This week the autumn 2011 TV schedule kicked off with premiers of several of my favorite shows. As usual, I was working late last night so I missed some of the premiers but I can watch them online or on my DVR. So, as I sit here in my office trying to sneak a few minutes of one of them over lunch, I got to thinking about how this could affect the corporate network...
At my house, while several of us have our individual favorite shows, there are a few staples that we love to watch and discuss together. When it comes to network television, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, and Two and a Half Men are the top three. Our overall top two shows though are Pawn Stars and Top Gear (the original British version on BBC of course). Last night's premiere of How I met Your Mother had me laughing out loud. It was legen ... wait for it ... DARY!!! I also thought that Ashton Kutcher did an admirable job of coming in to try to fill the void that Charlie Sheen left behind on Two and a Half Men -- although those are incredibly big shoes to fill. Adonis-sized you might say.
Anyhow, the point of this post wasn't to talk about my favorite shows as much to talk about the affects that folks watching streaming video can have on your network and to provide some recommendations; so I suppose I should get back on subject.
First and foremost, I'm not a big advocate of trying to block traffic like this. It really isn't necessary, and there are too many valid reason why someone might need access to this type of content while at the office. However, unfettered access to this content could cause serious network performance issues, bandwidth congestion, and degradation of performance for key Internet-based applications, SaaS-based tools, and cloud hosted services and infrastructure. So, if we're not going to block the traffic, we need to be able to accurately monitor our bandwidth usage and to prioritize our mission essential traffic so that only the "extra" bandwidth is available to those of us trying to catch up on last night's TV shows.
Bandwidth monitoring is pretty straight forward nowadays and can be accomplished easily using free tools, common off the shelf tools (COTS), or open source apps. Using these you should be able to get a handle on how congested your links are at any given time; however, you won't know why or by what or whom. To answer those questions you'll need to leverage a technology like netflow. I use the term "netflow" generically the way that most of us use the word "Kleenex" when we need a tissue, because it's by far the most well known type of flow analysis protocol. That said, sFlow, IPFix, and JFlow are other great examples and serve the same purpose.
Once you've identified where you have areas that can become congested enough to cause bottlenecks, and you've analyzed the network traffic to understand which traffic to prioritize, you'll need to implement some type of Quality of Service (QoS) to ensure the delivery of your essential traffic even during times of duress.
Most networks that carry both voice and data have begun implementing some sort of QoS to ensure that the latency-sensitive voice traffic is prioritized above traditional, latency-insensitve data traffic. Enhancing your QoS parameters to further segregate your traffic is a straight forward process.
Either way, whether it's the kickoff of the fall TV season, the college playoffs we all love to call March Madness, the Champions' League soccer tournament over in Europe, or the latest "Double Rainbow" video on YouTube; managing streaming video is an important part of your job as a network engineer. Do it well and you will have the love and admiration of your coworkers and management as well. Do it poorly and plan on eating lunch alone if you're lucky, and eating alone while searching monster.com if you're not...
Josh Stephens is Head Geek and VP of Technology at SolarWinds, an IT management software company based in Austin, Texas. He shares network management best practices on SolarWinds GeekSpeak and thwack. Follow Josh on Twitter@sw_headgeek and SolarWinds @solarwinds_inc.