March madnessIt’s that time of the year when American basketball fanatics are busy filling in the tabs of their tournament brackets and readying themselves for the big games (last year 693,000 brackets were filled in three hours after the selections). Millions will be tuning in to watch the games at all hours but if you’re a sys admin in the US, you’ll be wishing you could prevent March Madness from bringing your network to a snail’s pace and your bandwidth all but used up.

There is a good chance that many employees will keep watching the games at work and that means using the company’s internet connected to do so. Games are streamed at speeds from 600 Kbit/s to more than 2Mbit/s for HD videos. Even if you have an ultra fast internet connection, HD video streaming will have a noticeable impact, even if only a handful of employees are watching the games online. Popular video streams sites offer the option for a higher quality version of the video per user on a broadband connection and can afford to use a high bitrate. Of course, employees would rather see the game in HD! Multiply that bitrate by five, 10, 20 or 50+ users and you know your internet is going to suffer. Here are some figures how streaming can impact your network:

ESPN streams video at roughly 600Kbps

1Mbps broadband = 1024kbps – 2 users will kill your connection

3Mbps – 5 users will leave you with the equivalent of a 28.8K modem

5Mbps – Even with a fast 5Mbps connection, 9 people watching games will overwhelm it

7Mbps – 12 users streaming video is the limit

10Mbps – 17 users max our your bandwidth allocation

You can easily do the math. Take the number of Mbps, multiply that by 1024 and divide the result by 600 and you’ll get the number of simultaneous video streams needed to saturate your bandwidth. Imagine half of those basketball fans are streaming it in HD – which is roughly streamed at 1800kbps – and the maximum number of uses to bring the network to a crawl will be halved.

It just doesn’t take many users to use up your bandwidth – even viewing a low resolution stream. Higher resolution streams clog the network faster. There are likely to be other services competing for the same resources: email, VoIP, other internet browsing, hosted business services…

So what are your options?

Step 1: Inform users

Educate your employees and show that it only takes a few streaming videos to slow down the network and use up the available bandwidth. Tell your employees to respect their peers and limit their online activity to browsing and not streaming videos.

Step 2: Provide a game screen in common areas

Find an alternative to online streaming. Although this may not be feasible in every company, but it may be a good idea to set up a screen in a common area and show some of the games at times when productivity is not impacted. March Madness has cost American business $134 million in the first two days alone in the past. Find a solution which keeps fans happy (or who otherwise will steam the games from their desktops or devices) but does not hog your bandwidth.

Step 3: Install a web filter

You should consider installing software which limits bandwidth usage by introducing quotas or enables you to block streaming media, sports and other sites which are bandwidth hungry. You should also be able to allow streaming at off-peak times. GFI WebMonitor, is one such tool that you can try for free for 30 days (throughout the NCAA games). It’s a great tool for sys admins who would like to block high bandwidth steaming!

GFI WebMonitor is free and unrestricted for 30 days – you can use it during the days of tournament to manage your organization’s bandwidth usage.