January 19th, 2009

Inaugural Bandwidth

The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States will occur on Tuesday, Jan. 20th, at 12PM Eastern Standard Time.

This, you may have noticed, is smack dab in the middle of the workday. Streaming video problems, anyone?

The last time we had a presidential inauguration, it was January 2005. YouTube didn’t get started until February 2005. In contrast, this looks like it’s going to be rather well watched. For one, Obama’s a new President – back in 2005, the inauguration was the re-establishment of the status quo. Second, even some of Obama’s harshest critics (and here I’ll specifically mention Pat Buchanan) have raved about the quality of his speechwriting and speech delivery.

And there’s the whole “history being made” aspect of it, you know. Not only is Obama the first black president, he seems to be the first geek president. He uses a Blackberry, has answered questions about sorting algorithms at Google, plans to establish a cabinet level CTO position, uses YouTube to broadcast the President’s Weekly Address, has had Lawrence Lessig as a campaign advisor, and plans to use open standards to increase government information transparency.

He’s also joked about being the “son of Krypton,” posed in front of a Superman statue, gave Leonard Nimoy the Vulcan Salute, and he’s on the cover of Amazing Spider Man #583.

So a heck of a lot of geeks will be tuning in as well; though the phrase “tuning in” when dealing with using the Internet is a bit of an anachronism. There are over a dozen choices as to where to tune in – Hulu even has a countdown clock.

The problem is that videos transmitted over-the-air are transmitted once – being picked up by 5 or 5 million viewers doesn’t change the cost of transmitting or receiving the information. On the Internet, the amount of bandwidth consumed is equal to the amount of bandwidth per video multiplied by the number of viewers.

You could probably rig something up using live caching of the video so that traffic remains on the LAN instead of the more expensive, lower-bandwidth WAN links, or change the QoS policies around to throttle back streaming video traffic to a reasonable amount on Tuesday.

But my advice? Buy a TV. Set it up in the breakroom. Let people who want to watch it come in to watch.

Get everyone to throw in a few bucks for lunch (on the East Coast) or breakfast (on the West Coast) or brunch (Central and Mountain) and you’ve turned a potential network performance problem into a team-building event.