The shock of COVID-19 has altered the framework of business overnight as the primary focus shifts to staying healthy and damage mitigation, and temporarily away from running a profitable business. As this period of disruption remains unprecedented, the world of data centers, network infrastructure, and their effect on global commerce have risen to the forefront. Businesses are seeking to maintain operations and staff morale at as normal a level as possible, and early on in this pandemic in the United States, several key technology trends have already emerged.
- Working from home
As office workers have been sent home from their respective workplaces, businesses have discovered the difficulties of a fully remote workforce. Each employee requires a stable, robust connection to access the internet, which may be difficult for those who live in areas of great congestion. With employees scattered and attempting to utilize similar resources as in an office, companies that have introduced these platforms find it easier to keep business performing as usual. Large cloud services companies will likely see an increase an interest as the crisis wears on. Video conferencing has now become the primary software in the lives of many of us, and those services that are scalable will see a continued increase in users.
- Internet traffic spike
Frankfurt internet exchange DE-CIX was first to report a new record for internet traffic at their site, with 9.1 terabits per second clocked of late. Most similar platforms worldwide are reporting anywhere from 10-60% increases in overall data traffic, with video conferencing, video streaming, and online gaming all seeing major upticks. As most of Europe moves to an entirely home-based live/work structure, early returns suggest wide-ranging swings depending on time of day and platform being used. A recent Bloomberg investigation found that once children were sent home from school in Spain, online gaming immediately tripled and usage of WhatsApp grew sevenfold. This is likely the beginning of the new normal for coming months, and all platforms will be tested.
- Compromised performance
While complete outages have been thankfully few and far between, anecdotes of video conferencing frustration have not, as employees devote ever more of their time to online meetings that previously would have been face-to-face. The European Union has asked Netflix to reduce their bandwidth to allow for other uses, with subscribers likely watching content in standard definition during peak hours. Major content providers such as Amazon, YouTube, and Facebook have followed suit in Europe. This demonstrates the need for additional internet infrastructure across Europe as more users adopt these services en masse.
- Data center staff are essential
Data centers are considered mission critical for a reason; an outage can lead to full disruption of corporate, medical, and government activity for long periods of time. As most workers are sent home from their jobs, data center staff have been recognized as essential for business continuity and are making major adjustments to do so. Large operators are using more rigid health and safety precautions for onsite staff, and offering virtual tours to eliminate onsite traffic. Non-essential client visits during this time have been discouraged, and remote monitoring practices akin to other disaster recovery scenarios are now in-place in many areas.
- Best practices
With all this in mind, a holistic review of an organization’s IT structure is a regular necessity to plan for unexpected global turbulence. Businesses may often balk at the initial costs of instituting new practices, but this must be compared with the costs of losing business from internal outages and staff unable to work remotely. Planning for a flexible, redundant IT future allows for continuity in all circumstances. For data center operators during this time, the Uptime Institute suggests detailed planning and communication for all options including site shutdown and backup, a major increase in sanitization and access controls, and a full review of on-site activities to determine what is truly critical to minimize risk during this time. Adhering closely to these practices will ensure a lack of further disruption and maintain sustainable operation. The impact of COVID-19 is changing daily, and these early trends to how people work and the infrastructure involved must be monitored going forward.