COVID-19 Response

More (ab)normal thoughts

Following on from last week’s piece on the impact of additional traffic to campuses during the new (ab)normal, I’ve been asked to try and help people through the process of trying to calculate the impact. To be honest, you’ve probably already done this, but just in case there is a spark of insight I’ve tried to cover how I’d look at the problem.

So let’s look at some of the things that you might want to consider when trying to measure the impact of the traffic on your campus.

How will teaching take place

I suppose the simplest and easiest question to ask, but also the hardest to answer. The answer is really going to depend on the organisation and may well generate a whole range of different answers on a per department or even per course basis. The key pieces of information are going to be how much of the course is going to be delivered over streaming media, be that live or recorded and how much over interactive sessions.

You are also going to want to understand the delta from previous years, if some of a course was already delivered online/remotely/on-demand last year there might well be good data to reuse. If it’s the first time it been delivered like this you might need to think about what changes might happen over the time of the course, it’s unlikely there will be an even spread of content and something that is more ‘lumpy’ could be more problematic when planning for capacity issues.

Of course, how staggered your learners are will also have an impact if everyone is streaming from 9 am until 11 am and then takes a break until 1 pm you could have spread that load into 9-11, 10-12 and 11-1 and the campus network would have been less impacted.

You’re also going to need to think about any content that is delivered across the entire student base independent of course (how to use the library for example) especially if there is a time limit on when the content needs to be completed (such as health and safety inductions).

Where will learning take place?

An obvious question but if people are going to be streaming content on campus as opposed to from their homes/digs this will have an impact on where the traffic is going to/from. You might want to think about the possibility of library spaces being used by students who’s “home” learning situation is not conducive to study.

There is also a key understanding of timing, are learners going to want to do everything real-time or is there going to be a real desire for them to condense their learning into chucks that suits their lifestyle? Consider an apprentice who might now have the opportunity to study their lectures during downtime at work rather than taking a specific day out (this might even be really beneficial for their company too). If they do that they are not likely to consume resources of the campus *unless* the course content requires them to access materials from a specific IP address range (in which case you might need to provide a VPN/VDI-like solution to allow them to appear on campus)

Where will the resources be hosted?

Following on from the previous question, a key thought is where is the content going to be? Are you dropping everything onto a cloud-based platform or deploying some of it on-site? Does the solution have some form of local endpoint so that video content doesn’t have to leave campus and come back again?

Does the provider of the solution use multiple clouds, multiple availability zones, or just one? Useful to know when you are checking the performance that you are looking at the right dataset. If you’ve not already got some form of NetFlow or packet inspection in place  (for troubleshooting) then it might be work spinning up a small instance.

How do you (as the network team) monitor the performance of whatever solution has been chosen? There’s no point chasing tales of terrible network performance if it turns out the application is having a bad day.

How much bandwidth will each stream consume?

Seems like a simple question but there are many solutions that will use some form of variable (sometimes called adaptive) bit rate to deliver content, do you know what the upper and lower limits are? It would be terrible if someone looking to provide supper-duper-mega quality content filled your connection with 20Mbps streams when it could have easily delivered the same level of content usability at 2Mbps.


By James Blessing, post date 11th September 2020

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