NCAA basketball games being streamed to individual users' desktops spell trouble for network administrators.
With CBS Sports
heavily promoting its offer
to stream all 63 of the March Madness college basketball games for
free across the Internet, the potential for lost productivity and business is
enormous for many enterprises.
With the first round games slated to begin on March 20, network
administrators across the country should be gearing up to handle the network
traffic spikes that will surely result from individual users accessing the
games from their desktops.
How much bandwidth the rich streaming content can chew up depends on several
factors. "It can take upwards of 640K bps of a network for a single
stream. Multiply that by 20 or 100 people, and it doesn't take too many of
those to really cause disruption in business-important applications," said
Mark Urban, director of product management at Packeteer.
For previous March Madness contests that were streamed for free, network
monitoring company NetScout Systems found in its own internal tests that each
streaming session took up about one fifth of a T-1 line, said Eileen Haggerty, NetScout
director of product marketing.
There are a range of tools at the network administrator's disposal to help
minimize the impact of users streaming content such as March Madness games. Those
range from simple URL filters, used most often to block access to porn or
gambling sites, to packet classification and policy tools provided by companies
like Packeteer with its PacketShaper offerings.
"We discover all the applications, including streaming video, we show
what the utilization is and map that back to the users, so we give visibility
into what's happening," Urban said. "That works hand in hand with our
quality-of-service policies. Say you want to cap that [traffic] at 5 to 10
percent of the network at full utilization. We give you the policy tools to
provision whatever you feel is useful," he said.
Web filtering company St. Bernard Software provides similar capabilities.
"We have a real-time monitor to see exactly where everyone is surfing ...
And we can establish policies centrally and distribute those across multiple
appliances in remote sites," said Steve Yin, vice president of worldwide sales
and marketing for St. Bernard Software.
At the other end of the network traffic management spectrum are probes that
provide information on all the types of traffic traversing a link. While those
can be expensive to put in all locations across an enterprise, NetScout Systems
sees most customers deploying those in headquarters and data centers,
"where a lot of Internet traffic flows through," Haggerty said.
"You just have to instrument the Internet segments and you can see
changes in traffic patterns that show streaming HTTP. IT just has to run that
one session, see where it goes, capture the packet, find the label and they can
track it," she said.
So what kind of policies should IT put in place around such recreational
Packeteer recommends limiting recreational traffic to 10 percent of
available network bandwidth.
St. Bernard Software has seen policies among its 4,500 or so customers that
are all over the map, Yin said. "Some companies just flat-out don't allow
it and block out all high-bandwidth sites and have strict Internet access
policies. At the other end of continuum some are wide open and as long as users
are not going to malware sites they are open to any kind of surfing," he
In between that, "We've seen some companies set up an area [where users
can watch] streaming media and apportion a part of the bandwidth, rather than
everybody doing it from their desk," he added.
NetScout's Haggerty offered a simpler policy proposal. "For my money, for
good employee moral, set up some TVs in the cafeteria or lounge and let
[employees] turn it on. It's not a 9-to-5 world anymore. What's 15 minutes if
they watch some of the game and then go back to their office?"
At the very least, it behooves IT departments to educate users on the impact
their surfing actions have on an expensive resource. Most employees have no
idea how much streaming videos affect applications' availability. After all, the last thing a bank in Indiana wants to see happen when the Hoosiers are scheduled
to play is for all the deposits and withdrawals traversing a branch link to get