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Can the Internet handle traffic in an H1N1 pandemic?

By Michael Cooney
October 27, 2009 10:41 AM ET

Network World - While sounding a bit like Chicken Little, federal government watchdogs today said that an H1N1 pandemic could cause a significant increase in the use of the Internet by students and teleworkers that would create serious network access congestion. Such problems may need to be fixed by government involvement or service providers limiting network access or by asking people to lay off the streaming videos for a while.

Congestion affecting home users is likely to occur because the parts of providers’ DSL, cable, satellite and other types of networks that provide Internet access from residential neighborhoods are not designed to carry all the potential traffic that users could generate in a particular neighborhood or that all connect to a particular aggregating device, a Government Accountability Office report looking at the impact of a pandemic on the Internet stated.

Internet congestion will be exacerbated by localities that may choose to close schools, whose students, confined at home, will likely look to the Internet for entertainment, including downloading or streaming videos, playing online games and engaging in potential activities that may consume large amounts of network capacity, the GAO stated.

Although predicting that the most severe congestion would occur within residential access networks, a study overseen by the Department of Homeland Security also noted that pandemic-related congestion was possible in other parts of the networks that make up the Internet, the GAO stated. The DHS is responsible for ensuring that critical telecommunications infrastructure stays up and running during periods of national duress.

For example, users could experience congestion at peering points where traffic is transferred between service providers because of potential differences in transmission capacity. Additionally, teleworkers connecting to their enterprise networks could overload various components of these networks, such as firewalls or servers that provide access to various applications because some businesses’ networks may not have scaled these devices to accommodate the anticipated increase in telecommuting traffic during a pandemic, the GAO stated.

Can service providers ease the pain? Maybe. Providers’ options for addressing expected pandemic-related Internet congestion include providing extra capacity, using network management controls, installing direct lines to organizations, temporarily reducing the maximum transmission rate, and shutting down some Internet sites. Each of these methods is limited either by technical difficulties or questions of authority, the GAO stated.

Providers said they would focus on ensuring services for the federal government priority communication programs and performing network management techniques to re-route traffic around congested areas in regional networks or the national backbone. However, these activities would likely not relieve congestion in the residential Internet access networks, the GAO stated.

Originally published on www.networkworld.com. Click here to read the original story.
Reprinted with permission from NetworkWorld.com. Story copyright 2012 Network World, Inc. All rights reserved.
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