Beyond stretching international healthcare systems to the limit, the Coronavirus is also putting extra pressure on the Internet, in what has been called the world's biggest work-from-home experiment.
Globally schools and businesses, especially many of the biggest names in high tech in Seattle, Washington (Seattle currently has the largest outbreak of coronavirus in the US, with 71 cases and 15 deaths as of Saturday) and beyond, have advocated or mandated distance learning and home working as part of contingency plans to deal with the epidemic.
With online media consumption from the use of e-learning, messaging and video conferencing tools skyrocketing, users wonder: will the additional load on these Internet-based apploications and platforms and the increased traffic they bring, cause a catastrophic failure of the internet? Overall it seems unlikely.
Resilience is built into the system. Core infrastructure providers, the largest providers, who own the networks such as CenturyLink (Level 3), Tata Communications and Telecom Italia should be able to easily absorb the increase in traffic and demand over the coming days, weeks and months. Cloud infrastructure providers such as Rackspace and other big blue chips likewise build in additional compute, storage and bandwidth capacity into their systems so that e-learning, messsaging and videoconferencing can continue to be used without disruption. In addition, last mile networks deploy content delivery infrastructure from companies such as Akamai, Google, Cloudflare and Apple to keep traffic local. Internet Exchange Points, where different internet networks come together to exchange local traffic between their networks, do similar work, providing an alternative to sending domestic internet traffic via an expensive international link, keeping local traffic local and facilitating internet traffic exchange in a cheaper and faster manner.
Failures, where they occur, are most likely to happen with the tools themselves - in cases where insufficient compute, storage or bandwidth resources has not been provisioned in the tool itself to deal with increased traffic. Some examples of such failure in China include Baudi's iQiyi streaming service as well as interruptions in other educational, video conferencing and gaming applications.
This article recommends ways infrastructure providers can help, and end-users can use Downdetector to learn if other users are also experiencing similar issues.
Overall there should be no great cause for concern that the Coronavirus will break the internet. As long as the tools themselves have been provisioned with enough resources to cope, so can end-users.
The more likely place for the failures to occur is with the tools themselves, if they have not provisioned sufficient compute, storage, or bandwidth resources to deal with the increased traffic. Examples of such failures have already been observed in China, where servers supporting Baidu’s iQiyi streaming service, an educational application called Xuexitong, popular office applications including video conferencing applications DingTalk and WeChat Work, and online games from Tencent all reportedly crashed due to increased traffic. These failures are arguably similar to those seen on e-commerce or gaming platforms on high-traffic days, where backend systems are unable to process the higher than normal volume of orders or account activations.