The leading Internet content delivery network has stepped up its efforts to keep data networks running smoothly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Akamai Technologies said Tuesday that it is reducing the network resources used for gaming downloads during peak business hours, prioritizing bandwidth for healthcare workers, first responders and other business customers.
Digital infrastructure is playing a critical role in adapting social and business behavior to slow the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, which has been connected with nearly 20,000 deaths globally as of March 25.
As governments have limited public activity to promote social distancing, businesses have directed employees to work from home, and schools and universities are moving classes to online formats.
“The Internet is being used at a scale that the world has never experienced,” wrote Tom Leighton, the CEO and co-founder of Akamai, in a blog post. “This increased usage is causing concern about whether the Internet will be able to continue handling the ever-increasing amounts of traffic. As a result, some major regulators, carriers, and content providers are taking steps to reduce load during peak traffic times in an effort to avert online gridlock.”
Reducing the Impact of Large File Downloads
Content delivery networks like Akamai are the traffic cops of the Internet, storing popular content on local servers around the globe so large files are closer to the user, speeding downloads and reducing network congestion.
Akamai said it is working with major online gaming platforms to reduce network congestion caused by downloads, shifting them to non-peak business hours. The change does not affect live gameplay, but may delay access to updates providing new features, which typically are packaged in larger file downloads.
As an example, in early March, the release of “Call of Duty: Warzone” caused network congestion and delays on major Internet backbones as gamers sought a game update that averaged about 20 GB in size.
“In regions where demand is creating bottlenecks for customers, we will be reducing gaming software downloads at peak times, completing the downloads at the normal fast speeds late at night,” said Leighton. “This approach will help ensure every internet user and consumer continues to have the high-quality experience they expect across all of their internet services, and that gamers will still get the download they want, though it may take longer than usual during peak usage times.
“Even more importantly, this will help ensure healthcare workers and first responders working hard to contain the spread of COVID-19 have continual access to the vital digital services they need,” Leighton added.
Akamai customers include Microsoft and Sony, which operate the Xbox and PlayStation gaming platforms.
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“As people look to gaming for play and social connection, we’re seeing record engagement across Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Live, and Mixer,” said Dave McCarthy, Corporate Vice President, Xbox Product Services. “We’re actively monitoring usage and making temporary adjustments as needed to ensure the smoothest possible experience for our gamers. We appreciate the collaboration with partners like Akamai to deliver the joy of games in these unprecedented times.”
Streaming Media Services Adapt HD Rates
The gaming companies are not alone in working to reduce the impact on networks during the Coronavirus crisis. Last week the European Union asked streaming media companies like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube to take steps to conserve bandwidth by scaling back their usage of high-definition video formats that consume the most resources.
“We are living through a global crisis, and we all have a responsibility to help where we can,” Netflix said. “We immediately developed, tested and deployed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on these networks by 25% – starting with Italy and Spain, which were experiencing the biggest impact. Within 48 hours, we’d hit that goal and we’re now deploying this across the rest of Europe and the UK.
Thus far the Internet is holding up quite well, according to network monitoring firm Thousand Eyes, which track outages at major online services.
“Despite massive traffic increases — particularly across consumer last-mile networks — we have not seen a significant corresponding spike in Internet outages, which can occur when traffic levels strain network capacity,” writes Angelique Medina on the Thousand Eyes blog. “However, there has been an upward trend line in outages over the last three weeks compared with the previous three-week baseline. We have also observed some performance degradation across key UCaaS (unified communications) services.”
The company said that the major cloud computing platforms have performed well.
“Major public cloud providers, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, have built massive global networks that are incredibly well-equipped to handle traffic surges. So, unsurprisingly, we have seen almost no COVID-19 related impacts within their networks,” Medina said.
The Internet Shows its Resilience
That tracks with the experience at Cloudflare, a large content delivery and security service that operates in 155 data centers worldwide.
“Even though from time to time individual services, such as a web site or an app, have outages the core of the Internet is robust,” reports Louis Poinsignon on the Cloudflare blog. “Traffic is shifting from corporate and university networks to residential broadband, but the Internet was designed for change.”
That’s well known to Akamai’s Leighton, one of the Internet’s most experienced hands in data traffic management. An expert in algorithms, in the 1990s Dr. Leighton discovered a solution to freeing up web congestion using applied mathematics and distributed computing, which created the foundation of Akamai and its content network. The company now delivers traffic across more than 250,000 servers around the globe.
Leighton says he has confidence in the digital infrastructure community’s ability to support the increased demand during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
“As the world responds to the challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue working with governments, network operators and our customers to minimize stress on the system,” said Leighton. “At the same time, we will do our best to make sure that everyone who is relying on the internet for their work, studies, news, and entertainment continues to have a high-quality, positive experience.”