Is Your Network Ready for March Madness?

Cisco lets employees stream NCAA tournament games, but assigns them lower network priority.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Mar 21, 2013
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Over the course of today and tomorrow, 32 NCAA basketball games will be played, 24 of them beginning before 5:00 p.m. PT.

Employees in enterprises across the U.S. are expected to be watching the tournament during work hours, with as many as one-third of all employees watching March Madness for three hours or more today and Friday.

So what should an enterprise IT manager do?

For networking vendor Cisco, the answer is all about managing expectations and bandwidth. Brian Christensen, Director of Enterprise Solutions Engineering and the lead of Cisco’s IT networking services team, explained to Enterprise Networking Planet that simply blocking access is not an option.

"We have a competitive environment for talent in Silicon Valley and we need to support the millennials," Christensen said. "I view it as critical that we allow the flexibility for people to watch and work."

In addition to not blocking access to live streaming NCAA March Madness video, Cisco will also likely be putting up the basketball tournament on screens in its break rooms. Christensen stressed though that Cisco will not be encouraging its employees to watch basketball in the break rooms.

"If employees are in a break room it means they aren't working," Christensen said. "If you give people Internet capabilities to watch a game while they are at their desks, they'll still be working."

Bandwidth

Aside for the workday related impact that March Madness has, there is also the physical impact on the network. Christensen expects that March Madness will increase his network bandwidth demand by as much as 3x over a typical workday.

While Christensen isn't going to block access to streaming NCAA video, he isn't prioritizing its delivery on the Cisco network either.

Internally Cisco's network has a six tier Quality of Service (QoS) model for bandwidth. For the CBS Sports feed for March Madness, Christensen said it will be allocated in what is known as 'scavenger' class. That is the lowest tier and gets access after all high-priority tiers of service are satisfied. So for example, if a Cisco executive needs to do a high-quality collaboration over WebEx or Telepresence on the network, they would have a higher QoS priority than the scavenger class allocated to NCAA basketball.

Best Practices

Christensen has a number of suggestions for other network managers on how to deal with the impact of a live streaming event like March Madness.

At the top of his list is understanding what the traffic is on a network. He also stresses the need to prioritize traffic base on QoS and business need.

It's also important to plan for exceeding bandwidth expectations when there is a live event that employees are likely to watch.

"The new generation workforce is not watching things on TV anymore, they are watching streaming video on tablets and other devices," Christensen said. "You should expect that will continue to grow."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network,  the network for technology professionals Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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