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Is the Internet Sustaining the Growth Trajectories Observed as the COVID-19 Pandemic Hit the World?

With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the fifth month of global disruption, many companies have readily shared data, statistics and observational insights on how the pandemic has impacted the global data infrastructure. At DE-CIX, we quickly observed core Internet infrastructure demand increasing and readily reported this data in April of 2020. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella remarked to DatacenterDynamics in April of 2020 “we have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

In May of 2020, Dropbox was quoted in Data Center Knowledge saying: “Another challenge for Dropbox has been the shift of Internet traffic from being highly concentrated in big hubs to a more distributed pattern. Instead of having a lot of traffic coming from a thousand accounts in a university, for example, Dropbox is now seeing all those accounts access its platform from many different places, through many different networks.” To address this, Dzmitry Markovich, Senior Director Of Engineering at Dropbox, and his team have been analyzing its last-mile connectivity strategy and actively looking for more last-mile ISPs to peer with. Dropbox already peers “heavily,” but it’s now investing in even more peering relationships.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect many industries, including the restaurant, airline and hospitality sectors, to name a few, the Internet continues to be a beacon of hope, maintaining human interactions and education, all while serving as a business continuity solution. If it weren’t for today’s Internet, the emotional and physical toll on humans would have been even more devastating.

At the onset of the pandemic, the Internet was reinforced as a formidable and reliable connectivity enabler as at-home workers video conferenced daily, families streamed movies and played games online, students engaged with e-learning tools and more.

Five months in, what trends continue to stick? What demand continues to rise? Has the surging growth of the Internet leveled off?

DE-CIX, the operator of the world’s largest carrier and data center-neutral Internet Exchange, is observing continued growth and demand with increased connectivity requests to its globally operated Internet Exchanges. The immediate surge in upgrade requests has subsided a bit, indicating a leveling off and quick response taken by core internet players to immediately add capacity in anticipation of user demand. In April 2020, DE-CIX went on record highlighting the need for more bandwidth throughout the world with core networks and edge locations gobbling data feverishly as they helped communities stay connected, educated, productive, informed—and working. This remains the case, and in some ‘edge’ locations, even more so than before. As the Internet use surge continues, the digital divide is more rampant than ever.

Has Internet Growth Continued to Accelerate? Decline? Or Level Off?

Prior to COVID-19, standard Internet growth of 10-50% was seen across the DE-CIX platform on an annual basis, as reported in the company’s 2019 Annual Report. At the start of this pandemic, DE-CIX observed this level of traffic growth (between 10-50% increases) in a matter of days.

It appears that the incremental capacity immediately added at the onset of the pandemic remains to be the foundation supporting and enabling ongoing growth by network providers. Companies that seemingly had excess capacity are now revisiting their projections, adding incremental capacity to support the ongoing usage demand to ensure a reliable and always-on experience for end-users.

Today, remaining prepared for change is at the core of staying ahead of—or out of the path of—disruption as much as possible. While the future may still be characterized by much uncertainty, recording and analyzing this data on an ongoing basis not only shows the world how much had been accomplished, but it offers reassurance that the Internet remains scalable and highly capable, flexing and adjusting to meet the needs of a changed world. Today, we are seeing that the actions taken at the beginning of this disruption are continuing to ensure that businesses and individuals across the globe are empowered by the digital means—and the teams behind them—that are now so central to life as we know it.

By Ivo Ivanov, CEO of DE-CIX International

Ivo has more than 10 years’ experience in the regulatory, legal and commercial Internet environment. Ivo joined DE-CIX in January 2007. In recent years, Ivo has been deeply involved in the establishment of UAE-IX, managed by DE-CIX in Dubai, DE-CIX New York, and several DE-CIX consultancy projects in Africa, Asia and Europe.

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