Think for a moment what it was like to play in the waves at the beach when you were a kid. You would wade out into the ocean, maybe holding hands with a friend or sibling, and boldly throw yourself against the surging water. It was thrilling and fun.
When you track data traffic over time, it can also look like waves on an ocean, and when it spikes unexpectedly, it can also be thrilling. Overall, the “ocean” of data traffic has been rising as global social distancing strategies, such as remote work arrangements or online classes, take hold. With most of the world’s population staying at home, CenturyLink’s Content Delivery Network (CDN) has seen increased traffic levels across its global footprint over the past month.
With an estimated capacity of more than 120 Tbps and 120 PoPs globally, CenturyLink has the underlining muscle to handle a steady growth of new traffic. The expertise behind robust networks lies in handling both the steady stream and riding the big waves. Many of the most recent “spikes” stem from fundamental changes in the gaming industry’s business model.
“The global response to the COVID-19 virus has created a massive captive audience for certain industries, such as gaming,” says Bill Wohnoutka, Vice President of Internet & Content Delivery Services at CenturyLink. “At the same time, we are seeing a radical shift in marketing by major game distributors, who are now expanding their audiences for highly popular franchise titles by making them ‘free-to-play’ and ‘free-for-everyone’ downloads.”
Although this new approach by the gaming industry began prior to the pandemic, it has accelerated over the last few months. Several recent global launches caused significant strains for cloud-based delivery systems as downloads took place simultaneously across all geographies and multiple devices. Wohnoutka notes that most of these surprise traffic spikes can be avoided through simple cooperation and communication.
“One of the true positives to come out of this crisis has been a growing willingness of gaming companies and networking providers to work together to create a good user experience,” he says. “It can be as simple as working with marketing people to refine the timing of their product launches, expediting network capacity augments between the networks, or the use of different software-defined traffic controllers to reduce network consumption.”
Traffic spikes can come from other sources as well. Not surprisingly, considering how many people are following dictates to stay at home, CenturyLink has seen growth in daytime access of popular content providers. In March, government announcements on European TV concerning COVID-19 led to traffic demand 12 times higher than what was necessary to support one of the most notable global sporting events.
CenturyLink conducts regular planning exercises with customers, peers and internal stakeholders to ensure optimal CDN performance. By staying proactive, CenturyLink can plan capacity augments, work with customers to execute appropriate CDN strategies, and deploy the right technology to ensure a positive customer service.
In the meantime, the “wave” of the future for gaming has already arrived.
“We expect elevated levels from gaming downloads will be here to stay, as well as the long-range strategies that we have put into place to meet demand after the COVID crisis is behind us,” says Wohnoutka.