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March Doesn’t Need to Make WAN Admins Go Mad

March madnessBefore I begin this post, full disclosure: I graduated from Duke University. So, when it came to writing about March Madness, I was the first to volunteer. I am also one of the biggest culprits that Colin Neagle (@colinneagle) refers to in his recent Network World article, “Controlling your March Madness Traffic Outbreak.”

While I don’t have the time to watch every NCAA tournament game in its entirety, I certainly will be checking in regularly for highlights in the coming weeks. Especially in the early rounds when games are played during work hours. And yes, I likely will be lingering a bit longer when the Blue Devils are on the court. (I have also been known to tune in to root against the North Carolina Tar Heels.)

As Neagle points out, there are various tools my IT department can use to discourage this behavior: Restrict specific websites, change web filtering rules, limit available bandwidth, etc. Some might work. Others might not, as end users have become pretty resourceful. (Don’t tell my IT folks, but my weapon of choice this month will be Slingbox.)

But I must ask the question: If your corporate network is optimized, is restricting employee access to March Madness really necessary? Okay, I understand that blocking access to games might prevent employees from wasting time in non-productive activities. But let’s table that argument, as there is nothing to say that blocking one unproductive act means employees won’t just shift their attention to other equally unproductive activities. Or in the case of March Madness, they might decide to leave the office to go watch games elsewhere. Which is worse? Your engineering department spending the day at a sports bar, or periodically checking games from their desks?

So what about the other argument, the notion that all this video streaming in the next few weeks will hurt the performance of other key applications that are sharing the same precious resources? In theory, this is a valid concern. In practice, though, it is manageable in this day and age.

For starters, most enterprise local area networks (LANs) have more than enough capacity. With gigabits-per-second (Gbps) to the desktop, bandwidth is rarely an issue within single buildings or even across campuses. It’s the wide area network (WAN) that can be a problem, which is essentially the connection to the Internet service provider (ISP) or when back-hauling Internet traffic between geographically disperse locations.

cameron indoor stadiumFortunately, many enterprise WANs are designed to handle spikes in demand. If your WAN is designed to be at 80% capacity, for example, an additional spike in bandwidth consumption won’t bring everything to its knees. To ensure that it doesn’t, Quality of Service (QoS) and traffic shaping tools in your WAN optimization devices can help. These ensure that the extra traffic only consumes bandwidth if it is available. If it isn’t, basketball games get bumped down the priority list behind other more business-critical applications (like viewing our new corporate video, or downloading the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant).

Finally, don’t underestimate the value of WAN deduplication when March becomes its maddest. If Richard in accounting is watching the same video as Julie in HR, the last thing you want to do is transfer the data twice over your WAN. Because it’s the same content, you should only have to send it once. WAN deduplication lets this happen, saving considerable bandwidth.

So don’t fret people. There should be plenty of WAN resources available for all of us to watch Duke’s run to New Orleans. Let the madness begin!

Editor’s Note: The author’s Duke Blue Devils received a #2 seed in the South Region and play Lehigh University on Friday. On the other hand, this editor’s beloved California Golden Bears were snubbed by the NCAA Selection Committee, playing the University of South Florida on Wednesday in a play-in game. Both of these games will be streaming through the Silver Peak network, I’m sure.