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Revealed: COVID-19's impact on internet disruptions

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated global internet disruptions considerably, with March seeing a 63% rise in global internet outages and other network failures compared to pre-pandemic figures in January.

That's according to a report released today from ThousandEyes, which analysed the availability and performance of internet-related networks – including ISPs, public cloud and DNS providers – in response to the pandemic, as well as the impacts of changing internet usage.

ThousandEyes research author and director of product marketing Angelique Medina says nothing could have prepared ISPs for the impact that COVID-19 would have on internet usage.

"The internet is inherently unpredictable, and outages are inevitable even under normal conditions,” she says.

“However, with the overnight transition to a remote workforce, remote schooling, and remote entertainment that many countries experienced in March, we saw outages spike to unprecedented levels -- especially among internet service providers who seem to have been more vulnerable to disruptions than cloud providers.

According to the report, APAC ISPs experienced the largest spikes in disruptions in March, with a 99% rise in that month compared to January.

North American ISPs were second hardest-hit, at 65% for the same comparison. For these regions, disruption levels had largely returned to normal by June; however in the EMEA region, outages continue to increase month over month – with 45% more disruptions in June compared to January of this year.

Within all internet-related networks, ISPs were most affected by disruptions, while cloud providers were the most stable, according to the report.

In fact, ISPs were affected 10 times more than cloud providers – there were 400 cloud outages globally versus more than 4500 in ISP networks. Relative to total outages, more than 80% occurred within ISP networks and less than 10% within cloud provider networks.

Despite the unpredictable increase in disruptions, internet infrastructures reacted well all-in-all, the report found. Capacity, scalability and operator agility adjusted to the surge in demand well globally, and negative performance indicators, like traffic delay, remained within ‘tolerable' ranges.

"Initially, we saw both businesses and service providers scramble to adjust, overnight, to work-from-home environments,” says Bloor Research research director of IT infrastructure Paul Bevan.

“However now, we see a definite shift towards accommodating a more permanent scenario of serving a remote workforce. This is creating a realignment of network infrastructure that will look very different from pre-March network platforms.

“The findings from ThousandEyes' research will be critical in helping organisations understand the inter-dependencies that are at play between internal and external networks, and how to strengthen IT infrastructures now that the internet has become a core component to manage."

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