The Network is as Critical as Power
As the world deals with containing the COVID-19 pandemic and companies switch to work-from-home policies to reduce risk to their employees, the need for highly reliable internet connectivity is more important than ever.
Internet traffic has hit record levels, according to recent reports, resulting in a significant increase in the basic day-to-day internet requirements for working from home. Employees are working over the same bandwidth as housebound kids playing video games—even crashing the popular game “Fortnite”—students finishing up the school year through digital classes, family and friends moving their interactions online and increased online food orders, as evidenced by the lack of delivery times on Instacart. All of this traffic is clearly putting a great strain on our connectivity and the need for more bandwidth.
While traffic is increasing, the tools we need to support remote workers are also seeing a big increase in demand. For example, if employee performance is not going to be disrupted, most teams need to be able to consistently rely on collaboration tools like Cisco Webex and Zoom Communications for their meetings. We are certainly pushing the limits of a network-connected society.
The internet has become as critical as power, and, during this pandemic, we’re depending on it more than ever. While it seems easy and simple to us, there are several complexities that come into play when using the internet. Most of the internet is a mesh of multiple local internet service providers who interact with global carriers such as AT&T, CenturyLink and Zayo, which then interact with the various large cloud, streaming and compute environments hosted in data centers. A typical connection for a Webex conference call could require multiple service providers and systems before a successful web conference occurs.
Now that employee enablement is being redefined in light of office shutdowns, will we see a shift in the mindset of information technology being a cost center to IT being an enabler and force multiplier?
We are witnessing a massive change in network utilization, and the connectivity that businesses have spent recent years putting into place to support their workforces and operations is being distributed to residential networks. Think about it this way: In a typical day, kids are at school using bandwidth, parents are at work using bandwidth, and they potentially clash in the evenings when their usage patterns overlap. Now kids and parents are on the same network consuming more services concurrently than they traditionally did away from the home.
This should be a wake-up call for residential services to scale and increase availability to subscribers. I’m sure a topic of study will be how to enable communities to hunker down and have availability of utility services. Does this herald an era of multiple network service providers in residential areas to provide resiliency?
All of these new connectivity demands will require continued advances in network and compute power and put even more strain on our current infrastructure. Technological advances in wavelength capacities and the underlying technology for the internet, the roll out of 5G and increased computing technologies will certainly help us enable a more mobile workforce and lifestyle.
When the world recovers from the COVID-19 crisis, we should take a moment to reflect on what was possible during the crisis and what is possible in the future. We will continue to grow as a society, but we should embrace technology that allows us to stay connected, productive and interactive as a new way of life—and all of it depends on our networks, just like we depend on power.