Use of Microsoft’s cloud services is soaring amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with usage increasing as much as 775 percent in regions implementing social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, the company said this week.
Microsoft said it is beginning to implement temporary restrictions on some services to conserve cloud usage, primarily in free services and some metering of new accounts. The company said it will “expedite new capacity” to support higher demand.
The surge in usage creates new challenges in capacity planning, as Microsoft and other hyperscale providers seek to add new data center space.
Microsoft is one of the world’s largest providers of cloud computing services, with strong adoption among business users familiar with its Office productivity suite. As governments have pursued social distancing, Microsoft says it has seen large increases in usage of Microsoft Teams, Windows Virtual Desktop, and Power BI.
“We have seen a 775 percent increase of our cloud services in regions that have enforced social distancing or shelter in place orders,” the Microsoft Azure team said in an update.
UPDATE: The company later added additional context, saying it has seen “a 775 percent increase in Teams’ calling and meeting monthly users in a one month period in Italy” (which has been hit particularly hard by the Coronavirus), with smaller but nonetheless robust increases in other services and regions.
Microsoft reported several data points on the increase in cloud usage:
- Use of Windows Virtual Desktop, which enables remote work, has grown more than 3x.
- Government use of public Power BI data visualization tools to share COVID-19 dashboards with citizens has surged by 42 percent in a week.
- Microsoft reports “a very significant spike” in usage of Teams, the collaboration component of Office 365 suite. As of mid-March, the service had 44 million daily users, who generated over 900 million meeting and calling minutes on Teams daily in a single week.
“We believe that this sudden, globe-spanning move to remote work will be a turning point in how we work and learn,” said Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365. “Already, we are seeing how solutions that enable remote work and learning across chat, video, and file collaboration have become central to the way we work. It’s very clear that enabling remote work is more important than ever, and that it will continue to have lasting value beyond the COVID-19 outbreak.”
Temporary Restrictions in Cloud Growth
Despite the significant increase in demand, Microsoft said it has not had any significant service disruptions. It acknowledged that it was seeing slightly higher reports of deployment failures in some Azure regions. “Although the majority of deployments still succeed, we have a process in place to ensure that customers that encounter repeated issues receive relevant mitigation options,” the company said.
Microsoft said it is closely monitoring its capacity and usage, and restricting some new deployments, primarily in free service tiers.
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“We’re implementing a few temporary restrictions designed to balance the best possible experience for all of our customers,” the Azure team said. “We have placed limits on free offers to prioritize capacity for existing customers. We also have limits on certain resources for new subscriptions. If requests cannot be met immediately, we recommend customers use alternative regions (of our 54 live regions) that may have less demand surge. To manage surges in demand, we will expedite the creation of new capacity in the appropriate region.”
That Means More Data Centers
Microsoft is one of the largest players in the market for data center services. It often builds its own data centers, but in recent years has begun leasing wholesale space from data center developers, who specialize in deploying new capacity quickly.
“We are expediting the addition of significant new capacity that will be available in the weeks ahead,” Microsoft said.
Microsoft is not alone in accelerating plans to add data center capacity. Amazon Web Services, the largest cloud computing provider, has applied for fast track planning permission to build three more data centers in Northern Virginia, the focal point for its global cloud.
But the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has created challenges for data center construction. Facebook has halted construction at many of its data center campuses following reports that workers at its Clonee, Ireland site were being tested for Coronavirus.
In the meantime, Microsoft says it will continue to prioritize support for critical health and safety organizations. These include:
- First Responders (fire, EMS, and police dispatch systems)
- Emergency routing and reporting applications
- Medical supply management and delivery systems
- Applications to alert emergency response teams for accidents, fires, and other issues
- Healthbots, health screening applications, and websites.
- Health management applications and record systems