Lessons Learned from the "Streaming" Olympics
by Mike Byrne
If you are anything like me, “spoiler alerts” on practically every online news and social network site means that I’ve spent some time over the last two week streaming coverage of the 2012 London Olympics at work via an on-network device – usually from my iPhone. While watching one or two streaming videos from time to time isn’t that detrimental to my personal work productivity, IT professionals and small business owners quickly realize that streaming content can cause an even more substantial drain on network productivity.
Given the increased availability of digital content – NBC aired more than 30 hours of live coverage daily and every sport was available live on NBCOlympics.com – IT professionals at small- to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) and the managed service providers (MSPs) that support them, are forced to closely monitor the impact streaming has on network traffic, web servers and business critical applications.
Don’t underestimate the impact
Streaming video and digital content has an even greater impact on network applications as more and more of those applications are hosted, accessed via the web or leverage the same network ‘pipes’ used for streaming. A slow internet connection is no longer the biggest issue facing an end-user. Depending on bandwidth, a significant uptick in streaming could delay or disrupt web servers that power a company’s public-facing website, significantly impact a VoIP system’s performance or prevent access to enterprise applications such as a third-party CRM solution or a proprietary online business tool. The impact can be far greater depending on the business as well. For instance – a small ecommerce vendor could lose revenue (and customer trust) if its site is down even temporarily. A physician at an independent medical practice would be at risk if he or she couldn’t access a patient’s hosted electronic medical record. This is the MSPs responsibility since many SMBs rely on MSPs to track traffic issues and fix the issue before business is impacted.
Don’t forget about mobile devices
According to an article on Paidcontent.org, NBC Research President Alan Wurtzel told journalists that nearly half of streams are coming from a combination of tablets and smart phones. As more and more employees use personal or company-issued smart phones and mobile devices within the network, strain on traffic can be equally impacted. Streaming also brings up the security implications of using mobile devices since they are also used to access or store sensitive company data.
To ensure clients networks will run efficiently even during a global event, MSPs should have comprehensive monitoring capabilities in place:
- Real Time Performance Monitoring – Solutions that will monitor performance, pending failure and other issues for routers, hubs, switches, servers and other network applications. Performance monitoring in real time, with alerts set to flag issues if a performance metric dips below a pre-defined threshold, enables MSPs to notify clients of a problem and/or fix it before service is disrupted.
- Traffic Analysis and Flow – There’s no question that streaming impacts other network applications. With a traffic analysis and flow tool, MSPs can provide deep, granular visibility into the traffic that is clogging customers’ networks and advise on approaches to address those issues. For instance, an MSP can work with a client to determine which users truly need access to streaming video sites. If streaming is critical for all business functions, an MSP can advise on better traffic optimization or broadband options.
- Application Monitoring – Application failures are one of the most common problems that occur in an IT infrastructure. Knowing that performance may be impacted by network traffic, monitoring can help MSPs alert IT administrators and network engineers to application failures and identify degradations early. MSPs should look for technology that provides in-depth visibility of running processes and performance counters for mission-critical applications, network services and web applications.
Understanding of the issues SMBs face when end-users stream content, MSPs have an opportunity to boost revenue by providing real-time networking monitoring services. It’s a value-add that positions an MSP as a trusted advisor and long-term IT resource rather than a consultant who is called to address a single issue.