Aug 11 2016

Employees May Live-Stream the Rio Olympics, but Company Networks Don't Need to Crash

A combination of technology and policies can keep mission-critical business applications up and running despite streaming of video sports content.

With the 2016 Rio Olympics in full swing, and Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and the U.S. women’s gymnastics team capturing gold medals, millions of people around the world have been caught up in Olympics fever.

The challenge for businesses is a tricky one: Ensuring that if employees wind up live-streaming high-definition video content of the Olympics on their PCs, notebooks, smartphones and tablets, they don’t cripple the company’s bandwidth and crucial business applications in the process.

While many larger enterprises have dedicated IT staff members and the resources and time to ensure that their networks are monitored and managed, small businesses are more vulnerable to large spikes in Internet traffic on their wired and wireless networks.

NBC is live-streaming every competition at the Olympics, including coverage from all nine NBC-Universal Olympic networks, and the network is also streaming to connected TVs, according to USA Today. According to the newspaper, NBC reported 13.4 million unique live-stream visitors on Monday, up 45 percent from the 2012 Games in London.

Businesses Are Worried — But Should They Be?

According to a “global snapshot survey” released last week by Riverbed Technology, which develops products for Wide Area Network optimization, 85 percent of the companies surveyed “reported that they were likely to more closely monitor the performance of their applications and networks, including Wi-Fi, specifically because of potential strain due to employees accessing Olympic content.” Just under half (42 percent) of these same companies were “very likely” to monitor more closely.

Further, the survey found that businesses are concerned that when employees stream Olympics content, they will be “unable to quickly pinpoint and resolve performance issues of critical business applications.” Only 43 percent of the companies surveyed were “very confident that their organizations could safeguard critical applications during high network traffic events such as the Olympics,” while 12 percent “were not confident that their companies could handle the added strain and traffic.”

Additionally, the survey found that 69 percent of companies that responded had experienced an issue with their networks, including Wi-Fi, as a result of employees accessing content during a popular event such as the Olympics. Thirty percent of these same companies said that they have experienced more than one episode of issues.

While the potential for network disruptions is real, Matt Davis, program director of research firm IDC’s SMB Telecom Services, said some companies will take a more intrusive approach to monitoring employees’ digital behavior to detect streaming. Conversely, Davis said, companies are also doing what’s necessary to keep an eye on their networks “to make sure if the streaming is taking place that we still have enough bandwidth for mission critical applications that are required for running our business.”

In an interview with BizTech, Davis says that while there may be events during the Olympics that would cause massive spikes in internet traffic due to live-streaming — a highly-anticipated soccer final, for example — “it does not look like Rio is going to be crashing many enterprise networks.”

For small businesses without sophisticated internet setups — perhaps a cable modem or two — over-the-top streaming video is not something they typically need to contend with. If multiple employees are streaming video content to notebooks and smartphones connected to the company’s network, the business could see a slowdown in traffic. “It’s almost like having 10 teenagers in the house and suddenly they’re all doing what they do, and you could get some congestion,” he says.

Without the sophistication to employee quality-of-service (QoS) technologies and policies that prioritize the traffic of mission-critical Customer Relationship Management tools or communication applications, small businesses could see access to those applications slowed down.

Larger enterprises typically can more easily deploy such network technologies to ensure that if employees are streaming video, it will be the quality of the video traffic that is degraded, and not the essential business applications like video chats or Voice over IP. At the same time, Davis notes, in a small business, top managers can more easily tell employees to stop streaming video from their desks.

Technologies and Policies to Mitigate Disruptions

Davis says that for businesses, a network disruption as a result of video streaming from an event like the Olympics is an “annoyance rather than any kind of cataclysm.” Without an IT staff member to handle the issue, employees might get annoyed that a file is not being uploaded or backed up, or a VoIP call has poor quality, he notes.

For many small businesses, if employees truly want to watch Olympics coverage, Davis notes, managers can set up a dedicated notebook, TV or a projector, so that multiple employees are not streaming at once. Or, they could put a blanket prohibition on streaming.

Riverbed encourages firms to put in place real-time, end-to-end network monitoring, so that companies can have greater visibility into their network traffic. Davis contends that businesses should wait to see if streaming is impacting their networks before implementing such a solution.

An easier strategy to employ involves implementing QoS technologies or policies that prioritize business applications, Davis says. Many small businesses can do so by adjusting settings on their routers or by using portals provided by their service providers.

Business owners can identify certain internet protocols or sites that they want to deprioritize, while ensuring that VoIP, real-time communications and other critical business applications get priority. Businesses can work with their internet service providers and network vendors to deploy such solutions, Davis adds.

Investing in a managed service for broadband access may be costlier, but also has its benefits. With dedicated internet access or Ethernet service, and a managed service on top of that, companies can have greater visibility into their networks, and identify where problems are arising, according to Davis. They may discover that it is not an issue of a lack of broadband access, but rather congestion within the enterprise network.

A managed service may be particularly helpful for small businesses without dedicated IT staff, Davis notes. Managed service partners “would have the equipment and likely the expertise in-house or a help line,” he notes.

Major events like the Rio Olympics are “actually kind of a good bellwether” and could provide a stress test for a company’s network, Davis says.

“If Rio is going to cripple your business then you have to look at different technology options,” Davis says, which may be as simple as increasing the amount of bandwidth a company is receiving.

Phil Goldstein