March Madness meets IT: We're guinea pigs

updated below: Here at CBS, parent of ZDNet, March Madness is a big deal. We don't discourage employees from watching the Web streaming extravaganza and folks don't have to worry about boss buttons and such.

updated below:

Here at CBS, parent of ZDNet, March Madness is a big deal. We don't discourage employees from watching the Web streaming extravaganza and folks don't have to worry about boss buttons and such. To us, the March Madness tip-off is almost like a holiday. That fact also makes us one helluva IT experiment.

As most of you in the IT business know, March Madness can be the bane of your network. Productivity can drop and bandwidth can be constrained. Typically, March Madness results in a few policy reminders and even outright traffic blocking. At CBS, there's no need to worry about the boss button. We can watch away.

The big question of course is whether our network can allow us to watch everything on our PCs. I've done a little internal checking around and the consensus appears to be that our network can handle the load in our big locations---San Francisco and New York---but other areas like Louisville are wild cards. My hunch is the whole network is a bit of a wild-card.

Here's a look at some of the variables:

  • Concurrent streams. In San Francisco we can handle roughly 350 concurrent streams, but there's more than twice that many employees. What's unclear is whether people choose to watch on TV sets--there are many--or PCs. Is it a better experience to sit in the lobby and watch the game with a laptop in tow on Wi-Fi? Or are you tracking your college that just squeezed into the tournament on the Web?
  • Other network traffic. Our concurrent stream assumptions don't necessarily account for other network activity. We're assuming a relatively idle network.
  • People working from home. The other wild-card in the network equation is who works from home. If you're only tapped into the VPN the streaming is on your personal bandwidth.

Simply put, we don't know how this IT experiment will turn out exactly. We didn't run out and buy more hardware just for a once a year Thursday and Friday March spike. And you can't justify such a move anyway.

We'll report back on how our internal network holds up during the NCAA streams.

update: With Sam Diaz in the San Francisco office and Andrew Nusca in the New York office, both settled in for the guiltless task for watching some hoops at the office - with the blessing (and encouragement) of the bosses. They were looking for hiccups as they watched different games on different machines using different browsers.

Sam watched Texas A&M and BYU on a Macbook Pro running OS X Leopard, using the Safari browser. Andrew watched LSU and Butler on a Lenovo ThinkPad running Windows XP Pro, using the Firefox browser.

Neither experienced any problems - not one hiccup, not one blip. When the video was first launched, on the initial buffering, there was a message that offered instructions on how to adjust the video settings, in the event that the stream experienced a lot of buffering - though it wasn't necessary for neither Sam nor Andrew take make such adjustments.

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