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Controlling your March Madness traffic outbreak

The inevitable flood of video-streaming traffic for the NCAA men's basketball tournament is just around the corner.

By , Network World
March 08, 2012 06:05 AM ET

Network World - 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.

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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.

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