Suddenly Essential Infrastructure Cloud Computing Resources at the Forefront of the COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic sent hundreds of millions of students home worldwide. Work from home is now the only option for many. In this crisis, cloud companies suddenly are the backbone of a global virtual learning and collaboration experiment on a scale never previously experienced. While the Internet backbone has long been a lifeline and reached over half the world’s population in 2019, without scalable cloud services, the current disaster would be unimaginably worse.Fortunately, cloud companies are weathering the pandemic stress-test caused by the sudden spike in workloads and waves of new, inexperienced users. Microsoft reports a 775% spike in cloud services demand from COVID-19.[1] The order of magnitude demand surge has led Microsoft to prioritize COVID-19-related workloads, and place tighter caps on its free cloud service offerings for new users, and admit that its 99.99% uptime availability target has not been maintained at all times and places through the outbreak. But while there have been incidents, there have been no major cloud outages attributable to the pandemic. Basically, for the cloud, COVID-19 is just a busy day at the virtual office. In fact, cloud companies’ confidence in their ability to scale even further to support many more users forced to work and learn from home is so great, that some are offering free collaboration and conferencing services for those impacted by COVID-19, including some promising free services for the remainder of 2020.[2] However, gaps in the multiple layers of cyber and physical infrastructure required to access cloud services are increasingly evident, particularly for low-income families and poorly connected regions, and the suddenly unemployed. Education and training gaps are also exacerbated. Still, the fact that the cloud is working so well will inform future discussions about the ways that cyberphysical infrastructure, the nature of work, learning, and healthcare across the world will co-evolve.  As will its failures, not least in the potential deadly consequences of cyberattacks when under quarantine. Predictably, the growth of cloud -dependence- for daily life has led to an explosion of cybersecurity incidents.

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