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Streaming the Olympic Games: How to keep business networks running smoothly

It was predicted that 3.6 billion people would be tuning in to watch the Summer Games 2016, taking place in Rio de Janeiro.

With the equivalent to the entire population of China, India and United States combined tuning in to watch their country’s top athletes participate in the games, there will no doubt be many who stream the games at work, much to the despair of IT departments.

As many organisations now allow mobile devices to access their enterprise WLAN, and with a massive increase in multimedia streaming, this will have a knock on effect with your network bandwidth, which can affect general business continuity and management.

Impact on business applications

Business critical applications or services, such as file sharing, storage backup and encrypted tunnels, as well as minor data such as email, accounts and database take up most of the bandwidth consumption. By piling video streaming traffic on top of this, particularly if it is HD, the remaining bandwidth will rapidly be eaten up.

Some businesses take an extreme approach to this potential problem by blocking all traffic related to live streaming, which can work. However, this could impact employees who need to tune into a work-related webcast or other live stream and harm their ability to do their jobs. Or else, worse, if they want to watch Usain Bolt, they will work around this block and instead end up on potentially malicious sites, which will cause more problems than if you didn’t block anything.

Rather than restrict employee access and freedom to watch live streams, there are a number of steps which can be taken to ensure that business requirements are protected and give employees the freedom to watch the Summer Games:

  1. Establish traffic management quality of service

Various network traffic management tools allow a business to establish QoS policies. By using QoS mechanisms, network administrators can use existing resources efficiently and ensure the required level of service without reactively expanding or over-provisioning their networks.

This ensures that non-business applications are policed or throttled and business-critical traffic such as VoIP or those to your data centre or cloud takes priority over non-essential traffic, such as video streaming. This way business will be the priority on the network, and streaming traffic as a result of the Summer Games will be secondary to this.

  1. Monitor your current traffic profile

There are many hardware and software tools available which allow you to monitor and profile network traffic. These tools can show you how bandwidth is being used, who by, and by what applications. Further, many tools deliver the ability to map bandwidth usage and its impact on your applications, therefore if there is a problem with the network, the IT professional will have visibility to be able to pinpoint where the issue is and easily rectify it. Using these correct tools will again help the IT professional to prioritise business critical issues first before solving streaming issues.

  1. Don’t add more bandwidth yet

Purchasing additional bandwidth is not the only way to increase your bandwidth capacity. In addition to QoS, technologies such as WAN acceleration and optimisation will effectively help better the performance of your WAN.

So, if blocking all unwanted traffic as a result of streaming live video is not an option, monitor your traffic and then leverage the information to implement QoS or WAN optimisation options, before lastly considering adding more bandwidth.

Bandwidth congestion can impact not just the IT team but have a knock on effect to the rest of the business. Branch office, data centres, cloud or hosted communications, backup programs and even the productivity of employees who are trying to work in between all the streaming can be affected. Also, if your customer facing web servers are also in the same network, you could be looking at revenue losses too.

IT professionals need to have the correct tools in place this summer to allow them to have maximum visibility into the network so that they can reach the finish line this August.

Mav Turner, Director of Product Management at SolarWinds

Image source: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens