This article is intended to provide a high-level overview of various common networking solutions. It is not a guide in implementing these, as every school has unique requirements and network architecture, and it would not be possible to write a guide for each unique situation.
One of the largest hurdles in establishing an on-campus esports program is usually networking. Networks are generally set up to limit or prohibit gaming, so it can be counterintuitive to unblock things that have been blocked for so long. As luck would have it, it is not necessary to unblock everything and open all of the doors to the world wide web. This article will describe some practices used by established scholastic esports programs to turn this mountain into a molehill and help you provide your IT department with a starting point.
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
A DMZ can be pictured as the castle yard, outside the walls and moat. A DMZ protects sensitive devices and applications behind the firewall(s) by allowing devices that require more open access to the internet to communicate without exposing sensitive portions of the network. Most commonly a DMZ will contain all services accessible from an external network, such as web and mail servers, and more recently game consoles and gaming computers.
The easiest approach in creating a DMZ utilizes a single firewall with at least three network interfaces. The DMZ lives inside this firewall, and the order of operations is as follows: the external network device will connect from the internet service provider, the internal network will be connected by the second device, and any connections inside the DMZ will be handled by the third device.
The second (and much more secure) way to create a DMZ utilizes two firewalls. The first, which is commonly known as the “front end” firewall, allows only traffic intended for the DMZ. The second firewall only handles the traffic traveling to the internal network from the DMZ.
Dedicated Virtual Local Area Networks (V-LANs) and Subnets
Many schools use dedicated V-LANs to isolate gaming traffic. V-LAN is a term that can encompass several different solutions or digital constructs and can be analogous to a subnet; however, multiple subnets can also exist within a V-LAN. VLANs are most commonly already used in schools to sort guest networks, faculty networks, and student networks and can help the infrastructure handle the strain of the additional gaming traffic produced by esports. A dedicated V-LAN can also provide network administrators the ability to permit gaming traffic within a gaming lab while restricting it from the rest of the network(s). Most V-LANs today utilize the IEEE 802.1Q protocol, but some hardware utilizes proprietary protocols; however, this is considerably less common to see nowadays.
A subnet, which is short for subnetwork, can be considered a network inside of or underneath another network. A dedicated subnet can be advantageous for esports since it can allow information to travel more directly to and from its source(s) and destination(s) which can result in better speeds for gaming and a more secure network overall. A dedicated subnet sorts traffic based on IP address, and the router assigns a secondary identifier known as a subnet mask which then helps the router send the data to its destination. Dedicated subnets vary in complexity and execution depending on what hardware and software is being used to create them, so your IT or networking department will need to follow the guidelines of your hardware and software to make sure they fit your network architecture.
Many content filters can cause performance issues in networks that do not affect common use but can slow down gaming. If you see significant lag, framerate drops, or other internet-related issues, you may want to minimize or restrict the hours of content filtering on your network for gaming machines. Content monitoring should cause little to no impact, as long as it scans traffic without stopping it.
We hope this article has provided you with the information you need to begin configuring your network to better support your gaming program. Click HERE for our article on ports/services to whitelist.