Home Insight How is the internet coping with mass working from home?

With the Covid-19 pandemic keeping the whole country in lockdown, the internet has become a lot people’s only connection to the outside world. The internet is essential for anyone to be able to work from home, and it’s how the majority of social interactions are now taking place, so it’s understandable to worry about whether the internet can cope with this increased demand.

[Is your IT infrastructure ready for mass employee remote working?]

Internet connection cables internet coping with working from home

Not only are individuals more reliant on the internet in this time of isolation, but so many companies are now reliant on their staff working from home, if the internet wasn’t able to cope with our demands, it would lead to an unprecedented disruption in communications. Of course, the internet is not an ephemeral object, so when I refer to the internet, or the UK’s internet, I am talking about the infrastructure network and its capacity to carry data from computers all around the globe.

How is the internet coping?

BT has been releasing updates on the situation, and the capacity of their network. In the UK most of our national internet infrastructure is managed by ISPs (internet service providers) and other private companies, so BT’s insights are useful because they are responsible for a significant amount of the UK’s network, and their findings should be applicable to other UK networks.

Working from home has definitely increased weekday day time internet use considerably: up to 60% more internet traffic was going through BT’s network at certain times. However, daytime data usage used to average 5Tbps and now peaks at 7.5Tbps, which is still considerably lower than evening use.

Network traffic has always peaked in the evening, and that hasn’t changed, since recreational streaming totally dwarfs the data use of video calls and document sharing, which makes up the majority of working from home traffic. Evening use has risen thanks to people not being able to go out – but not to the same proportion as day time use – so it now peaks at 10Tbps, a full third on top of peak daytime use.

However, the current demand on the internet is still much less than BT’s all-time peak: in December 2020 video games and streaming football matches contributed to BT’s network carrying 17.5Tbps. With current internet use in BT’s network peaking at 10Tbps, the network has a lot of capacity left, and is coping absolutely fine with these changes.

While the networks carrying data have more than enough capacity for now, the internet is more than just the connection between computers, and this is where data centres become relevant.

This graph from INEX shows how internet traffic has risen in lockdown, but still peaks in the evening.

Internet usage graph increased traffic during lockdown

Why are data centres important to the internet?

The internet only exists because it is being fed data from computers that are based all over the world and ran by different companies. The vast majority of these computers are stored in data centres, either enterprise data centres (where a company has built a data centre to house their own servers) or colocation data centres (where a data centre provider hosts the servers of many different companies).

Having computers hosted in these data centres is essential to keeping the internet going, and this is true all of time, but especially during difficult times like a pandemic, as the single biggest advantage of a data centre is the resilience it provides your computer system. While the network can have terabytes of capacity for data transfer, if Netflix’s servers go down, there is no data to transfer, and you won’t be able to watch Tiger King.

To ensure that the servers hosted inside a data centre keep running and are connected to the internet, data centres deploy:

  • Equipment to power the servers in the event of a power cut
  • Backup network connections
  • Redundancies on cooling and all other equipment

[Don’t panic – Data centres are designed for resilience]

4D, through our CEO Jack Bedell-Pearce, have recently been heavily involved in the coordination of the UK data centre industry, techUK and the Government, which has led to important protections put in place to ensure data centres continue to operate unimpeded by the lockdown. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have set up a dedicated task force to handle the situation with the data centre industry, and data centre engineers are now classed as key workers, allowing them to continue their important work while the country is on lockdown. This communication with the Government will continue to make sure that data centres are not disrupted by any policy changes brought about by the pandemic.

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Do you need to be worried about the internet?

The short answer: no, you don’t need to worry.

The UK internet network has the capacity to handle the traffic caused by increased remote working, even if it exceeds current peaks by a considerable margin. Additionally, data centres have continued to do the essential work of keeping servers turned on and sending data, and the UK Government is working to protect them from any potential disruptions the lock down could cause.

From 4D’s point of view, we’ve noticed very little change on the connectivity side of things. We already had our clients constantly connecting into our data centres during the working day, and this connection is now just coming from their homes instead of their office. However, we do have the network capacity to handle significant increase if it comes. Additionally, we have always guaranteed our clients 100% power and 99.999% network uptime, and this is completely unchanged by these challenging times.

If you would be interested in learning more about how a data centre can help with your internet connection, check out 4D's connectivity services here.

So unless anything drastically changes, the internet will be carrying on like usual, in these extremely unusual times.

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