What Happens When the Village is Sheltering at Home?


It shouldn’t take a village to route a packet, but as I explained recently, networking today requires the population of a small town to function properly.

Even before the Coronavirus, the networking world has been suffering from an illness – the reliance on legacy vendors, hardware, and physical and manual processes to manage networks. This illness doesn’t have the fatal consequences of COVID-19. Instead, it’s sort of like recurring back pain that we’ve just learned to live with. We get by with the pain day-to-day by relying on our village of IT and networking experts to help us with all the heavy lifting and many times, the heavy lifting must be done physically on-site. So what happens when the village has to stay home because of the Coronavirus?

The village of IT and networking professionals is the medication that we have had to consume to stem the symptoms of the networking illness. We’ve been on this medication so long that we’ve actually forgotten why we started taking them. In some ways, COVID-19 has illuminated the illness again. 

Here are a few of the symptoms some of us experienced:

Not surprisingly, there have been many organizations caught unprepared for the Shelter-at-Home orders. Networks in the U.S. were in a better posture than some in the rest of the world, yet increased bandwidth demands still caused issues in many major U.S. cities. And a quick review of Downdetector shows that practically every major ISP has experienced a significant outage in the last couple of weeks. And you’ve certainly heard about Zoom’s problems.

Though it’s easy to understand why the hospitality industry has been impacted, the impacts of COVID-19 have, in fact, been felt by all industries. Like many organizations, one of the first things we did was to conduct a stress test of our VPN. Ours was successful but others didn’t fare so well, while others, unfortunately, discovered that while the VPN worked they had other issues.

It’s not all bad. If you haven’t noticed take a look at Equinix’s or Digital Realty Trust’s stock price over the last month. Amid an otherwise precipitous economic downturn, colocation provider valuations are growing quite well. And some companies have taken steps to help us overcome some of the challenges. One that I found notable was from Cisco offering free VPN licenses.

“There is a more permanent cure for the networking problems many organizations have experienced. It’s the application of a balanced blend of network virtualization and outsourcing. “

If you read between the lines and put all of this information in context, the illness starts to reveal itself. For example, if you don’t have enough VPN capacity, even though Cisco has offered to provide free VPN licenses, if you don’t already have the equipment installed, it’s not going to help you right now. Unfortunately, the village is stuck at home and can’t install the equipment you need.

There is a more permanent cure for the networking problems many organizations have experienced. It’s the application of a balanced blend of network virtualization and outsourcing. During the lock-down, businesses that had already virtualized their infrastructure and moved their workloads to the cloud or into colocation datacenters faired much better than those that were still relying on the village.

So, what’s going to happen when the village is free to go outside again? For me, it’ll be a backyard BBQ with my friends, a visit to my local brewpub, a hair cut, and a concert (maybe not in that order).

For the village of IT and networking professionals? I bet it’s going to be: building cloud connections, then building more cloud connections, followed by building even more cloud connections and then next, setting up software-based interconnection tools and a ton of network automation so that if this ever happens again it won’t take a village to route a packet. Hopefully, they’ll find some time to visit the brewpub too. If you’re part of the village and you see me there, be sure to say ‘Hi’ so I can buy you a beer and say thanks for all heavy lifting I know is coming your way. Until then, stay safe.

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