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World Cup meltdown fails to materialise

System built to survive nuclear war withstands England exit

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Fears that network infrastructures would crumble during the World Cup as fans flocked to video streaming sites to watch games online have failed to materialise.

World Cup-related video has resulted in a 30 per cent increase in backbone traffic, according to an analysis by network security firm Arbor Networks.

While the increase is sizeable it is not overwhelming, and internet infrastructures generally stood up well to the load, with the exception of well-publicised problems with ITV's streaming media website in handling demand during the opening game of the tournament, between hosts South Africa and Mexico on 11 June.

Other streaming media service providers have offered a far more reliable service.

"Despite some reports of slow access to sports web sites (e.g. ESPN), anecdotal discussions with providers suggests video quality has been high in the US and UK via the primary video distributors of ESPN3 and the BBC iPlayer (both using Akamai)," Arbor researcher Craig Labovitz writes."Akamai and BBC have reported record numbers topping 800,000 concurrent connections."

"While many providers restricted live World Cup Internet video to paying customers (e.g. ESPN) or geographic region (e.g. BBC and CBC), Univision (also using Akamai) provided a popular (and colourful) free global feed.

"Fans also had multiple other commercial options depending on their geographic region plus dozens of “underground” video streaming sites."

Arbor Networks has been monitoring the effect of the World Cup on internet activity and levels of internet traffic continuously over the last three weeks, based on anonymous traffic statistics from its numerous ISP and telco carrier clients.

The firm has put together graphs illustrating spikes in activity and Flash content at certain times during the tournament. Interest in the Brazil and North Korea match on 15 June resulted in a doubling of Flash traffic flowing through 50 randomly selected ISPs from 400 Gbps to 1 Tbps.

The day (23 June) of the final group games for England, Germany and the USA also resulted in Flash demand doubling during each of two periods when games were taking place in South Africa.

"Overall inter-domain bandwidth did not exhibit dramatic gains during the World Cup, unlike internet traffic during the Obama inauguration," Arbor concludes. "The cache traffic remains mostly constant during the first World Cup week. Only inter-domain (presumably HD streaming) exhibits a significant ~25 per cent jump during the games."

In a few cases, the World Cup even resulted in decreases to net traffic as proportion of fans watched games on television instead of surfing the web.

Some popular web services, however, coped badly with peaks in demand. For example, Twitter fell over in the aftermath of “tweetstorms” topping 3,000 World Cup messages per second. In response, the social network doubled its internal network capacity and boosted its load balancing and network monitoring. Even so problems remain, Data Centre Knowledge reports.

Twitter's mea culpa following a performance almost as wretched as that of the England team can be found here. ®

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