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Managing March Network Madness

19 Mar 2015 by Robyn Itule

Ahh, March Madness. For those who enjoy it, the NCAA tournament is a weekslong holiday observed with joy at each tipoff. For network administrators and those suffering the pains of slow connections, it’s nothing to celebrate.

Last year’s NCAA Championship game netted CBS 9.8 million television viewers — the second highest viewership since 1993 — according to Nielsen ratings. But savvy sports watchers know that to get the games they want, relying on live broadcast isn’t always going to satisfy — and that’s where live streaming comes in. And most likely — since many of the first round games happen during the work day — you’ll need to find ways to discreetly get real time scores or catch clips while being productive. And the total impact to the network because of this can be catastrophic.

According to NetworkWorld in 2014: CBS Sports and the NCAA saw a 47% increase in visits during the first three rounds alone, reaching 26.7 million visits and streaming 10.3 million hours of streaming video in about seven days. That’s three times the viewership on television, and this figure doesn’t account for sports sites like ESPN.

Matthew Skaff, director of IT, networking at Insight, is well acquainted with March Madness, but he’s no bracketologist. Instead, he and his team are the ones working to ensure that critical business functions get network priority and run smoothly. So, events like the Olympics, the World Cup, NHL Playoffs and March Madness present some challenges. But Skaff has an easy solution: “Work from home and use the VPN to login to work if you can…pending manager approval, of course.”

Since March Madness is a cultural phenomenon that extends past die-hard sports fans and into the collective conscious, network administrators need to plan for the fact that — even with a robust mobility program and supportive managers — a number of devices will be accessing broadband siphoning content from the Internet during tournament game days.

Carlos Sotero, director of IT, data center at Insight, offers this long-term approach, “Segregate data on the network so that business functions get priority. Other network areas can be dedicated to pulling down content so that they don’t impact mission critical systems.” And for game day he adds, “Stream games from a couple laptops into a community area. Get some snacks, make it social and take pressure off the network.”

Skaff and Sotero both agree that the first step is accepting that you’ll never be able to control network traffic completely and that the best approach is to protect critical functions first. Then find ways for people to get the content they’re going to access anyway, whether it’s from a corporate or personal device.

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