Operations: Online viewing

The World Cup didn’t teach us anything we didn’t already know about the England team; but it will provide valuable lessons for CIOs and network managers, says Adrian Thirkill, global customer operations director, Easynet Global Services.


While this summer’s World Cup may not live long in the memory for those in England, it may nonetheless be recognised as a turning point in the consumption of online video content.

Before it began, much was made of how the tournament would stretch business networks to the limit as workers across the world streamed games live to their desktops. Indeed, traffic on our own global network increased sharply during games. For example, England’s game against Slovenia, held on the afternoon of 23 June, prompted a 226 per cent spike in traffic during the match—proof that in many offices, the desktop PC is rivalling the TV as people’s preferred means for watching video.

This did not, however, have disastrous effects for business networks. Such was the anticipation of the game that most employers made alternative arrangements for their staff, and as a network provider, we took steps to protect the resilience of our network and the services we provide to our customers. However, there is no denying the growing popularity of streamed video: the 2014 tournament may well have a bigger audience online than conventional TV.  

From the corporate IT perspective, a potential crisis was averted this year. But this year’s sports events have thrown the importance people attach to online video into sharp focus, and not just for fun. The rapid growth of video-conferencing over IP, online learning, and the millions of business-oriented videos on YouTube demonstrate the potential of video within business as well. The challenge facing CIOs is to ensure business applications and video communications can co-exist on the company network.

A single high-quality video stream can demand up to 800kbps of bandwidth. Multiply this by dozens, if not hundreds of users, and the total impact on a company’s network could be severe. CIOs must do two things if they wish to reap the broadest benefits of the online video explosion. First, they must consolidate their connections to the outside world so they have greater bandwidth, from fewer service providers. Second, they should take steps to segment network traffic so business-critical systems, such as email or databases, are protected.

Focus on your top performers
Business spending on telecoms and networking is coming under the spotlight, amid wider scrutiny of corporate budgets. However, rather than focusing purely on cost reduction in their negotiation with service providers, it is important that CIOs focus on building a solid long-term communications capability for the future. With the Olympics in 2012 being held in London, the recent World Cup video ‘spike’ could be the normal daytime level as company employees stream events throughout the day. This means ripping out older, more expensive communications technologies, and using IP (internet protocol) based networking as far as possible. 

Increasing or cutting back on bandwidth requirements or fine-tuning service-level agreements on IP networks is quite simple, and the right managed network provider can advise on how best to balance speed and performance. In the process, CIOs can not only achieve real economies of scale, they can also secure faster, better connectivity with minimal disruption to their business.

Ringfence your critical players
Simplifying the network in this way enables CIOs to precision-manage the bandwidth each application needs—so the performance of email, databases and other business systems need never be threatened by unforeseen spikes elsewhere on the network. Such capabilities are especially valuable for unified communications, video conferencing, and at the very high end, telepresence. These technologies rely on low-latency, high-speed bandwidth in order to function, and end users simply won’t use them if the service doesn’t live up to their expectations. 

For CIOs then, the message is clear: factor video into your network planning now. While it may have taken longer than expected to take off, video streaming and online viewing are now a vital part of many workers’ everyday media consumption, and at the same time, have become increasingly vital to their collaboration with colleagues, customers and business partners.

This shift in habits could see bandwidth usage increase exponentially, making reliable, well-managed networks more important than ever. Network managers and CIOs must therefore ensure not only that network capacity is improved to meet increased demand, but also that their service provider has the management capabilities to ensure business-critical systems are protected at times of high demand.

Video has been accused of ‘killing’ any number of things in the past. With its usage on the increase, taking the correct steps now should ensure that businesses can not only cater for their employees’ demands for video—they can thrive on it.