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Aug 7 2008   4:31PM GMT

How you can watch the Olympics live online (and what sysadmins can do about it)

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

After years of buildup, the Olympics are about to kick off tomorrow in Beijing. As Shamus McGillicuddy reports, streaming Olympics video will drain corporate bandwidth. This year’s games are going to put substantial, perhaps even unprecedented, strain upon the Internet backbone. NBC plans to to stream more than 2,200 hours of live video coverage online.

CBS took a similar approach to “March Madness” this spring, streaming all 64 games of the NCAA mens’ basketball tournament.  Network administrators have similar challenges now in deciding where and whether to block users from accessing NBC.com, capping bandwidth use or engaging in a little proactive traffic shaping.

Personally, I like the suggestion made in Shamus’s story by Eileen Haggerty, director of product marketing with NetScout:

“An IT organization could set up a PC with a large-screen monitor in the office cafeteria that would run streaming video of the games. Instead of having 15 people sitting at their desks sucking up bandwidth individually, a savvy network administrator could bring all those people together to watch the Olympics during their break.”

Let’s assume for a moment, however, that you aren’t a bandwidth-conscious CTO and would like to be able to keep current on the standings in your favorite events or athletes. (Or that you believe setting up a few televisions is a handy low-tech hack.)

Thanks to Gina’s post on Lifehacker,Watch the Olympics Online, I found Wired’s excellent How-To Wiki for Watching the Olympics Online. (As you might expect, this link has been climbing the charts on the most popular page at delicious).

As the wiki notes, you can catch up to four different livestreams and more than 3,000 hours of on-demand at NBCOlympics.com.

World-wide, there also many other websites streaming Games footage:  CCTVOlympics.com in mainland China, BBC Sports in the U.K., Yahoo7 in Australia or CBC Olympics in Canada.

There’s a catch, however, to the livestreaming, on-demand video goodness: In most cases, users in the United States will be blocked from viewing the footage on any site but NBC.

If you’re savvy enough to follow the advice at Metafilter by setting up a proxy server or using Anonymizer, you should be able to get around location restrictions.

It’s a cinch that the millions of broadcast viewers will be recording and uploading events to YouTube on their own, of course.  NBC has tried to get out in front of the inevitable wave by partnering with Google, with plans to provide 3 hours of highlights and wrap-ups to a dedicated channel onYouTube.

As the authors of the Wired wiki note (nice work, applian, apardoe, mosesofmason and snackfight!), BitTorrent is also an option for watching events after the fact, though P2P files sharing on your corporate network may land you in more hot water than simply streaming the video, given the various serious security risks involved.

What the wiki doesn’t note is what is lying under the hood over at NBCOlympics.com. NBC has partnered with MSN to stream the Olympics using Silverlight, in what will be far and away the biggest test for Microsoft’s alternative to Flash to date.

Anyone that wants to watch the Olympics will have to download and install the Silverlight plug-in, a process that certain to test out exactly how ready for “prime time” the technology is for streaming rich media online. Of special note is the fact that Silverlight encrypts a videostream, which will make recording the events considerably harder (if not impossible).

As a result, tech pundits, geeks and network executives will no doubt be watching the race to crack the streams and distribute unauthorized video nearly as closely as the games themselves.

Enjoy the Olympics!

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