World Cup Creates a Messi Environment for Network Managers

Messi_soccerThere’s no question that recreational traffic plays havoc with business networks. Between the PGA Masters, NBA March Madness, MTV Music awards, YouTube, and other events, network managers are always struggling to block recreational traffic. This week, of course, viewers across the globe are using the corporate network to find out how Argentina and Lionel Messi are doing or whoever the favorite team might be. This just after the NBA Finals and NHL playoffs just ended, as well as the US Open. By the way, kudos to the PGA Tour, who made it simple to get real time updates and highlights from the US Open any time I wanted.

My feeling on this sort of traffic is that IT departments should stop this trend of fighting to block it, and find ways to minimize the impact. The problem with trying to fight it is that users find a way around it — and they always will.

One way to solve the problem is to simply put up a TV showing the event in a conference room, lunch area, or other shared location. While this won’t fully solve the problem, it will give people the opportunity to just pop their head in and see what’s going on without using the company network.

With respect to managing the network, there are a few tools that network managers should make sure they have on hand. These include:

  • Visibility tools. I’ve said this before but it’s worth saying again: you can’t manage what you can’t see. So how can you control recreational traffic if you don’t know it’s there or what the impact is? The first step in solving any network related problem is to have the right visibility tools.
  • Content delivery infrastructure or service. Recreational traffic isn’t just viewing of real time information. Employees may be interested in watching a montage of Messi’s top moments or watching the top 10 biggest choke jobs by Lebron James. For this, deploying CDN infrastructure or using an Akamai service can help bring the content closer to the user so the same content isn’t being pulled across the WAN over and over and over.
  • WAN Optimization. This is a no brainer with or without recreational traffic. But if your network is being flooded with YouTube videos, ESPN highlights and a constant stream of live action then use WAN Optimization as a way of optimizing the performance of the applications that matter.
  • Automation tools. There are a number of great tools on the market today that can help network managers quickly isolate bottlenecks on the network, then automate some task to help remediate the issue. For example, look for a tool that can help identify congestion that can automate the configuration of QoS across the network.

In addition to the above tools, consider moving to a hybrid WAN architecture. I’ve had a pretty consistent drumbeat on this topic, as I believe it’s something that all organizations should consider. Keep the traditional WAN in place for corporate traffic and then move an Internet based WAN, or even direct access from branches for the recreational traffic. I still think that if it’s architected correctly the legacy WAN could be replaced with Internet links as well, but that’s another argument. At a minimum, use low cost Internet connections as a way of offloading recreational traffic from the same network your business traffic is on.

Image credit: WikiMedia Commons / CC-BY