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Four Tips for Monitoring Bandwidth Usage During the Olympic Games

Has the U.S. Olympic team's success put added pressure on your network? Learn how Web-monitoring tools and packet shaping can help enterprises monitor bandwidth usage.

NBC is live streaming more than 5,000 hours of Olympic Games coverage, and regardless of the opinions regarding its success, here's the reality: The events are happening during U.S. work hours. Some workers are going to great lengths to remain unspoiled, but enterprises are still faced with the possibility of massive spikes in traffic.

These can have a serious impact on bandwidth resources and the quality of the network experience unless certain tactics are put into place. Here are four tips for companies looking to mitigate the risks to the network during the Olympics:

1. Educate users on acceptable uses of company bandwidth for non-work tasks. Don't be Draconian--set fair policies that govern access. Users should understand what applications are considered essential for work and which are banned outright. You can even set guidelines regarding peak times in which resources can't be tied up streaming the latest finals. Setting and enforcing policies will help minimize the risks of network failures during the Olympic Games.

2. Web-monitoring products provide the tools to both spot problems in real time and develop intelligence on past events and their implication for the business. Monitoring allows IT to keep an eye on problem departments or individuals who are utilizing too large of a percentage of bandwidth. Network admins can then chart out usage for management--taking, for example, 100 employees and charting the amount of NBC traffic compared with work-related applications. Such graphs are not just useful for management, but they can also be shared with employees so they gain some context into how their actions can affect the overall business' performance.

Smart company policies will allow individuals to explain their bandwidth usage before their access is denied. Make sure this isn't just a one-time blip for a user--look past the Olympic Games to data from March Madness. Dive into data to find out which employees watch a lot of SI.com or ESPN.com. Advanced monitoring systems are very granular, giving IT staff members the ability to set bandwidth usage limits based on exact times and dates. For the Olympics, IT admins could place rules-based restrictions on streaming during the 100-meter race and other big events in order to stop a spike in traffic.

3. Packet shaping tends to complement Web-monitoring products for IT admins. It allows the IT department to split traffic based on priority level: Typically, applications can be grouped into categories of critical or regular, and then every other usage of bandwidth. Companies can then utilize two ISP providers, pushing the critical and regular business apps through a bigger pipe and the NBC and other traffic through a slower pipe. This way, if the amount of streaming through NBC causes a significant impact to bandwidth, it won't affect the business as a whole.

Ideally, companies will have a proactive packet-shaping policy in place before large events like the Olympic Games. Companies should also invest time with their IT staff or third-party consultants to prepare for spikes by picking out vendors for Internet connectivity, installing any additional hardware and constructing smart usage policies.

4. What about simply blocking NBC's streaming and not allowing any viewing? Such a move can block employees from accessing industry news and other content and shows that the company is inflexible. It would also likely push employees to search for alternative sources or use video-sharing sites for event replays. A viable option is to bring televisions into a conference or break room to give employees the chance to watch live events without pulling on bandwidth resources. Such a move can build morale, instead of generating negative feelings from employees because they feel that their actions are being unfairly monitored, even though IT is simply safeguarding the business.

Joseph Lee is IT operations and delivery manager at SWC Technology Partners.

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