Olympics Could Strain Enterprise Networks

The Olympics happen every two years, but according to media watchers and IT professionals, the impact of the Olympics on communications traffic globally from this year's games could be more significant than any in the 116-year history of the modern games.

"Coverage of the Olympics used to be very static, it was just print, broadcast or TV," says Marianne Budnick, CMO of Acme Packet, which specializes in session delivery networks. "But today, because of both improvements to communications technologies and the rise of mobile and social, coverage of the Games and communications related to them are much more interactive and are conducted largely in real-time."

Hence, we have the first app Olympics it seems, with the proliferation of mobile, tablet and web application options for consumers to watch the Olympics on. According to a study from mobile marketing company Velti, 40% of Olympic watchers plan to follow the games on two or more devices, while half of those expect to watch live video streams or replays on their tablets. NBC, the U.S. broadcast network for the games, will live stream all 32 events in real time and is making them available for replay. Acme says all that streaming could add up to a 211% increase in mobile traffic during the two weeks of the games, starting on Friday, July 27.

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What does all this mean for the enterprise? Be prepared, says Jon Olstik, senior principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. If a dozen or 20 workers in an enterprise are all streaming a U.S. basketball team game or watching Michael Phelps swim at the same time, "that will consume a tremendous amount of bandwidth." The issue could be exacerbated by the prime-time events in London, because of the time-zone change, occurring during the middle of the U.S. work day, he notes.

There are remedies enterprises can take though. Firewall tools, network caching and edge routers each have varying degrees of sophistication for setting network protocols and throttling limits. Basic features allow for a certain protocols, such as Flash video players to be limited, while more sophisticated systems can target specific URLs or locations. Olstik says network admins should be careful to not block all video traffic for legitimate uses. "You still need to get business done," he says.

Perhaps an even bigger issue, he says, is around cyber security. Hackers attempt to use any sort of major event as leverage to launch cybercrimes, including phishing scams or search engine fabrications. In his blog on Network World, Olstik referenced a report from the Department of Homeland Security, which warns of malware and phishing scams that could pop up during the next two weeks. For example, a hacker can manipulate search engine optimization technologies, the report says, to promote malicious sites that may appear to be legitimate Olympic-related coverage. The best defense for this, Olstik says is ongoing education of employees to keep them aware of cyber security threats.

Jennifer McClain, senior product management for Compuware APM, which provides network performance management, says many times enterprises focus efforts on their customer-facing IT, but neglect their own infrastructure. The first step is to get baseline readings of normal network traffic so if issues arise they can be identified quickly. That information helps administrators identify exactly where the issue is occurring and if it's inside the network or an issue with a third-party ISP or within the content delivery network.

McClain says Compuware has already worked with major service providers and media companies, including the BBC, CBS Sports and USA Today, readying their systems to handle the increased traffic using simulated testing. But, there's no way to know how big the Olympics will be until it starts. "It will be really interesting to see just how engaged people are in the event," she says. "We've seen a much more connected world in the past few years. A lot of preparation has gone in and now it will be put to the test."

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.

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