Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Sid Nag, research vice president at Gartner, focused on cloud services and cloud technologies from the vendor, service provider as well as the buyer perspective.
The onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19) forced organizations to rethink the way they work and operate.
The use of videoconferencing and other digital collaboration tools have stressed the limits of backend support services, many of which are cloud-based, and significantly increased the volume of traffic in the networks connecting users to their services. This trend is likely to continue, as recent Gartner survey results show 74% of CFOs intend to shift some employees to remote work on a permanent basis.
As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic has left many CIOs unsure whether their business continuity strategy is sufficiently robust long term. In fact, only 18% of IT leaders believe their businesses are highly prepared for the impact of coronavirus, according to a March 2020 Gartner webinar survey.
Customers' concerns about performance problems due to the increased load of remote workers were not initially focused on the hyperscale cloud providers. Instead, customers are noting slowdowns in connections and bandwidth limitations in their normal workplace and collaboration applications.
With the increased usage of video collaboration applications over time, it also places additional capacity demands in terms of compute and storage needs on the hyperscale cloud providers infrastructure.
Tech leaders need a thorough understanding of the threats, opportunities and forthcoming events that will occur as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in order to answer critical questions about service delivery and resilience.
Threats to cloud service providers (CSPs)
Virtual meetings and conferences are more commonplace than ever before. In fact, Microsoft recently reported a 775% increase in Teams' calling and meeting users in a single month in Italy. On March 18, four million meetings took place over Cisco Webex, more than two times what the company typically handles on a high traffic day.
While lockdown orders remain in place, and people increasingly engage in a digital-first world, independent software vendors and content providers like Netflix or Hulu will cause additional internet bandwidth demand and flood cloud providers' networks as well as the public internet and VPN connectivity.
Taken together, these things will challenge all operations teams supporting cloud offerings to maintain service availability and high performance while also working from home or having less hands-on deck.
That said, well-architected and stress-tested cloud services are designed to handle the unexpected spikes in demand that crises like coronavirus are causing.
All leading cloud providers have taken precautions to increase the monitoring of service quality, capacity and reliability in the face of COVID-19, including around-the-clock infrastructure testing even before the outbreak occurred.
The pandemic will prompt providers to demonstrate their preparedness and weed out the cloud service offerings that might not be able to handle the demand.
Opportunities for CSPs
Cloud computing is well positioned to survive, and even thrive, during the coronavirus crisis.
Cloud providers can demonstrate the inherent strength and adaptability of their services by sharing cultural tips for how remote work at a massive scale must be done. Offering cloud-based collaboration tools at a discount or for free is a good start as we've seen Cisco Webex, Google, Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom do already.
Segmenting and prioritizing workloads, especially those that produce significant networking traffic, is recommended in order to balance the immediate needs of stay-at-home workers with processes that can execute with a lower priority.
The swell of remote employees provides an opportunity for cloud providers to affect a sea of change in how much digital work becomes the norm rather than the exception — using their cloud.
Situations that CSPs should monitor
Every single organization will be impacted by COVID-19, even the 38% of Gartner survey respondents who believe their business can continue as normal with reduced impact.
Cloud providers should keep close watch on the fluctuating financial market, especially as the economic downturn may reduce IT spending and – as a result – cloud investment.
Spot pricing may turn into surge pricing, too: If cloud providers are oversubscribed, then the prices may favor those who can afford it.
As COVID-19 continues to put stress on the healthcare industry, real-time patient data on medical professionals' devices will be paramount, which could create an increased revenue opportunity for connected devices, cloud, edge and IoT-based solutions.
This is a unique opportunity for CSPs to plan for services that embody the nexus of cloud, edge, 5G, IoT and analytics.
3 immediate actions for CSPs
Here are three actions cloud providers must ensure they are taking to support end users and deliver uninterrupted service during the COVID-19 pandemic, if they aren't already.
Ease customers' concerns by demonstrating a strong ability to handle spikes to both their VPNs and cloud-supported applications that are brought on by rapid increases in remote workers.
Build customer confidence by both stress-testing cloud data centers, networks and services and releasing the results of such testing to customers.
Prevent both financial and work hardships during the COVID-19 outbreak period by practicing customer engagement and employee philanthropy to act as a stopgap.
CSPs should prepare for the new normal of a more permanent remote workforce in the rebound phase of the pandemic.
It will be important to plan for new services and applications that will spawn as a result of this, such as those based on virtual reality and other advanced technologies that will serve as core underpinnings of the new work environment in the post-pandemic era.