What you need to know about avian flu and IT

Summary:It's avian flu season and that means you're going to hear a lot about how the Internet will collapse, how a pandemic may be emerging and how businesses will struggle. What's needed is a heavy dose of perspective.

It's avian flu season and that means you're going to hear a lot about how the Internet will collapse, how a pandemic may be emerging and how businesses will struggle.

What's needed is a heavy dose of perspective. For instance, the World Health Organization has reported 9 avian flu cases and 8 deaths in 2007 through Feb. 6. Now it's early--the tally will escalate through at least May--but there's no reason to panic.

So what does the IT manager really need to know about the avian flu? Last year, I did a story on the avian flu implications and examined the key issues. This year it's ComputerWorld's turn. You could do a search and probably find a spike of avian flu articles bunched every year about this time. Here's a look at what you need to know in case a pandemic should emerge:

--Your VPN will be your most valuable IT asset. If the avian flu ever turns into a pandemic most of your employees will work from home--most likely under orders of the federal and state governments. Have you tested your VPN for extremely heavy loads? Is it stable? Are folks trained on working from home? The main point is the load. Your VPN may be fine for the 100 people working from home at your company. If that home worker tally turns to 5,000 it may be a different story. Test the capabilities of your VPN.

--Training and support matters. If all your employees work from home they will be their own IT support. Are workers knowledgeable about the basics? In addition, employees may also be working from home with their own equipment. Are key applications standardized? Can you support them remotely?

--Avian flu should be part of business continuity plans. A pandemic would be unique on the health front. For IT planning, the avian flu is just an extension of your business continuity plan.

--Security will be crucial. Managing identities will be increasingly important as employees may have to play dual roles. Can your company accommodate the business analyst that suddenly needs to get access to a database? Do workers on home computers have the same security software as the enterprise?

--No matter how much you plan you'll rely on broadband access providers. The big bottleneck will be the Comcasts and Verizons of the world. If bandwidth needs escalate as the world works from home broadband providers may prioritize traffic. In other words, your PowerPoint presentation may not be as important to them as it is to you. Key employees may need multiple ways to connect.

The last point about broadband access is controversial. Some folks don't buy the doomsday scenario. And they could be right. If you cut off music and movie downloads there's more than enough room for VPNs. There's also a consultant cottage industry surrounding avian flu fueling many of these concerns. The rub with all of this broadband access prognostication is that we have no idea whether avian flu will cripple the Internet--until (if?) it hits.

More reading:

Topics: Health

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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