Internet supply lacking during pandemic

Gartner believes internet capacity may not be sufficient in emergencies

November 3, 2009

Gartner believes internet capacity may not be sufficient in emergencies

The upcoming flu season highlights the need for organizations to have pandemic plans in place, but work-at-home (WAH) strategies may be in jeopardy as residential Internet bandwidth supply may not meet demand, according to Gartner.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the rule of thumb for pandemic planning is that 40 percent of the workforce will not be in the workplace for an extended period of time. “All of the telecommunications carriers say their wide area networks (WANs) can handle the added capacity of a 40 percent increase. That’s fine for their backbone network, but the problem lies in what is referred to as the “edge” or “last mile” in the residential Internet access loop,” said Eric Paulak, managing vice president at Gartner. “Within the switching office, surges in demand will overload the local connection to the backbone networks, because carriers typically do not design for excess residential capacity.”

WAH Internet usage for commercial purposes typically takes place in the daytime, when consumer traffic is at a lull. The problem arises during an emergency, such as a pandemic, because consumer Internet usage will be happening at the same time as WAH usage, mainly because children will be home from school (who drive the bandwidth ratios today) and, therefore, using the Internet as they would during the evening.

DSL users are vulnerable to oversubscription, a condition in which potentially dozens of users share a single digital subscriber access multiplexer (DSLAM) connection to the backbone. This is not easy to remedy during an unexpected surge in last-mile demand.

“The bottom line is that the last-mile DSL and cable modem networks are where remote access falls apart. Backbones will be affected, but the network edge will crash. The carriers are encouraging organizations to use third-generation (3G) or other nontethered access as a backup/emergency solution to defend against these last-mile failures. However, this solution could lead to wireless system overload, so the problem is not solved, it is merely moved,” said John Girard, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “Therefore, enterprises need to consider all three Internet access solutions when trying to work out what performs best in a given emergency situation.”