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World Cup streaming to choke corporate networks, doomsayers predict

'Networks will fail, or I’ll eat my replica shirt'

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Every World Cup and major sporting event since France 98, if not before, has come accompanied by dire predictions of networking doom.

This time around Nigel Hawthorn, EMEA VP Marketing at security appliance firm Blue Coat, was the prime source of an article FIFA World Cup: the world’s biggest ever DoS?. Hawthorn predicted: "Networks will fail because of World Cup streaming. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll eat my replica shirt."

Hawthorn backed this bold prophecy up with a presentation at a security conference entitled The World Cup – Someone’s network is going to die.

There's at least a couple of problems with this prediction. Firstly, it's been made before many times and never panned out. Secondly, most of the games in South Africa, especially towards the end of the tournament, when interest can be expected to peak, start in the evening European time. By contrast, games in Japan eight years ago all kicked off in the morning European time.

Hawthorn's firm Blue Coat, which sells security appliances that handle web content filtering, has a huge vested interest in talking up the threat of impending network doom, which is worth bearing in mind, considering his views. On the other hand, Hawthorn has a background in networking technology, which counts in his favour.

Traditionally Brits, for example, prefer to watch World Cup games on TV. Hawthorn argues this is changing and points to research suggesting that 30 per cent of Brits plan to watch the World Cup online. The introduction of the BBC's iPlayer means that more and more people take streaming for granted, he adds. "Personally, I didn't think that this would be a problem 2 years ago in UK, as streaming not general, but iPlayer has changed users' expectations," Hawthorn explained.

If Hawthorn had said that iPhone streaming of football games via Sky, for example, would put a drain on mobile networks then we'd happily concur. But he is talking about enterprise networks, saying they are about to get massacred.

"With streams from iPlayer trying to take 1.5Mbps each and most organisations don't have stream splitting technology - and matches in UK afternoons - it doesn't take many users to bring down their WAN link, remembering that many are busy anyway with business traffic," Hawthorn told The Register.

"Of course, this not just a UK issue - it depends on typical take-up of streaming in the country and working hours/timezones," he added.

Meanwhile network management firm Ipswitch has published a survey suggesting that European bandwidth use will double during the World Cup, from 40.25 per cent average bandwidth utilisation, to 78.67 per cent saturation during key match times. In the UK, despite the custom for some businesses to close during England matches, bandwidth use is still expected to increase by 30.79 per cent to 71.85 per cent of total capacity. The figures come from the data Ipswitch collected from IT managers that have used a new bandwidth calculator utility in the last two weeks to predict the impact of the World Cup on their networks.

“Users making use of video streaming services can put a considerable strain on companies' networks, resulting in bandwidth chokes and even outages, in addition to exposing them to security threats,” said Ennio Carboni, president of Ipswitch's network management division.

The 2010 World Cup will be the first in the history of the tournament where every game will be streamed online live. Along with possibly constrained WAN connectivity, organisations may face heightened security risks caused by users venturing to untrusted and unknown sites in search of video content not available from official broadcast streams, Ipswitch warns.

Despite these warnings, we're still not convinced network meltdown is imminent and still reckon fake ticket scams, bogus lotteries and malware represent the biggest net threats that will accompany the World Cup, which kicks off on today with the game between South Africa and Mexico. FIFA recently warned sports fans to be wary of ticket lotteries and any other communications purporting to be from FIFA that ask for additional payments or personal information to secure tickets.

Let's be careful out there. ®

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