It’s March Madness, Which Means it’s Time for WAN Madness

As a sports fan, there are many events that I look forward to every year.  There’s the Super Bowl, NCAA College Football Championship game as well as the playoffs for MLB, NHL and NBA.  However, these all have one thing in common – they’re generally played on weekends or weekday evenings so people can enjoy them at home.

March Madness is quite different that way.  Tens of millions of people fill out NCAA basketball brackets to see if they can predict the unpredictable better than their friends and co-workers generating a massive amount of interest even from casual fans.  The tournament always starts on a weekday, during work hours, which is problematic for the fan that want up to the minute updates.  Luckily for fans, digital technologies have made watching easy as live games can be streamed right to desktops or mobile devices.  There’s no longer a need to sneak off and watch the game at a local bar at lunch or even the requirement to pop into the breakroom and flick on the TV for a minute. Fans can now sit and their desk and watch the game in crystal clear HD as easily as they could at home.

While this is awesome for the fan, it’s not so great for the network managers.  The WAN in many businesses sees a huge spike in traffic during the tournament as people set their browsers to CBS, the NCAA website, Hulu or any number of other feeds.  When the tournament is over, there’s no relief as the Masters golf tournament gets going in early April. The glut of bandwidth coming in is so high that it often impairs the performance of other, more important apps.  The problem is becoming worse as there are more sites to stream from and the online quality is getting better driving bandwidth requirements up even higher.  Also, as businesses move more apps and services to the cloud, the impact of March Madness will be felt by more users more often.

So, what’s a network manager to do?  Go to the CIO and hope the company puts a policy in place that bans watching March Madness in the office?  That’s certainly an option but that would make you about as popular as the IT guy from The Office TV series so let’s scratch that off.

A better choice would be to implement a software defined WAN (SD-WAN) and use the flexibility of it to allow people to watch as much March Madness as their bosses will let them without impacting the performance of other applications. One of the primary benefits of an SD-WAN is the multi-path technology enables network managers to direct traffic of certain types over whatever path they like. So, in this case have your Office365, Oracle, SAP and Salesforce traffic traverse the MPLS network and the streaming video over broadband.  If the deployment is all broadband with local Internet breakout, that works too as an SD-WAN can be configured to have different types of traffic to be routed to the Internet however the business policy chooses.  For example, high value cloud business apps could be use an Ethernet or cable service where March Madness could be carried over DSL or even 4G (unless it’s metered, then don’t do this).

March Madness also highlights the importance of WAN optimization and QoS.  Even if the organization isn’t using multiple paths, the combination of WAN optimization and QoS ensures that the streaming traffic is kept in its own queue so as to not interfere with things like CRM, voice and video and WAN optimization will physically reduce the bandwidth requirements for a lot of chatty apps like Windows file transfer and e-mail.

There’s an expression that goes there’s more than one way to skin a cat and that’s certainly true with an SD-WANs ability to solve the March Madness problem.  Evolve the WAN and then let your users follow their brackets in real time without having to worry about killing application performance.