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How Companies Are Staying Online During the Pandemic

By: Kayla Matthews on April 13, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented time in society. Many people must stay home while attempting to cling to some sense of normalcy. They get work done, socialize with loved ones and find entertaining content, all while using the internet and its various options, including streaming companies.

According to the AFP news agency, officials asked or ordered half of the world's population to stay home as of April 2. This new way of life understandably puts a strain on the internet, not to mention the data centers keeping people's favorite sites running smoothly behind the scenes. Here's how some of the most in-demand companies are coping.

Expanding the YouTube Data Center Network

YouTube is a streaming platform under the Google umbrella. A post on Google's blog acknowledged that although the company sees increased traffic for some of its services — such as Hangouts Meet — and "different YouTube-related patterns," it has the resources to handle those peak usage levels.

Even so, the company is actively adding more capacity as necessary, whether in a YouTube data center or one for a product such as Gmail. It has a dedicated global network deployment and operations team that collectively works to increase resources and recover services as efficiently as possible if an outage happens.

Another change mentioned in Google's post involved temporarily defaulting all YouTube videos to standard definition. This change relieves stress on the global system and increases the chances of everyone having uninterrupted access.

Taking a Long-Term Perspective at Netflix

When streaming companies come up in conversations, Netflix almost inevitably arises in the topics discussed. Team members at that company received guidance to prepare to do things differently for a while, particularly since no one knows how long the COVID-19 pandemic might last. Dave Temkin, the brand's Vice President of Networks, participated in a mid-March webinar to reveal some of the changes and challenges.

One of them that likely involves increased traffic and processing power at data centers relates to content production. Tempkin explained the obstacles associated with "things traditionally not done from home because it requires a significant amount of compute power and bandwidth to move raw encodes around. We're trying to figure out how can we get that operating out of people's houses."

Difficulties also cropped up due to Netflix's primary server manufacturer operating in California — a state where officials ordered non-essential personnel to stay home. Tempkin clarified, "They got the shelter-in-place order, and we had 24 hours to get as many boxes out of there as possible."

He continued, "We resolved that by moving some manufacturing elsewhere and some other means. By and large, we've been able to use most of the infrastructure we've deployed."

Netflix followed YouTube and temporarily reduced its bitrate. While only causing a slight drop in picture quality, the change reportedly brings a 25% reduction in user data consumption.

Working Hard at Microsoft to Keep People in Touch

Microsoft is another brand noticing a massive jump in recent users. An update from the company promised "...We are hard at work providing services to support hundreds of millions of people who rely on Microsoft to stay connected and to work and play remotely." That publication, distributed on March 28, also cited a 775% increase in meeting and call minutes from people using Microsoft Teams. It happened across a month in Italy during that country's lockdown.

The statement also informed readers that, "Our top priority remains support for critical health and safety organizations and ensuring remote workers stay up and running with the core functionality of Teams." Concerning services for Microsoft Azure users not associated with health and safety organizations, the company implemented some short-term changes.

The brand's update specified, "We have placed limits on free offers to prioritize capacity for existing customers. We also have limits on certain resources for new subscriptions. These are 'soft' quota limits, and customers can raise support requests to increase these limits ... To manage surges in demand, we will expedite the creation of new capacity in the appropriate region."

Data Centers Are Crucial During the Coronavirus and Otherwise

This overview explores how some of the top companies relying on data centers are adjusting their operations to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar brands not mentioned here are likely adopting similar measures to ensure consistent service for housebound people.


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