The increase in sustained Internet traffic brought about by coronavirus lockdown measures has led to speculation infrastructure might crumble under the burden.
Although cloud-based services (such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams) have experienced outages - likely as a result of increased traffic - and broadband providers have suffered blips in service, the UK is yet to experience significant downtime outside of usual margins.
TechRadar Pro spoke to network monitoring firm ThousandEyes about the performance of UK Internet infrastructure, the challenges facing internet service providers (ISPs) and how the pandemic might affect Internet services going forward.
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The company detects network performance issues by actively probing networks from thousands of vantage points around the globe. It takes billions of measurements each day, detecting instances in which traffic is terminating within ISPs and the networks of public cloud providers, UCaaS providers, and edge service providers.
According to ThousandEyes, this outage detection mechanism is highly specific, enabling isolation of traffic termination incidents down to the interfaces of the infrastructure involved.
How do you set about detecting outages?
ThousandEyes detects network performance issues (including outages) through active network probing from vantage points around the globe. The resultant network telemetry data covers latency, packet loss and other key performance indicators.
While packet loss of any level can be potentially disruptive to users, ThousandEyes defines an outage as an incident involving 100% packet loss, where traffic completely terminates at some point within a network.
Since lockdown measures were introduced, how would you assess the performance of UK Internet infrastructure?
The performance of Internet infrastructure in the UK has been varied over the course of lockdown, but generally speaking, it has held up well.
When compared globally, UK outages have remained low overall, standing at 21 in the first week of lockdown, with the second week rising to 28. A significant reduction was seen in the third week with only 10 outages, before we observed a slight increase in the fourth week with 13.
How is UK Internet faring in comparison to other countries?
About a third of all outages in the first quarter this year occurred in EMEA. Although the duration and scope of many of the outages suggest they were the result of network operators optimising performance as traffic levels increased, we have also seen a clear spike in outages among collaboration app network providers, including video conferencing services.
Comparatively speaking, the UK’s Internet has fared well. We saw outages spike in mid-March, but when a second global elevation occurred in early April, the UK was minimally affected.
What kind of damage was caused by the recent outages you identified?
The impact of outages can vary depending on location, time of day, and scope of the outage. In general, when Tier 1 ISPs, broadband providers, and large transit providers experience outages, the impact of consumers and business can be significant.
The recent Tata Communications outage had far-reaching implications geographically, as did last week’s CenturyLink outage, which caused Merrill Lynch to publicly report on disruptions to its brokerage business. Many other large businesses experienced service disruption throughout the outage. Taken together, the financial impact may well have been in the millions of dollars.
What have been the primary causes of outages in recent weeks?
Outages can occur for many different reasons, including infrastructure failure, fibre cut, and configuration error, making them hard to predict.
Throughout March, as traffic usage increased to support remote work, online school and leisure activities, the duration and scope of network outages has increased compared to pre-coronavirus. These characteristics aren’t consistent with congestion related outages. Instead, they suggest increased traffic engineering activity by network operators — likely to address increased traffic usage.
What are the greatest challenges currently facing ISPs?
Overall, ISPs have performed well given dramatically increased network usage. As traffic volumes increased, many reported an increase in requests for bandwidth and connectivity from their customers and peers. Responding to a large number of service requests may have posed a challenge for some providers.
ISPs are also under greater scrutiny, given the dependence that users now have on the Internet. Even issues unrelated to network usage, such as fibre cuts, can bring an unwelcome spotlight.
Outages are, however, an inevitability even under normal Internet conditions, and sound network strategy and operations will continue to be the best methods to limit their occurrence.
Do you anticipate any changes to the way services are consumed going forward?
The overnight transition to a remote workforce and customer base has made one thing very clear for a lot of enterprises - they’re reliant on a well-functioning Internet to power all of those online services and applications that are core to employee and consumer experiences.
Going forward, we may see a change in the way businesses invest in and consume some Internet services. ISPs may also examine their service and investment prioritisation given the heavy utilisation of consumer networks.
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The AMD Ryzen 9 3950X is a behemoth when it comes to sheer computing power; its 16 cores and 32 threads will power through any task you’ll throw at it with aplomb. A tantalizing prospect for professionals looking for a desktop replacement alternative. With a base clock of 3.5GHz and a staggering 73MB cache, it’s almost a miracle that it has a TDP (power dissipation) of 105W.
German notebook vendor Schenker has integrated this beast of a CPU in its latest XMG APEX 15 notebook which carries a starting price of 1,958 Euros including tax but excluding shipping costs (around US$2,130, AU$3,277, £1,704). Note that the link is a bit temperamental and times out often.
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The Clevo-source chassis comes with a 144Hz full HD IPS display, an Nvidia Geforce RTX 2060 with 6GB GDDR6, 8GB Kingston memory, a 250GB Kingston A2000 SSD, Bluetooth 5.0, two-year pick-and-return warranty but no operating system.
105W is quite a big amount of power to dissipate so, the 3950X will run in an eco mode which will drop the base speed via the Ryzen Master software (and possibly in the BIOS) to offer about three-quarters of its performance while consuming 44% less power.
That brings up another interesting question; would it be better to buy a cheaper 12 or 8-core CPU instead that comes with a 65W TDP by default?
