As the NCAA men's college basketball tournament begins to unfold, March Madness takes on a more literal meaning for those tasked with controlling activity on the enterprise network.
With 68 teams playing 36 games in the first seven days of the tournament, the NCAA is forced to schedule many of its most attractive broadcasts between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on workdays. To the lament of the NCAA and some of its most passionate fans, this has long meant that many who are stuck in a cubicle during those hours miss out on the live action. Then the advent of online streaming came along and made everyone happy.
Everyone, that is, except IT managers dealing with both the need to maintain high performance on the network and the pressure from executives who don't want to see employees wasting time on streaming video.
In the past few years, this dynamic has grown from a cool, innovative technology to the norm during the NCAA tournament. Last year, the online streaming service March Madness on Demand launched jointly by Turner Sports, CBS Sports and the NCAA saw a 47% increase in visits during the first three rounds alone, reaching 26.7 million visits and streaming 10.3 million hours of streaming video in about seven days.
This year, that figure could grow even more rapidly. Turner Sports, CBS Sports and the NCAA have rebranded their online March Madness tool with a new title - NCAA March Madness Live - and support across more devices, including those running Google's Android operating system for the first time.
Improved features and growing familiarity with online streaming video will combine to bring online streaming of the NCAA tournament to new levels this year, research suggests. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that online March Madness coverage could generate more than 2.5 million unique visits per day at an average of 90 minutes of streaming video per user. Furthermore, 86% of those responding to a poll conducted by MSN say they will follow the tournament in some capacity. Among that group, 56% plan to devote at least one total hour of work time watching the first two days of the tournament, while 11% anticipate spending at least five combined hours. The culprits range from the 35% who claim to "eat, breathe and sleep March Madness," to the 61% who admitted to keeping up with the tournament strictly for social purposes.
Clearly, March Madness is contagious in the workplace. So, what are network managers to do?
Of course, some companies have the luxury of total control over the web content accessed on the network. Certain websites can be outright restricted, ensuring that not enough bandwidth is consumed by unnecessary web content.
But for those that can't quarantine their end users from the March Madness outbreak, such as those in the media or research space in which access to any website may be a part of the job, there are a few different approaches to take. Jim Frey, managing research director at Enterprise Management Associates, says most companies will likely set up a strict no-use policy for end users. Although many users may ignore the policy, some could comply, and content distribution tools can help soften the blow from remaining traffic, Frey says.
From there, network managers who take this route will still need to identify the source addresses that are causing the trouble and adapt the firewall and web filtering rules to block them, Frey says. While that is a viable option, Frey acknowledged that it isn't the most practical way to handle the issue.
Another option is to embrace March Madness in the workplace and simply broadcast coverage at the workplace so employees don't need to find it on their own. By setting up a viewing in a conference room or the office cafeteria, the enterprise eliminates the need for 20 diehard Tar Heel fans to watch the final minute of a big game on 20 devices by allowing them to come together for a 15 minute break and watch it from one access point, Frey says.
"When you've got a whole bunch of folks who are trying to check in and watch various parts of games, the biggest problem is you get a lot of dual-data streams coming in that are all the same thing, and that just compounds the problem," Frey says. "It could be a very effective solution as long as the organization is flexible enough to realize that they're going to allow folks to go and spend a little bit of time watching a game if they want to."
While this may be an effective short-term solution, it is just further proof that the control over technology used in the enterprise is shifting from the IT department to the end user, Frey acknowledged.
"This is the kind of thing that happens when IT loses control over the desktop or over the endpoint device, which is happening slowly but surely," Frey says. "Most organizations have admitted that that is going to be the future."
However, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. As many others have said, growing familiarity with technology may make employees more productive if they can find harmony with the IT department. March Madness, Frey says, could serve as an effective barometer to measure the balance of entertainment and productivity in the age of consumerization.
"You might as well embrace it and try to draw some lines around it the best you can," Frey says. "[March Madness] is a great example of some of the use and activity that will test your policies."
Colin Neagle covers Microsoft security and network management for Network World. Keep up with his blog: Rated Critical, follow him on Twitter: @ntwrkwrldneagle. Colin's email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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