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October 30, 2009updated 23 Aug 2016 3:04pm

Flu virus threatens internet bandwidth supply

Home workers put pressure on last-mile connections

By Janine Milne


Internet bandwidth supply may buckle under the weight of extra workers choosing to work from home once the flu season takes hold. 

The Centre for Disease Control estimates that in pandemics 40% of the workforce will be away from the workforce for an extended period. While wide area network (WAN) carriers say they can easily cope with a 40% hike in demand, the ‘last mile’ or ‘edge’ internet access loop could crash under the extra pressure, warned a Gartner report. DSL lines are generally oversubscribed, so an unexpected surge in last-mile demand can overload the local connection.  

“The carriers are encouraging organisations to use third-generation (3G) or other non-tethered 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. 

Gartner suggested three solutions to ease the problem.  The first option to mitigate bandwidth and latency issues is to deploy software WAN optimisation controller (WOC) software on every laptop, which will be able to squeeze the most out of the reduced bandwidth available. 

A second option is to use client applets that work application delivery controllers or WOCs at the data centre. A third solution is to bypass the last mile altogether in favour of a wireless connection such as 3G, WiMAX or satellite. But, although this will fix the network access issue, it won’t solve any latency problems during unplanned surges in demand. 

According to Damian Saunders, director of application delivery systems at Citrix, the problem is one of investment rather than bandwidth.

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“In this country we’re still dependent on copper exchanges, whereas areas of Scandinavia and Germany are investing in fibre optics into the home. The cost of that in the UK is rumoured to be between £5 to £10bn,” said Saunders. 

Companies also need to upgrade their existing systems to the newer standard of IPV6 to ensure packages are managed across the network more efficiently. An investment in the next-generation work at home technology will also help mitigate bandwidth problems. But Saunders warned that companies need to look beyond virtual private networks (VPNs) as a solution to home working. 

“VPNs extend the edge of the corporate network so you’re using your laptop to interact with information on your corporate network as if sitting on a LAN. But you’re not on the LAN, you’re on a public network sharing it with the teenager next door,” pointed out Saunders. 

Another problem with VPNs that employers need to consider is that some ISPs block corporate VPN usage.

“This is a contingency a lot of businesses haven’t planned for. It requires some pre-planning from companies to makes sure their VPNs work with all ISPs. A smart approach would be to negotiate with ISPS on behalf of their employees for VPN access and a discount,” said Saunders.


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