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The word ‘unprecedented’ has been used a lot in recent weeks by different authors when talking about the ongoing pandemic - and it’s rather apt. In the UK at least, we have experienced no national crisis or event in living memory that compares. We are in uncharted territory, and as a nation are having to work together to flatten the curve of infection and lessen the pressure on our NHS.
While the coming months look to be challenging for business owners, early indications suggest that the picture is slightly rosier for a lot of fintechs. For example, DeVere reported a 72% increase in usage and, staggeringly, UK startup Glint App recorded a 718% increase in online gold purchases. Business is booming, and it seems that fintech companies, far from being in trouble, may well be one of the few kinds of business to emerge from the pandemic in a better position.
Given all of this, I would go so far as to say it is the duty of fintech companies to look at how we can best support other businesses through the difficult months ahead. Understandably, business owners are in distress due to the economic downturn of the last few weeks. In particular, the self-employed will need guidance and now is the time for fintechs to step up. Here are just a few ways in which fintechs could assist:
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Continue to employ contractors
Times are definitely tough and the argument to reduce costs would make sense in normal circumstances. However, if your bottom line is not in immediate jeopardy, why not continue to give work to the contractors already under your employment and ensure important projects continue?
With millions at risk of falling through the government’s safety net and just under a million people having applied for Universal Credit in the last two weeks of March, you could be saving them a lot of heartache and stress, as well as taking pressure off an already overburdened benefits system.
Realise the benefits of remote working
Unless you’re running a hospital, supermarket or other business that requires in-person working, you should already have your team working remotely. Once the initial disruption has subsided, are there any plus sides to continuing with the new normal? Arguably yes - meetings tend to be shorter and overheads connected with keeping a building open will be lower or even non-existent.
Furlough instead of letting go
The government has rolled out a new package of help for businesses to take away the need to let go of their staff. If your business activity has dropped or stopped completely due to the coronavirus, the government has provided means for you to continue paying your employees.
Be a great example of using tech to find solutions
If you’re the CEO of a fintech, chances are you already know your way around VPN and Zoom. Don’t assume that everybody is as clued up as you and be willing to share your knowledge with other companies who may be just getting started.
Consider payment holidays
If you are providing a subscription service to businesses, contractors or self-employed people, consider whether you can offer struggling clients a break from payments for a few months. After all, if your client goes out of business, they won’t be able to pay you anyway, in which case nobody wins.
Use your clout to effect change
If you happen to be running a successful business, you can be a powerful voice to help others. Consider reaching out to your local MP to lobby on behalf of businesses and the self-employed, both in your area and beyond. You could also team up with other businesses in your network and speak up together. We need a better deal for those people in danger of falling through the cracks because when it comes to a national emergency such as the one we’re currently experiencing, we really are all in it together.
Darren Fell is CEO and founder of Crunch
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A brand we’ve never heard of before has come up with a product we’ve never seen before. Maxtang from Aliexpress sells a mini PC that runs on an embedded AMD Ryzen chip - the V1605B - with four, yes four, DisplayPort connectors. We don’t know any other PC that offers this, let alone something that doesn’t require a separate display card or as small as this box.
This Maxtang thin client costs as little as $410.92 from Aliexpress after a $3 coupon. That price is for the barebone model and note that this device ships without any operating system or Wi-Fi module. Other RAM/Storage bundles are available. Please check the website.
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Exact prices after the discount in other territories will vary depending on the day’s exchange rate. Aliexpress ships to most territories worldwide via expedited shipping although you may be levied additional charges and fees by customs.
The Ryzen V1605B has four cores, eight threads, 4MB cache and a Vega 8 GPU. That makes it similar to a Ryzen 5 2500U and, according to the popular Passmark benchmark, faster than the Intel Core i5-10210U, which has a similar 15W TDP.
Other than the four display connectors (all capable of outputting to 4K), the thin client has two audio connectors, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, eight USB ports (but no Type-C) and supports two DDR4 SODIMM modules. You can add one M2 SSD and one SATA drive (SSD or HDD) as well.
It weighs a mere 1kg and measures only 18x18.2x3.7cm - that’s just over 1,200cc!
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Businesses around the world have turned to video conferencing software such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams as a means to hold meetings during the coronavirus outbreak but interacting with coworkers does prove somewhat difficult when behind a webcam.
This is why HTC has announced that the beta version of its remote collaboration and meeting platform for VR, VIVE Sync will be available free of charge for businesses and remote employees during the pandemic.
VIVE Sync, from first-party developer 2 Bears Studio and HTC, supports up to 30 attendees simultaneously and features full body tracking so that participant's personally created avatars can communicate using their actual body language.
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The platform also supports Tobii eye tracking, which is embedded in headsets such as the VIVE Pro Eye, for more natural lifelike interactions with virtual colleagues or clients.
Working with your company's files in VR is also easy as Sync integrates with Microsoft OneDrive and OneDrive for business and supports many popular file formats from PowerPoints to PDFs to videos.
However, one of the biggest advantages that VIVE Sync offers is the ability to work with 3D content in VR. Instead of looking at 3D models on a 2D screen as you would with other video conferencing services, Sync lets you bring them into your virtual space and review them together with your team. The software supports FBX and OBJ files, as well as Unity Asset Bundles, which makes it easy to upload, import and review all of your 3D assets.
If you and your team have access to VR headsets and have grown tired of staring at a screen all day long, you can test VIVE Sync out for yourself for free beginning on April 30.
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