Data Centers are Essential in COVID-19 Fight

Pandemic exposes vulnerabilities as data industry rushes to cope.

As shelter-in-place orders around the world halt the work of many industries, some countries and regions have deemed data center operations to be essential. The US Department of Homeland Security views the entire information technology sector as being central to national security, the economy, public health, and safety, which is a similar stance taken by countries like the UK that depend on data centers for the basic functioning of society. Beyond allowing for the delivery of necessary commercial activities such as banking and grocery store transactions, the data industry is playing an even greater role in people’s everyday lives as they work and live almost entirely from home, relying on the internet for livelihoods, entertainment, and staying connected to the world.

CenturyLink, one of the world’s largest data center companies, has been donating high-speed internet connections to temporary hospital facilities built to help ease overburdened hospitals.

“This is the beginning of our essential work to assist healthcare workers on the front lines, as we respond where we are needed the most,” said Ed Morche, CenturyLink president of government and enterprise markets. “As these needs arise across the country, CenturyLink is coordinating with local government, hospitals, and the military to locate field hospitals on our network so we can provide immediate connectivity. We are donating our costs and services to help the cause—it’s the right thing to do.”

Because data centers are physical locations that rely on human staffing, companies have been under pressure to keep workers and the public safe from COVID-19 while meeting the increased demand for data services by increasing network bandwidths and computing capacity. Major data companies like Digital Realty and Equinix have maintained their centers at 100 percent operating function; however, as is the case with many industry sectors, the unprecedented situation has called for drastic measures.

In the wake of governments issuing shelter-in-place orders, data companies raced to craft and implement emergency pandemic measures such as disinfecting facilities, screening customers and personnel who enter facilities for possible COVID-19 symptoms, and operating the physical locations on skeleton crews while other staff continue to work remotely. CoreSite has a Data Center Intelligence program that enables clients to remotely monitor conditions in server rooms such as rates of power usage, humidity and temperature in lieu of monitoring those indicators onsite.

Use of broadband connections in many countries has skyrocketed amidst the pandemic. Data from OpenVault shows usage up by at least 40 percent during business hours. In March, Microsoft’s cloud computing service Azure experienced a 775 percent increase in calling and meeting users in Italy, and Windows Virtual Desktop usage tripled. DE-CIX Frankfurt set a world record for network traffic on March 10 at 9.1 terabits per second. Access to cloud computing services has become even more critical for first responders using dispatch and reporting systems, management and delivery of personal protective equipment, and health management applications used by hospitals.