Will the World Cup bring down your IT network?

The 2006 FIFA World Cup may be turning enterprise employees around the globe into soccer fans, but IT experts say there are ways to prevent the tournament from winning the fight for network resources.

Ever since the month-long series of matches began on June 9, concerns have resurfaced that the availability of video streaming technologies in the workplace could cause problems with corporate application performance due to network congestion. Warnings from UK firms such as Packeteer led the British Broadcasting Corp., which is providing coverage over IP, to offer a support page specifically directed to IT managers.

“Due to the high demand for live streams for the World Cup during office hours, we understand that some corporate networks may wish to restrict access to the streams available from the BBC Sport Web site,” the page says. The BBC is providing a list of links to all the live streams to help IT managers block the content.

Those in the network management and monitoring space, however, suggested the World Cup is an isolated event that may do nothing but hurt productivity, although they recognized the need to be prepared.

“A lot of this stuff is kind of being overblown. We’re not talking about HDTV or IPTV, whereby you go in and consume a great load on the network,” said Ron Gruia, a senior analyst with Frost & Sullivan‘s Toronto office. “If you get all these users concurrently, then yes, you may get into some problems, but presumably if someone’s watching it he’s watching clips — he’s not going to have time to watch the entire game.”

Andrew Jappy, CIO at Vancouver-based Canaccord Capital, said his firm does a lot of business-related video streaming, and is starting to investigate how much personal use of streaming technologies could affect its operation.

“We’ve seen some issues,” he said. “Not with the World Cup, necessarily, but we are looking at how to manage it.” Canaccord is in the midst of rolling out quality of service tracking through one of its major providers, Telus, which will help the firm see where the peaks and valleys are.

“You can take a variety of information flows and quantify its importance. Then you’ve got engineered triage,” he said. “With VoIP as well as video, there’s a lot more data, and therefore a lot more issues about ensuring you don’t have packet loss.”

Several Canadian firms, including IP Monitor and Netmon Inc., provide tools to track network usage and manage resources appropriately. According to Jason Pomerleau, product manager with Netmon in Windsor, Ont., popular events like the World Cup are less of a market driver than seeing how a T1 line is being managed overall.

“I don’t know if video is a specific concern,” he said. “Streaming radio seems to be one that comes up very frequently – if you have a long, consistent connection of five or eight streams coming in, that can clog things. Once they’re using the monitoring tools, they’ve able to determine whether it’s a case of increasing capacity or HR issues.”

WildPackets Inc., a Walnut Creek, Calif.-based firm which also offers a number of network analysis and troubleshooting systems, said soccer fans may face more scrutiny once more traditional videoconferencing services take root in the enterprise, competing for a share of the bandwidth.

“When those kind of applications are available inside corporations and people are expecting a minumum level of quality, I see then a real need for software like ours,” said Jay Botelho, Wildpackets’s senior product manager. “Hogging the bandwidth — that doesn’t really get the attention of the executives in the company. As soon as they’re running an application (they need), though, then it gets all of the attention.”

Gruia said most firms will probably be OK so long as they are cognizant of emerging products like the Slingbox, which includes instructions on how to bypass the company firewall and essentially watch TV at work. In most cases, however, it would take a lot of concurrent users to really bring the network down.

“When people made those calculations, they would always figure out that they have so many users, they might engage in Web browsing or look at some Webcast stuff. There’s always going to be some over-engineering for that,” he said. “If I were to refurbish my LAN right now, I would not just look at (the impact of) VoIP. I would also look at some of the other traffic.”

The 2006 FIFA World Cup runs through July 9.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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