July 28, 2012    /    by

Could The Olympics Bring Down Your Network? Here's Some Advice

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games are here, and the five to eight hour time difference between the mainland USA and the UK may be just the right combination to bust your work network(s).

I have some time sensitive information for network and security administrators around the country:

Don’t be lulled to sleep by the lack of network traffic at work from the Olympic Games opening ceremony.

 The remarkable opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London was broadcast on NBC last night using the decades old approach – tape delayed at 7:30 PM on one traditional television channel. There was an NBC blackout of the live opening ceremonies in the USA on both TV and the Internet. (Critics were hitting hard at NBC for their decision to blackout live coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies, but let’s move on.)

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games are here, and the five to eight hour time difference between the mainland USA and the UK may be just the right combination (perfect storm) to bust your work network(s). According to numerous sources, NBC will be airing over 3500 hours of live Olympic coverage.  There will also be plenty of next-day highlight videos to watch as well. This means that all those badminton-lovers out there will be able to get their fill of the sport via the Internet.

Seriously, this issue is a real threat to the survival of some company and government networks over the next few weeks. This opportunity comes, at most, every four years. The 12-15 hour time difference between the USA and China makes comparisons to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics almost meaningless.

 We know from the past that the live streaming of sports can be a network killer. Businesses around the USA discover this fact during March Madness (basketball) games if the local team is playing on a Thursday or Friday afternoon. I have spoken with some companies that even shut down work during such popular sporting events, and others use the opportunity for a team-build event watching the game. However, that “if you can’t beat them join them” strategy won’t work for two weeks of Olympic sports.

For the sports enthusiast, the opportunities to watch Olympic competitions seem almost endless. New issues this time around include the mobile device problem along with company BYOD policies. So even if you filter sports or limit live streaming into company networks, could employees be running up bills on company-owned smartphones or iPads? Computerworld ran a story on this topic entitled: IT’s Olympic Challenge: Live Streaming Employees. Here’s an excerpt:

“Employers say, minimally, they'll be monitoring networks and will be prepared to cut off streaming access if they must. Some IT managers are reminding staff about network corporate policies.

Another problem is the potential for out-of-control mobile costs. Many employers support far more streaming-capable devices today than they did for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing…

Daniel Rudich, the senior vice president in charge of real time expense management at Tangoe, said the Olympics could have a 5% to 10% impact on their overall mobile budgets if users aren't prepared for it….

Brandon Jackson, the CIO of Gaston County, N.C., said the county's current default ‘is to block streaming media sites for most of our 1,200 users.’ However, he said exceptions are made for those workers who have "a documented business case" for accessing streaming media….

Here are seven questions to ask executives and/or things to keep in mind:

1)      What is your policy regarding personal use of computers, sports and filtering? Can you enforce the policy? What controls are in place?

2)       Is watching live sports (or other personal entertainment) videos or streaming media allowed? (For companies that say they just trust their employees to get work done, some extra reminders and oversight may be required in the next few weeks.)

3)      Can you limit bandwidth for video or live streaming, if necessary? Are the tools in place to adequately monitor network performance? (Again, special attention may be needed right now.)

4)       What is the policy for “inappropriate use” of personally-owned devices? Even if the company network may not be impacted, worker productivity can still be a problem.

5)      Watch out for Olympic-related malware and spam links. Warn users as necessary. Remember that global or national headlines provide opportunities for the bad guys as well, since users will be intrigued.

6)      Turn lemons into lemonade - Take this opportunity to train staff and reinforce policies. When everyone is watching, it is often easier to get their attention in meaningful ways.

7)      Beyond the London Olympics, think longer term and develop “what if?” scenarios for a variety of sports and/or other entertainment events. Test your controls.

One final thought. If a “not so stellar” employee suddenly starts coming into work early over the next few weeks to “get caught up.” You may want to check the network traffic – and the Olympic beach volleyball schedule.