Going for gold in data consumption

The London 2012 Olympics is primed to set a new world record on data consumption. Unless businesses prepare, their networks may be clogged by employees streaming Olympics events at work.

With less than two weeks to go before the games kick off in London, athletes are sweating out their final training sessions and thousands of spectators are priming their lungs for some serious cheering.

They’re ready for the London Olympics, but is your business prepared for the avalanche of online video about to hit the web?

Video of the 2012 London Olympics is set to steal IT budgets.  Beginning July 27, athletes from more than 200 countries will compete for more than 300 gold, silver, and bronze medals in 36 sports.  Regional broadcasters around the world will have access to 5,000 hours of competition and will deliver it as live and on-demand Internet video content.  

While it is great to have instant access to an event that only comes once every four years, there are significant costs associated with video that can cause issues for organisations, and these are not limited to just the Olympics – any big news event can create problems. These include:

  • Dramatic increase in the demand on corporate bandwidth as video is consumed;
  • The impact on business critical applications created by the surge in demand for bandwidth, potentially resulting in lost revenue, unexecuted transactions and delayed customer orders;
  • An increase in end user complaints and the corresponding load on IT help desks as the network is brought to its knees; and
  • A decline in end user productivity as employees due to the network slowdown.

In Australia and New Zealand, the time zones come into play. For example, most athletics and swimming finals are scheduled between 7-9pm London time, meaning a 4am or 6am start in Sydney or Auckland respectively. With this timing it is not particularly feasible for most people to watch the events live at home, nor will they be watching live streaming at work. The likely result is that when people get in to the office, they will seek out video replays of the events. Factor in multiple employees doing the same thing and the potential for a serious drain on the corporate network escalates dramatically.

In 2008, the Beijing Olympics YouTube channel had 21 million views over two weeks. The United States watched 75.5 million streams of video, the United Kingdom watched 50 million, and Australian viewers watched 4 million live and on-demand videos. Taking into consideration that video usage patterns have changed considerably in the last four years, with people consuming more video for longer periods of time, these numbers are likely to be even higher again in 2012.

The standard size of individual videos has also increased from 200 Kbps in 2008 to 500 Kbps in 2012, meaning the impact on the network is more than 2.5 times higher. During the 2012 Olympics, online video views is expected to increase to 287.7 million, representing 7.9 petabytes – the equivalent of nearly 2 million DVDs. All consumed over a period of two weeks.

This incredible influx of data has several consequences for business. Microbursts and sustained traffic can easily drive network utilisation toward 100 per cent, without even taking into consideration traffic from enterprise email, ERP, CRM, file access and storage, backup and other applications. Sensitive enterprise applications slow down or stop, reducing employee productivity. Unresponsive applications frustrate users and generate IT help desk or service requests. Often, the IT department won’t realise that the issue is a fully loaded network, so they have to troubleshoot the whole delivery chain of whatever application is experiencing problems. This inefficient troubleshooting and repair process slows down conclusions, leading to prolonged periods of inefficiency.

The main issue is that most of the network solutions currently available are not equipped to identify traffic spikes on the network and understand the root cause. Traffic is lumped into a single web or HTTP category, making it difficult to identify and sort mission critical traffic from the recreational, Olympics-related coverage. For many companies with operations scattered around the world, mitigating the impact of recreational traffic is crucial. When 30 to 60 per cent of bandwidth is spent on YouTube or related network traffic, a fundamental misalignment is created for the business.

Visibility, control and optimisation are the three essential capabilities needed for network administrators to successfully minimise the impact of the Olympics on regular business operations. Real-time visibility into application usage can allow administrators to quickly identify any issues that are preventing mission critical applications from performing. Granular application controls allow a rapid response to greedy applications eating all the bandwidth. Optimisation of the network’s capabilities further reduces the impact of video. A solution such as MACH5 communicates with the video servers to pull down a single stream to the requesting location and split it into as many real-time streams as needed at the local branch – meaning that far less bandwidth is consumed.

Olympics video coverage promises to be bigger and better than ever this year. Video coverage in general for all major events and news stories is set to increase exponentially in the next few years. With the right solutions in place however, this doesn’t need to have a negative impact on business operations. Employees can watch replays of Usain Bolt winning athletics gold, or Michael Phelps and James Magnussen battling it out in the pool without disrupting regular business. Like Sally Pearson, your business can navigate the hurdles to Olympic gold.

Greg Singh is the systems engineering manager of Blue Coat ANZ

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