The General Accountability Office has rapped the Department of Homeland Security for failure to plan for Internet congestion in the event of a severe pandemic that could overwhelm networks. The worry: Will the Internet hold up if everyone has to work from home under quarantine?
Increased demand during a severe pandemic could exceed the capacities of Internet providers’ access networks for residential users and interfere with teleworkers in the securities market and other sectors, according to a DHS study and providers (see figure below). Private Internet providers have limited ability to prioritize traffic or take other actions that could assist critical teleworkers. Some actions, such as reducing customers’ transmission speeds or blocking popular Web sites, could negatively impact e-commerce and require government authorization. However, DHS has not developed a strategy to address potential Internet congestion or worked with federal partners to ensure that sufficient authorities to act exist. It also has not assessed the feasibility of conducting a campaign to obtain public cooperation to reduce nonessential Internet use to relieve congestion. DHS also has not begun coordinating with other federal and private sector entities to assess other actions that could be taken or determine what authorities may be needed to act.
It's no small issue and I'm well aware of pandemics. My household has its own flu epidemic given we're all a mess right now.
Is a pandemic---H1N1 or otherwise---a real problem for Internet congestion? Perhaps, but color me skeptical. We've heard this before. A few years back it was SARS. Then it was Avian Flu. Today it's swine flu. The argument is usually the same. The masses work from home. We all start sending around PowerPoints. Things blow up.
It all looks something like this:
The GAO also notes that the securities markets could also stumble. Rest assured more than a few companies could also tumble too if not prepared.
So how do you get prepared?
- Monitor your VPNs. Make sure folks have them and that the software works.
- Work out desktop support. How will you handle desktop support for non-corporate acquired PCs?
- Identity management. Workers will need to be cross-trained on different roles. Teleworkers will need roles defined and access permissions granted.
- Figure out a thin-client fix. Technologies from companies like Citrix could be huge.
The big wild-card here is cable access and other broadband methods and whether they could take the extreme pounding. If they can't, look for restrictions or requests---presumably from the DHS---asking teleworkers not to send big files during working hours.