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London 2012: it’s not too late to prepare your IT network

Sanjay Castelino describes some quick-wins which can help ensure that business-critical applications are not affected by Games related network bandwidth issues.

Is your business prepared if your network access is disrupted? What will be the impact on employee productivity? Or more importantly, how much revenue do you stand to lose? Not only can internal events lead to network downtime, but external events that are out of your control can also be disruptive. As an example, let’s use the upcoming London 2012 Games to show how this external event could impact your network and to look at what actions can be taken to ensure business continuity.

With the massive influx of spectators and their mobile usage in a concentrated area, and the unprecedented use of streaming multimedia, the capacity and availability of communications and Internet infrastructure will undoubtedly be strained. This strain is likely to impact network bandwidth and remote access.

The impact of streaming video
In the UK, the BBC will stream all of the Olympics’ 302 events live, showing over 2,500 hours through 24 alternative HD streams. Not only will employees be able to watch through official channels, they will also have the ability to view publicly generated content on YouTube or take advantage of a new service within Facebook that will allow people to watch, share and comment on live video. It is estimated that online video views in the UK alone could exceed 100 million views.

Averaging anywhere from 200 kbps to two Mbps per video stream, Olympic video streams could consume from 30 to 60 percent of a business’ bandwidth, Blue Coat Systems estimates. This is up from an average of 14 percent under normal load according to a recent application usage and risk study by Palo Alto Networks. As a proof point, look at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. During the World Cup, Web browsing and YouTube traffic drove a bandwidth increase of over 30 percent during match time and on post-match mornings.

Remote user access
In and around London, businesses have been encouraged to provide “work from home” options to minimize traffic. Giving employees the option to work from home means providing a remote access solution to safeguard your network. Simply having a remote access solution does not guarantee that the remote employee will be able to receive the connectivity or necessary performance to perform their duties adequately.

Capacity and availability of communications and Internet infrastructure will undoubtedly be strained, and therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that remote access relying on mobile or broadband connectivity will also be impacted. In other words, you may not have adequate bandwidth to establish a VPN connection or to maintain adequate performance to ensure business continuity.

Connecting through a VPN will increase bandwidth consumption by 10 to 15 percent simply due to the additional payload overhead associated with the VPN. Additionally, if the business’ remote access infrastructure (i.e. VPN concentrators) has not been sized properly, a large spike in remote users could result in lower than expected performance or connection difficulties.

Impact on business-critical applications
Today, business-critical applications or services including file sharing, Internet utilities, storage backup, encrypted tunnels and infrastructure account for over 70 percent of bandwidth consumption, while video accounts for about 14 percent. This leaves a scant 16 percent of available bandwidth for email, database, and all other categories. Doubling of video traffic or an addition of a 15 percent overhead for VPN connectivity will rapidly eat into any excess bandwidth you may have.

Preparation is key
While you can certainly take a more Draconian approach to this potential problem and simply block all traffic related to the Games, it probably will not win you the Best Place to Work award. There are, however, a number of steps that you can take to ensure that your business-critical apps are protected while still allowing employees the freedom to watch the games:

1. Monitor your current traffic profile
There are numerous hardware and software tools that allow you to monitor and profile your current network traffic to identify when and how bandwidth is being consumed, as well as by whom and by what applications. Further, many tools will give you the ability to map bandwidth usage and its impact on your applications.

2. Establish traffic management or quality of service (QoS) policies
Various network traffic management tools allow you to establish QoS policies to ensure that business-critical traffic such as VoIP or Web access to cloud-based applications takes priority over non-essential traffic.

3. Increase WAN capacity or WAN links
Purchasing additional bandwidth is not the only way to increase your WAN capacity. WAN acceleration will effectively increase or optimize the usage of your WAN. Or, if you utilize multiple WAN links, you can direct your business-critical traffic across one link while sending the less essential traffic across another.

4. Backup your network configurations just in case
Just in case your network does go down, you need to ensure that you have backed up your device configurations so you can quickly revert back to a known good configuration.

About the author
Sanjay Castelino is a VP and Market Leader at SolarWinds, an IT management software provider based in Austin, Texas. Sanjay leads the company’s initiatives around its end-to-end IT solutions for network, SIEM, storage and virtualization management.

•Date: 25th July 2012 • UK/World •Type: Article • Topic: London 2012 business continuity

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