COVID-19 has put a great deal of pressure on network infrastructure. With millions of people working remotely for the foreseeable future, global internet usage will remain at record levels. Each remote worker now requires bandwidth for video conferencing (opens in new tab), voice calls over Wi-Fi, instant messaging, and various workplace applications hosted in the cloud—this is before you take into consideration the additional “at home” infrastructure pressures, such as streaming for entertainment and educational purposes. The strain is significant enough that European nations asked Netflix and YouTube to slow their streaming.
Curtis Peterson, Senior Vice President of Operations, RingCentral.
With 7 out of 10 knowledge workers now working from home (opens in new tab), what are the considerations for businesses and CIOs given the increased data usage? measures can be taken to mitigate the increased need for bandwidth?? These three key areas are what businesses and employees need to be aware of when it comes to increased network usage:
1. Protection measures for datacentres and cloud setups
There was a brief moment when we thought the situation may be short-term, but we’ve generally accepted that we aren’t going to return to normal, we will create a new normal which will include more people than ever working from home.
Evaluate existing cloud services (opens in new tab) to ensure their applications can fully support a complete work from home environment. During these times, network traffic changes dramatically. Rather than using the corporate network, each employee is accessing cloud resources from home connecting through their residential carriers and residential broadband (opens in new tab) providers. As a result, cloud providers must have established the level of peering to support this type of connectivity. If you have not discussed this with your cloud provider recently, now is the time.
2. The last mile implications for home workers
There is a common question asked in business continuity (opens in new tab) planning: ‘what percentage of your workers can work remotely right now?’. For every cloud service provider out there, the only acceptable answer is 100%. There should be no adjustments required to handle remote working capabilities.
However, in terms of risk to resilience, the standard problem with ‘last-mile capability’ is a little different because it is residential. Businesses typically purchase fiber or other technologies for broadband services. And what I mean by this is that the IT infrastructure (opens in new tab) in place is designed to prevent failure.
Unfortunately for the home or the distributed user, they typically only have one option and certainly from a cost perspective, that option is usually oversubscribed. In a business situation, if you are sold 500 megabits-per-second, you would expect to see 500 megabits-per-second at any given time. In a residential service, you might be sold 300 megabits-per-second or even a gigabit-per-second service, but it is oversubscribed a lot of the time. The risk here is when home users all pile on at the same time, they overwhelm these ‘last-mile services’ and in turn, their neighborhoods.
Overall, increased usage is placing significant burdens on the existing backbone and core telephone services (opens in new tab) throughout the world. We have seen some blockage, but overall the networks have largely succeeded at operating normally during this crisis. For the most part, a home user may occasionally need to stop streaming a couple of movies in order for everyone to go to virtual classrooms (opens in new tab) and parent(s) to work from home.
3. Experiment to lighten the load on infrastructure
I think a key takeaway from this ‘experiment’ in working from home is that CIOs must be flexible. There are some quick fixes to overcome over-usage. For example, avoid starting a meeting at the top of the hour. Top of the hour meetings were already congested in a typical workday and now our current situation working from home certainly sees this completely overwhelmed. Simply shifting your meeting 30 minutes to bottom of the hour will probably result in much more successful connectivity. If you want to take this up a notch, you can even suggest people start their meetings at quarter past and quarter to.
Additionally, employees should try to make calls over Wi-Fi (opens in new tab) where possible. There are only so many phone lines in any given country and adding phone lines is a very slow process even under the best of circumstances. Using applications that support voice connectivity is a way to get around the PSTN (public switched telephone network), using available broadband instead. Workers could also shift schedules and certainly buffer the schedules between different departments in different groups, so they are not overwhelming the same systems. Of course, this only works when employees (opens in new tab) are accessing the same services.
A significant, but manageable problem
While CIOs and businesses will aim to put processes in place to support remote working, the bottom line is that any of the challenges and frustrations around network usage lie in the ‘last-mile’. We have not just sent workers home, we've sent home children and those that need extra care. These people are using high-bandwidth applications such as telemedicine (opens in new tab) and distance learning (opens in new tab); coupled with thousands of newly at-home workers, this adds a lot of pressure to the network.
CIOs need to look out for heavy usage of the home network, and companies should be advising employees to keep as sterile a working condition as possible. Simple things like turning off streaming, turning off auto-updates on personal devices, and paying attention to the schedules of others in the same home can all help.
Finally, we just need to keep practicing. If you don't have to download something right now, then wait. A few small actions like this will go a long way to stop network overload, helping keep everyone productive (opens in new tab) and entertained whilst we practice staying at home.
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