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The pandemic era has created a shift to a world where vast numbers of individuals are tuning in to work over Zoom or other collaborative platforms, traffic has increased massively and network footprints have had to expand to cover a remote workforce. While we can make educated assumptions about COVID-19’s impact on networking based on these facts, when it comes to IT infrastructure, there’s no better place to garner insights than straight from the experts.

Diving into this topic further, the Independent Data Center Alliance (IND-DCA), a consortium of global independent data center operators collaborating to create single-sourced solutions for buyers, presented a session at The 2020 INCOMPAS Show, which took place online from September 14-16, 2020. The panel, titled “Independent Data Center Operators Address Network Aggregation,” explored insights from operators about necessary changes to network aggregation points and services, interconnectivity, regional network partnerships and beyond. The panelists for this session included Tom Brown, CEO of DataGryd; Hugh Carspecken, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer for DartPoints; Phil Koblence, Co-Founder and COO of NYI; and Michael Morey, CEO of Bluebird Network and the Bluebird Underground Data Center. The panel was moderated by Peter Judge of DatacenterDynamics.

From the perspective of the edge, Carspecken kicks off the conversation by noting that what’s happening here with IT infrastructure in the midst of a pandemic is “a compelling event colliding with a paradigm shift.” In essence, data that has traditionally found its way through Tier 1 markets is now trying to find its way into more regional or often overlooked markets — especially as online learning becomes the ‘new norm’. This means networking customers are trying to make sure that they can deliver plenty of bandwidth and applications to their students, which now means a focus on the last mile. The network emphasis has shifted from commercial  and business focused networks to residential networks because Work from Home (WFH) and distance learning has shifted users from the office to their primary residence.

On the other end of this conversation, Brown speaks from the perspective of commercial real estate needs as viewed from his data center facility. What he reveals is that despite this paradigm shift, his facility in New York City has not remained idle. Instead, the data center has seen opportunities come into the funnel that otherwise may not have occurred. This has meant existing customers fortifying their computer infrastructure to take on the demand for more network capacity and speed — and, for many this was a reactional overnight pivot that.

Koblence, also from the New York City market with a colocation facility in Chicago, confirms that a lot of traffic is starting to come into the residential markets mentioned by Carspecken. In his eyes, it’s a natural progression that helps solve for the challenges of aggregation by allowing that traffic to stay as close to where it originates as possible. From his experience working with small and medium-sized businesses looking for high-touch solutions, Koblence reports a large shift from customers that have traditionally had a significant amount of infrastructure in their office that now has to be remotely accessed by all of their customers. So, shifting critical infrastructure that was in a commercial office into a data center environment or potentially deploying a cloud or hybrid cloud solution has been a major change here.

Morey has noticed this shift in infrastructure allocation first-hand. Having experienced the pandemic’s impact on network aggregation through Bluebird’s 10,000-mile fiber network throughout the Midwest. He harkens back to March, when the company experienced a huge jump in network utilization that has only continued on an upswing. This has been the overarching impact of the pandemic — increased utilization by companies and individuals needing to stay in touch with critical tasks, shared data, groups of people and more.

No matter the changing demand, discussions like these only highlight the fact that data center operators understand their crucial role in customer network enablement. It’s incumbent upon these providers to not only recognize changes across networking demands, but to create solutions that enable global transitions like the one we have recently seen.

To view the panel in its entirety, please click here.