With the coronavirus pandemic currently affecting the globe, more and more people are starting to telecommute, surfing in plummeting financial markets and trying to keep in touch with others, while practicing social distancing.
All of this activity, which usually takes place mainly in offices, involves massive use of the internet, and the web infrastructure is already starting to show signs of fatigue.
“We have already undoubtedly noticed a wave of cuts and other problems related to peak traffic due to the coronavirus,” Adriane Blum told me in an email on March 11, Adriane Blum, director of communications for Downdetector , the surveillance site in Ookla real time problems and downtime.
In addition, other web sectors, such as videoconferencing services, are preparing for the shock.
Could coronavirus really break the internet? Maybe a little bit. Here’s how we might feel the effects.
Videoconference: it should be fine
Since the classrooms have closed, universities like Washington and Stanford have also run courses using video conferencing software.
Since video represents around 70% of global internet traffic (and stopping exits will undoubtedly increase this share by pushing a huge number of people to binge on Netflix), we fear that the addition of videoconferencing will overload certain networks.
Roger Entner, founder of the consulting and research company Recon Analytics , notes that people are probably overestimating the amount of bandwidth that commercial video traffic will take up during the day. The consumption of videos is already very important in the evening, with a huge number of Internet users on Netflix and YouTube, which means that the networks are built to carry significant traffic.
In addition, many services are themselves dependent on large cloud providers, designed to handle huge traffic spikes, which are unlikely to break down. “They should be on an elastic cloud from Amazon, Microsoft or Google and get this bandwidth dynamically,” says Entner.
If you’re having connectivity issues, Entner recommends either reducing the image resolution or cutting the video entirely: “Do you really need to see your colleagues’ pretty faces?” An audio conference uses 40 kilobits per second. It’s really minimal, it’s a rounding error. ”
Stock trading sites: things are going badly
Online trading services often face problems, with atypical traffic peaks, because they do not often use cloud services, given the financially sensitive nature of stock market transactions.
These sites generally prefer to develop their own systems in-house to make them more secure, but they often lack the capacity that a large cloud service can provide.
“A failure due to too large a volume is an excusable problem for an IT manager. A breakdown due to a security breach committed by someone else is more difficult to accept, ” says Entner.
It must also be said that it would be costly for a trading service to set up systems capable of handling extraordinary events, such as a pandemic: “Financially, it is difficult to justify the establishment of a system capable of managing an event occurring only every twenty years. ”
Corporate VPN: it could go wrong
Businesses around the world are temporarily closing their offices to help slow the spread of the virus. Major companies such as Amazon, Twitter, JPMorgan Chase or Procter & Gamble have already asked some or even all of their staff not to go to the office and work from home.
As more and more companies close their doors, a larger number of employees will have to start using VPNs (or virtual private networks ), which allow them to remotely exchange private data with their company.
However, these VPNs are usually set up for a few remote employees and not for an entire team. An overloaded VPN can cause slowdowns and data loss en route.
If internet users are having problems, it will probably be because their employers have not made the necessary preparations. “The question is: did companies spend enough money to prepare this in advance, or did they just spend the minimum to cope with the traffic they thought they might have at some point?” “ Says Daryl Plummer, vice-president and partner of the consulting firm Gartner .
When companies set up their VPNs, they anticipate the possibility of exceeding their usual traffic, but it is rare that they expect an emergency scenario in which they should double or triple it.
Businesses should test their VPNs , if only to determine how many simultaneous connections their network can receive. This kind of test can also simulate the sending of different types of content by the VPN.
Daryl Plummer notes, however, that companies rarely favor this quality assurance: “ It is not their priority. What worries me most is that most of the companies I talk to don’t seem to be aware of it. “
Video games: it’s a hassle
European internet networks have seen a significant increase in traffic, because people turn to their computers for entertainment when they have to stay at home.
In Italy, for example, the closure of schools has pushed many children into video games. In a call with analysts on March 11, Telecom Italia CEO Luigi Gubitosi said that its fixed network had experienced an increase in traffic of more than 70% , which resulted in a spike in internet disconnections.
Gubitosi attributed the event to “online games like Fortnite “ , which use more bandwidth than most remote work services.