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Will COVID-19 Accelerate Our Virtual Future?

This blog was first published by Omer Wilson, Head of Marketing APAC at Digital Realty on LinkedIn.

The coronavirus has transformed the way we live, work, communicate and play. But what will our lives and workplaces look like after the pandemic? And how is technology enabling the current and future changes we will see?

We are, without doubt, in the midst of the biggest global workforce shift since World War II. In a recent Gartner poll, 91 percent of Asia-Pacific human resource leaders indicated that they have implemented work-from-home arrangements since the outbreak started.

Cloud, conferencing and other technologies are thankfully enabling that transformation. Zoom, for example, reports the maximum number of meeting participants using the platform has soared from 10 million in December 2019 to more than 200 million in March. The use of Windows Virtual Desktop has more than tripled.

How we socialise, shop, entertain ourselves, educate our kids and even exercise has also dramatically changed. In the US, video streaming to TVs has leapt by 85 percent year-on-year. The number of gamers using Steam globally has jumped by 25 percent since February, with a record 24 million-plus players logged in at the same time during peak periods.

School closures are resulting in heavy use of remote education apps. Google Classroom, for example, has suddenly become the most popular education app on both Android and iOS.

Surging Internet Traffic

Not surprisingly, these big, sudden surges in demand for digital services are driving unprecedented levels of Internet usage and data consumption across the globe.

Internet traffic was up by more than 30 percent across the world in March, according to content delivery network (CDN) provider Fastly. This has caused varying degrees of performance degradation in many locations.

pademic digital realty
Graphic from Cloudflare.com.

A global map showing the changes in Internet traffic as the world copes with COVID-19. Green are areas where traffic has increased, red is where it has decreased between 19-February-2020 to 18-March-2020. Source: Twitter Feed Post.

This degradation was most pronounced following major announcements such as stay-at-home orders. For example, in Italy and the UK, download speeds fell dramatically in March, by 35 percent and 30 percent, respectively, due to traffic increases of 109 percent and 79 percent.

Traffic congestion has affected some services. Netflix, YouTube and Amazon agreed to the European Union’s request for streaming services to reduce streaming quality during peak times to help ease the network load.

Overall, however, Fastly reports: “Based on our regional analysis, we can confidently say that the Internet is holding up quite well despite experiencing a persistently increased load.”

Internet exchanges, CDNs and other infrastructure providers are coping with record levels of traffic. The Deutsche Commercial Internet Exchange (DE-CIX), for example, reached 9.1 terabits per second in March. That’s the equivalent of transmitting 2 million high-definition videos simultaneously.

Accelerating Change

Big questions remain, however. When will the world return to normal? Will it ever be the same? Or do we need to prepare for a new normal?

There’s a strong argument that the pandemic is simply accelerating changes that were already underway. Last year, Gartner predicted demand for remote working would increase by 30 percent by 2030. Industry Research Co. forecast the global streaming market would almost double within a decade. And eMarketer predicted eSports would become a US$1.5 billion industry in 2020, as professional (and amateur) gaming continues to grow exponentially.

Pundits argue that some changes may be permanent – at least to a degree – once enterprises realise that they can operate more efficiently with a greater proportion of remote workers, reduced real estate footprint and less business travel.

In fact, Gartner has found that 74 percent of CFOs intend to shift at least 5 percent of their previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions after the pandemic.

Towards a Virtual Future

Social distancing is likely to add momentum to technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). IDC is forecasting that sales of VR headsets will jump by up to 23.6 percent in 2020, largely due to isolation-driven demand.


Gaming headsets from the likes of Oculus currently dominate the sector. But VR is no longer just the domain of gamers. Microsoft HoloLens, for example, offers industry apps that use holograms and mixed reality to enhance productivity and training.

Given the current crisis, VR’s greatest potential may be in communication. While video conferencing offers a more personal way to interact than other remote communications tools, VR can take this further. Apps like rumii and Spaces can make people feel like they are meeting and collaborating in the same space.

VR apps such as AltspaceVR and VRChat are bringing new meaning to social networking, while Facebook is working on more realistic VR technology.

Investing in the world’s Critical Digital Infrastructure

The pandemic has highlighted how the likes of telcos, Internet exchanges, CDNs and data centres are today’s essential and critical services. And whatever the future brings, these providers must continue to invest heavily in their infrastructure to ensure it remains highly robust, resilient and scalable.

I can assure you that at Digital Realty, we won’t be taking our foot off the accelerator. For example, we’ve only recently Powered On our third data centre in Singapore, Digital Loyang II.

This new 50-megawatt facility adds further capacity to PlatformDIGITAL™, our global data centre platform that allows our customers to operate digital businesses at scale across the world. In this way, we are continuing to play our part in building the digital infrastructure that’s enabling Singapore and customers from across the region to keep operating through this crisis and beyond.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you found it informative. Please feel free to re-share across your own social networks.

Please also stay safe, stay well and above all stay positive…

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