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How Data Centres Are Responding to Covid-19

Data centres are having to respond rapidly to the coronavirus outbreak, just like many of the world’s businesses. But these critical infrastructure providers must find ways to stay open and operational to keep us all connected and the global economy turning. 

Every industry, no matter how small, has had to alter its practices in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and the data centre industry is no different. But data centres have a responsibility to both slow the spread of the virus and provide critical business infrastructure. 

That’s because companies and people have been forced to work remotely, isolate and social distance. No country has ever seen these kinds of far-reaching measures in peacetime. The drastic change has led to an increased demand on both global networks and data centre infrastructure as more people consume online content and use digital communication tools to stay connected. 

Data centres have become even more business-critical in this time. Here are just some of the measures they are undertaking to protect both their workforce and infrastructure. 

Limiting Movement of People 

With data centres widely considered critical infrastructure, measures have quickly been taken to protect them. The first is that many data centres have gone into lockdown, regardless of whether the government of the country they’re based in has initiated such measures. 

Social interactions are the main mode of transmission for Covid-19, so limiting the movement and possibilities for social interactions is crucial. Data centres have already decided to refuse or limit entry to visitors in order to prioritise the welfare of their workforce and their workforce’s relatives. High-foot-traffic data centres in particular have shut their doors or limited access to visitors – customers, vendors and other third parties – to slow the spread of the virus. 

Data centres have also asked those employees who can to work from home and cancelled all non-essential business travelElsewhere, they have cancelled non-critical upgrades and maintenance. 

But wherever employees must travel to the data centre itself, cleaning has been stepped up to ensure a hygienic environment is maintained. Deep cleans and the promotion of personal hygiene with the workplace are helping to limit the spread of Covid-19 and to keep data centres working at optimal efficiency. 

Initiating Global Business Continuity Plans 

The rapid response of data centres globally has been quick, and the impact on businesses largely minimal. Drawing on pre-prepared global business continuity plans that account for situations like the current coronavirus pandemic, data centres like Digital Realty have been able to take the appropriate steps to ensure business continues as usual. 

These plans have been tried and tested through both simulations and real-world events like hurricane disasters, so data centres know and understand the main issues that are at stake. In addition, the plans aren’t stationary – data centres are constantly reviewing and updating their plans to address the most prominent issues as and when they arise. 

Some data centres go even further, with contingencies in place where employees can shelter onsite for days to provide critical repairs and routine maintenance. These data centres have food and water, living quarters, fuel and even spare parts ready for an emergency where staff will need to stay onsite for a prolonged period. 

Accommodating Traffic Spikes 

Of course, as Covid-19 spreads more and more people are staying at home. This has pushed more people than ever to use the internet from their own homes, consuming content and utilising digital communication tools that they normally wouldn’t were they in the workplace. 

The subsequent traffic spike has been dramatic. Last month, Germany smashed the world record for the data throughput driven by increased internet usage. The DE-CIX (Deutsche Commercial Internet Exchange) recorded a staggering 9.1 terabits-per-second of data, breaking the previous 8 terabits record set in December 2019. 

Whether they are working remotely or not, millions more people are turning to the internet during periods they didn’t previously – and for longer. Data centres have had to review their supply chain arrangements and plan for disruption during this period due to the increase in traffic, ensuring they avoid any costly downtime. If downtime does occur, it could be catastrophic for many businesses. For instance, Gartner reports that downtime can cost businesses up to 540,000 USD an hour.  

It’s clear that data centres must keep the lights on throughout the pandemic to grease the wheels of the world’s economy. So far, apart from a couple of teething issues with increased demand for applications like Microsoft Teams, data centres are holding up. Efforts from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and other companies is also helping, as these video content providers slash picture quality to accommodate massive data spikes. 

In fact, data centres could even help to combat against the coronavirus pandemic itself. China’s Alibaba has recently developed an AI tool to diagnose Covid-19 in seconds, and the solution is being rolled out across the country. Data centres will be required to power this novel testing solution, so not only are data centres central to keeping the economy ticking, but for keeping people safe. 

Data Centres Continue to Evolve 

In light of the pandemic, data centres continue to evolve and update their processes to meet the extraordinary demand. If you know of any other ways that data centres are adapting to meet global requirements at this time, we want to hear from you. Get in touch to share your experiences or to ask for more information. 

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