We met with Tobias Schneider, Product Sales Specialist Central EMEA, following the recent release of our Internet Performance Report: COVID-19 Impact Edition, to get his perspective on how the Internet has held up during 2020, what’s the new normal for networks, and how we can adapt our infrastructure to be flexible enough to make smart decisions. “We see that the outages went up in Europe, which is not a surprise. Clients had limited visibility to figure out where the disruptions were localized. We also identified that outages in EMEA continue to increase month over month with 45% more disruptions in June versus January, marking June as a regional record in the number of outages when three-quarters of European office employees are heading back to the office. There is definitely a need to change in general to bring more network intelligence and autonomous networks.”
Since the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world, many organizations and individuals had to make extensive changes to employee working patterns. What have you observed and what has been the outlook for IT teams?
Tobias Schneider: During the first phase, when we entered the lockdown, we saw clients trying to rush to enable remote workers by extending their VPN licenses or switching to another VPN provider overnight. They also expanded their licenses for collaboration tools or they bought new collaboration tools they did not have before internally—and, in the background, they worked on the network to make sure the whole infrastructure was still connected to the headquarters. For example, Axel Springer observed a +1150% rise in phone calls for their employees the week after the lockdown in Germany. We are now in the second phase—the next normal, where organizations want to be more prepared if we have to face new lockdowns—where clients reconsider their approach to their network structure, security architecture and how to see outages and fix them if they happen. Back in March, we saw that the outages went up in Europe, which was not a surprise. The challenge was that clients had limited visibility to figure out where the disruptions were localized. It highlighted to organizations that there is a need to change, to bring more network intelligence and visibility to this new super distributed environment.
How did organizations adjust their digital and network resources overnight for remote workers?
Tobias Schneider: Firstly, there was no time for a strategic technology decision as they had 48 hours to adapt and deploy solutions. Most of them blew up their existing infrastructure or they switched very quickly to solutions they had already evaluated. They rolled it out, but they faced operational and performance issues—they did not know what the issues were as people were working from home. Were the disruptions related to the application, the Internet, the home office router, the laptop, the upgrade of VPN or ISP connectivity? It left the IT teams overwhelmed with support tickets from users who were not used to working remotely and did not have the proper infrastructure at home. How can you figure out that the Wi-Fi router of an employee is overloaded because his/her two kids are playing Minecraft all day long? You need data to troubleshoot and to provide you with visibility and insights into your users’ digital experiences from every cloud to every employee and customer.
The shift to working remotely was supposed to be for a limited time, but we see today that some organizations are giving employees the option to continue working remotely. What is the trend in Germany?
Tobias Schneider: Before the outbreak, it was well established in Germany that you had to go to the office. This was where you could be productive and collaborate efficiently, it was the culture. Remote working was very limited, Eurostat mentioned that only 5.2% of the Germans were working from home in 2019. Now, organizations, leadership teams and employees themselves have realized that productivity is increasing when you work from home, and you have a better work-life balance. Recent research from Zew showed that following the pandemic, 83% of the German information industry companies and 70% of the manufacturing companies are now aware that more activities are suitable for a home office than previously assumed. We are also uncertain about the future, remote working gives organizations more flexibility to manage employee safety in case of a new lockdown and also reduce their workspace costs. At the time we are speaking, the German government is planning to propose a bill to let employees work from home forever. It is important to mention that this proposition has not been voted and brings a lot of questions.
As many organizations are adopting new ways of working, what are the biggest priorities for the advanced IT architecture today and in the future?
Tobias Schneider: For many years, the perception was that you had access to better IT services in the office; however, that mindset has changed. This doesn’t mean the corporate office won’t exist, of course. In the upcoming years, the office will be transformed to remain open for employees who cannot work from home, or who need to collaborate on projects or welcome customers. In two years, the IT transformation projects will combine to focus across core offices, satellite offices and remote workers. IT projects will be delivered at the same time, which was not the case before the pandemic. The central office transformation projects are still on, and they are even accelerating. These will enable even more SaaS, Cloud and hybrid network migrations.
How about the adoption of public cloud?
Tobias Schneider: We are still conservative in Germany about the public cloud when it comes to storing sensitive information with external hosts and foreign cloud providers. However, we see more adoption since two years ago. Organizations like Siemens and Volkswagen have now moved some of their software applications to the public cloud. To stay competitive and grow today, you need to invest in a global cloud-first strategy.
People and applications are going to be more distributed than ever, what can be the requirements for visibility and insights?
Tobias Schneider: Your applications need to be as close as possible to the user. The main goal of IT is to provide safe and fast access to the applications the users and the business needs. So if the user can be anywhere, the only answer is to move to the cloud. Our Internet Performance Report proves that elasticity and availability are key for your applications’ stability. During a lockdown, when you are not allowed to (or have limited access to) go to the office or travel, it has an impact on the way you operate and manage your data center and hardware. For me, the cloud and its services enable you to be agile and proactive with your IT infrastructure and operations. You also need to have security, a network design and the visibility suited for cloud and a mobile-first world, where the Internet is the new corporate network. It leads to a whole network redesign with SD-WAN and security for the central office and public data center for your applications for remote access and office-based users.
You do not have a dedicated office, what can we learn from your experience?
Tobias Schneider: Today, the main problem is connectivity. Even when you have good connectivity, from time to time, you can have lower availability. And what happens when your video conferencing platform is not working, or you can’t access the productivity suite? It can be your platform provider, your provider’s ISP, your ISP or your laptop—but you’ll never know why it does not work properly and be able to fix it if you do not use an intelligence monitoring platform like ThousandEyes. Our platform gives you the visibility you need to fix the issue, save you time and increase your service availability and performance.
We cannot predict the future, but what will be the next responsibilities and priorities of the IT teams?
Tobias Schneider: To face the challenges brought on by COVID-19 in the future, organizations will have to adapt their new architectures to integrate SaaS applications, an Internet-first strategy and build a framework for network visibility. You’ll also need to understand the issues, figure out where they are and be part of the solution. ThousandEyes will help you to make the Internet and cloud work.