Protecting Your Network During March Madness

Everyone loves March Madness. The passion, the energy, the hustle. The pressure of one-and-done. Dramatic comebacks. Last-second heroics. David vs. Goliath. Trash-talking. Bracket battles.

Oh, and networks that crawl to a halt because everyone is streaming NCAA tournament games.

Everyone loves March Madness … except you, because you're the IT director, and you're responsible for making sure that the network doesn't suffer just because Duke is about to get upset early in the tournament again. (Sorry, had to sneak that in there – UNC alum here. Go Tar Heels!!

One way or another, you have to address the bandwidth issues created by March Madness: if a significant proportion of a company's employees stream NCAA tournament games, critical applications that require network bandwidth will suffer. So, what are your options?

Option 1: Block streaming video websites

Protect network bandwidth and (theoretically) employee productivity by blocking the most likely websites for streaming NCAA basketball games, like ncaa.com and cbssports.com. 

With a Cradlepoint router, it takes just a few seconds to input a Network WebFilter Rule (under Network Settings → Content Filtering) that will effectively block these websites.

content

Pros: Simple, straightforward, (mostly) effective.

Cons: There are legitimate morale arguments against attempting to completely block the NCAA tournament. Employees will certainly be upset to find those websites blocked when their favorite team is locked in a close game, and some might simply not show up to work. Also, while you can locate and control the most obvious website streams, there are always alternative (pirated) streams out there: You can't block them all.

Option 2: Embrace March Madness by pumping up your network

If limited bandwidth is the concern … add some bandwidth. Combine 4G LTE with an Ethernet connection and enable "Load Balance" in the WAN Interface section (Internet → Connection Manager).

balance

Pros: Morale, camaraderie. Everyone will love you – or at least they won't be angry with you. This is also a simple, straightforward solution.

Cons: Cost of the extra bandwidth. This will greatly depend on the amount of streaming basketball you anticipate.

Option 3: Compromise – allow live streams, but protect critical business operations

There are a few ways to do this depending on your network setup and company needs.

WAN Affinity

As we wrote about last year at this time, you can use WAN affinity to segregate your network (Internet → WAN Affinity / Load Balancing) and associate certain operations with a particular WAN interface. For example, you might attach the NCAA streams exclusively to a 4G LTE modem, leaving your Ethernet bandwidth free for critical operations. For this method, you'll need to nail down the protocols/ports and/or the IP address(es) for the traffic you want to control. Here's a simple setup to map ncaa.com to a USB port, which leaves the primary Ethernet clear of any traffic from ncaa.com:

affinity

If you have specific critical business operations – such as a retail POS system or VoIP phone – it may make more sense to create WAN Affinity rules to protect that traffic instead of focusing on the streaming video itself. One way to do this would be to separate your LANs so that you have critical operations devices on one network and personal devices that might stream video on another.

march

From there, it's easy to attach one of these networks to a particular WAN device with WAN affinity.

wan_affinity_-_critica

Traffic Shaping

WiPipe QoS, or traffic shaping, (Network Settings WiPipe QoS) allows you to control how bandwidth is distributed. You can use this to prioritize specific functions, allowing you to prioritize your most critical operations.

For example, first create a "Queue" with high priority levels and lots of bandwidth for critical applications.

qos

Then create a "Rule" that's tied to that queue. Using protocols, ports, IP addresses, and/or DSCP, specify the type of traffic that needs to have priority.

shaping

As we looked at with WAN affinity, if you have the streaming video on a separate LAN from your critical operations, you can assign the QoS rules by the whole LAN instead of by particular types of traffic on your networks.

qos_for_lan

Set up live streams in the break room.

Ok, this one's kinda boring, but it may ultimately be your best solution. Instead of doing something slick with your network, just provide a couple of live streams in common areas like the break room. This will boost morale and camaraderie while (probably) limiting the burden on your network, since fewer people will feel the need to stream the games on personal devices.

 

March Madness doesn't have to lead to network madness. If you plan ahead and set up a solution that makes sense for your network needs, you can strike a reasonable balance that protects critical network needs, maintains a productive work environment, and still lets people catch the end of beautiful basketball games like #15 Lehigh knocking off #2 Duke.