on the Internet," Hronek said. "Often when users get that choppy feeling, they don't think that someone turned down their network connection. They think it's on the host site's end. It's a nice, transparent way of preventing them from logging on."

  • Companies requiring streaming functionality can adjust how the office network receives streaming content from various hosts and limit which workstations have access to it by implementing the "multicast" setting at the router/Layer 3 switch level. Multicast combines the advantages of the "broadcast" setting (designating how much bandwidth the office network will allow for streaming media) and the "unicast" setting (determining which workstations have access to streaming content).

    "It's a matter of integrating [these settings] into your network," Hronek said. "Larger companies have more Layer 3 switches on their LANs, which makes it easier to handle all the traffic."

  • Offices using time-sensitive applications on their networks, such as Voice over Internet Protocol, should consider both precautions. Significant decreases in bandwidth may produce jittery voices during telephone conversations, or worse, long (three seconds or longer) delays between each spoken word.

Mike Hronek is a presales network engineer at CDW Networks. His NCAA pick is Illinois.

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