Depending on where you are, the calendar and the weather may not agree on whether spring (or, Down Under and in the rest of the Southern Hemisphere, autumn) is nearly here. But one thing you can rely on the calendar for is the arrival of March Madness, or as it’s officially known, the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship.
With 68 teams in the running this year, there are a few things you can count on: lots of ladders, lots of money wagered, and lots of attention diverted. And, oh, yes, one more thing that we can increasingly count on: lots of network traffic consumed by delivery of video. In bygone less-connected days, games only entered the workplace via radios. Later on, the occasionalsports website would offer photos and up-to-the-minute scores, or if they were really ambitious, post-game video clips.
Welcome to the world of streaming and Bring Your Own Device. CBS/Turner are now not only carrying every game on a combination of their broadcast and cable/satellite channels, as well as offering every game streamed live and potentially accessible from every PC, every notebook, every tablet, and every smartphone — they are also offering higher-quality streamed video than ever before, as well as personalized channel lineups and social-networking tie-ins. The implications to corporate networks and application delivery are significant.
So how do enterprises deal with the madness without locking up their ability to do business (and without locking their network administrators in padded cells)?
Agree on the Rules: Policy
The first and most fundamental step is to establish, and make clear that they are serious about, an Internet usage policy. And they need to make it realistic: the notion that out-and-out bans can be implemented — or, at least, that they can be implemented without consequences in employee bad attitude or in time lost to “innovating” end-runs to the policy — is about as realistic as, well, betting it all on the #68 team. (Sorry, Clemson, UNC-Asheville, VCU and UTSA.)
There are certainly jobs for which the distraction is unacceptable — I think I’d prefer the game not be too distracting in the operating room should I ever need open-heart surgery — but the reality of it is that the issue is keeping the tournament and the network traffic it creates within the enterprise in balance and under control — and thereby maintaining the balance between happy, engaged customers and happy, engaged employees.
Keep Score: Monitoring
Network managers must be able to recognize and monitor traffic that is associated with the increase in traffic, of course. This requires being able not only to track the servers that are the source of the streamed video — the CBS/Turner servers’ IP addresses are certainly a good place to start — but also the differences between high-bandwidth streams such as video and lower-level bandwidth consumers such as message board access, even if they’re from the same locations.
(Greg Smith blogged an informative look at application-level web monitoring and application delivery controllers such as NetScaler that will shed some light on this.)
Get Home Court Advantage: Workshifting
But the greatest opportunity for enterprises to let employees follow the action while keeping their network bandwidth prioritized for business traffic is workshifting.
On-premise, instead of delivering every game to every user’s desktop or laptop or tablet or phone, organizations can take advantage of conference rooms and other gathering places, coupling projectors and use ofmobile devices to bring the viewers to a much smaller number of streams — and in the process, let them take advantage of bigger images as well. This approach won’t work for everyone or every location, but it’s a start — and users are still on the corporate network, with less bandwidth contention.
But it’s the grander capabilities of true workshifting that offer the most promise for the enterprise network. Many organizations take advantage of workshifting through Citrix-enabled app and desktop delivery via XenApp and XenDesktop – for some employees, as a routine strategy, and for others, to cope with work-at-home needs for unplanned personal and environmental emergencies, from natural disasters to sick kids at home. Those same capabilities can help enterprises cope with the not-so-unplanned not-so-emercency that is March Madness.
The simple solution to increased network traffic for March Madness video? Simple: don’t bring it onto the corporate network at all! Work-at-home fans can watch the games, update the message boards, etc. using their home broadband connections – and perhaps, take advantage of their wide-screen TVs to improve the experience at the same time they save screen real estate.
Then they are connected to the corporate net only for the delivery of their work-related apps and virtual desktops – conserving bandwidth and guaranteeing full performance for work. Customers, the corporate network, and employees all can satisfy their bandwidth requirements — not to mention their sports-fan requirements.
And instead of climbing the walls, they can just climb the “ladders”…
(And for our global friends who think we crazy Americans are at it again… Replace “March Madness” with “World Cup” and re-read.)