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London 2012 Olympics – will popularity impact Middle East business?

Video streaming of the London 2012 Olympics during office hours will result in wasted bandwidth, system downtime and a decline in employee productivity that will ultimately lead to lost revenue, according to a new report.

Friday’s spectacular opening ceremony cost £27 million and drew an estimated four billion viewers, proving to be the most accessible games to date. However, with dedicated TV channels, unprecedented social media buzz and streaming web video from affiliated networks, Blue Coat Systems have foreseen a negative impact on business in the region.

Enterprises will feel the impact of live and delayed video transmissions of events that users can easily access while at work, says Dave Ewart, Blue Coat’s Director of Product Marketing.

“Using workplace computers or mobile devices, employees will be watching live video of their favourite sport competitions and playbacks of the events they missed. This will lead to lower network utilisation, misallocation of budget and capacity, slow or unresponsive applications and, importantly, end-user performance complaints”.

As athletes from 204 nations compete for medals in 36 sports, the event has generated key storylines in the region, with athletes representing recovering Arab Spring nations and Saudi Arabia sending its first-ever female competitors. The eyes of the world will also be drawn to five Syrian sportsmen and lone female competitor, Ghfran Almouhamad, who will compete while their home nation is in turmoil.

The Olympic effect on business networks

Over the past two years, company networks have been impacted by the rising trend of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in the workplace. Now with a host of mobile apps – both official and broadcaster affiliated – it’s easier than ever before to keep up-to-date with medal tables and Olympic happenings via Apple, Android and Windows mobile devices.

But therein lies a security issue, according to Ewart: “The growth of BYOD initiatives has created a situation where IT security managers are facing a deluge of untrusted, unmanaged devices and applications on the corporate network.”

The Olympics is set to generate 3,500 hours of live-streamed video, and organisations that do not have proper policies in place to deal with recreational web use may see a spike of between 30%-60% of data consumption in business hours. At a rate of 500Kbps, that coverage has the potential to push non-work related consumption to 90% in some cases, forcing increased IT troubleshooting and leading to a misallocation of budget and reduced productivity.

To mitigate this impact, Blue Coat suggests three essential capabilities for network administrators:

1 – Visibility: get a real-time, granular view of network traffic

To manage application traffic on networks you must be able to see it in a granular fashion that lets you differentiate internal applications from web-based applications and content. Information that traffic is coming via Port 80 or Port 443 doesn’t help you to understand what’s impacting internal applications. Your visibility into network traffic must be granular enough to let you identify it by flow (business vs. recreational) and in real time, so you can see traffic bursts, respond quickly, and see instant results.

2 – Control: ensure the ability to prioritize and segment network traffic

Granular visibility of network traffic is only half the equation for managing the network. To ensure that business-critical applications meet users’ expectations, maintain productivity, and are not impacted by recreational traffic, traffic must be segmented and prioritized. Control should build on visibility by enabling network administrators to partition traffic and prioritize by business value. It would help network administrators to restrict Olympics video to a small but reasonable portion of network bandwidth so it neither impacts business applications nor incurs the wrath of sports enthusiasts (including vice presidents and senior directors).

3 – Acceleration: control the impact of video traffic on the network

Caching of on-demand Olympic video to reduce the impact of multiple employees watching the same videos. Two phases of acceleration/ optimization are needed to mitigate the impact of the Olympics on network traffic – and to keep users from blaming IT. Phase One will be the one or two weeks before the Olympics when BYOD users realize that they need to download an application to their mobile devices to access Olympic news and videos from regional broadcasters. Phase Two starts with the Olympics opening ceremony video (live or on-demand). The impact on network bandwidth can crush all other applications.

Ramadan heightens impact of Olympics – via Twitter

With many millions of Muslims fasting during Ramadan there is cause for concern that the combination of the Holy Month and the global sporting event will further affect business productivity.

One clear indication of this is the increase in social media usage during Ramadan. The Online Project has released statistics to show that Twitter activity increased last year while Mena Muslims were fasting. The Online Project recorded a rise in the volume of tweets in the UAE (135%), Egypt (231%), Jordan (223%) and Kuwait – with a massive 495% increase.

With Twitter penetration soaring in 2012 it is expected the trend will continue. The Arab Social Media Report has recorded two million regularly active Twitter users in the region, while Facebook penetration has tripled since 2010 with 45.2 million users in the Arab world – providing a huge hub for Olympic buzz and video sharing.

The huge volume of video generated by the London 2012 Olympics, if not controlled, will impact Middle East business over the next two weeks and indicates that enterprises require network visibility, control, security and appropriate policies to mitigate negative impacts.