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Live sporting events: A bitter defeat for the network?

Between the Euro’s, Wimbledon and the Tour de France, there has already been a sporting event for everyone this summer. Next up are the Olympic Games, which for two weeks in August will garner the attention of the whole world.

While the most famous sportsmen and women will compete against each other in person, IT teams will spend their summer battling against the consequences that large sporting events have on the company's network.

Aside from dominating the conversation by the water cooler, these events will also be at the heart of the IT teams' discussions. They will be transmitted live via streaming on various websites, and news outlets will be publishing the results in real time. Considering the popularity of these events, it’s easy to conceive that a very large number of staff will be following the events live via streaming sites from their personal mobile devices or computers. In fact, over 150 million viewers watched each game of UEFA Euro 2016.

This influx of added activity from a large number of staff means that company network's performance could be adversely affected. Indeed, streaming uses up a large proportion of the bandwidth, which can considerably slow down the network. This in turn causes business-critical tasks to slow, harming the productivity and profitability of the company itself. In order to keep businesses afloat during a network overload, system administrators need to be prepared.

According to a study carried out by Ipswitch in the U.S. during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, 66.9 per cent of companies indicated that they had already encountered problems associated with the streaming of sporting events. Of these companies, over 69 per cent agreed that video streaming had a negative impact on network performance or operations. With the large number of sporting events this year, and the increasing importance of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), this observation will be felt even more sharply by poorly prepared companies.

The sudden spikes in traffic associated with streaming can also create additional problems for the network, ranging from a simple slowdown to an actual bug. Company staff are often unaware of the risks, becoming their own worst enemy.

Some network managers take the radical decision to closely monitor bandwidth use during events, and block the websites associated with it; however, there are simpler ways to deal with the problem which, at the same time, allow staff to keep score.

The key to success is planning ahead, and coming up with a backup plan. IT teams should ensure that users are aware of the consequences of streaming for the company, and offering an alternative option to reduce the strain on the network. Ideally a television or, failing that, a single computer should be set up to broadcast the match live from one device. Although it is well-known that self-regulation is preferable to imposed regulation for keeping troops motivated, modifying the existing Internet access policies is a good backup solution for limiting the impact.

Secondly, organisations should utilise technologies that are already available to the IT team. Most companies own network monitoring and management tools in some form or another, but these are very rarely used in an optimal manner. These tools can be used to put in place strategies for balancing bandwidth use, thereby preventing critical applications from being adversely affected by this Summer’s matches, games and races.

In order to obtain an effective level of control over a company network, one must consider monitoring the traffic by port number, IP address or data packets. This will help to monitor, control and balance bandwidth use. It is also possible to put in place a blacklist, yet this is not always the best solution. It is not as simple as differentiating between streaming content which is trivial or essential to employees' work.

Whichever method is used to monitor the network during these sporting events, the smooth operation of business critical applications must not be left to chance. Planning for large scale media events is now a part of the IT puzzle, and the ability to anticipate bandwidth spikes that can harm core business functions needs to be second nature for IT teams.

Once your IT environment is competing at world-class level, you can sit back, relax and cheer for your home nation.

Michael Hack, Senior Vice President of EMEA Operations at Ipswitch

Image source: Shutterstock/A Luna Blue