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On the shoulders of giants: recent changes in Internet traffic


3 min read

As the COVID-19 emergency continues and an increasing number of cities and countries are establishing quarantines or cordons sanitaire, the Internet has become, for many, the primary method to keep in touch with their friends and families. And it's a vital motor of the global economy as many companies have employees who are now working from home.

Traffic towards video conferencing, streaming services and news, e-commerce websites has surged. We've seen growth in traffic from residential broadband networks, and a slowing of traffic from businesses and universities.

The Cloudflare team is fully operational and the Network Operating Center (NOC) is watching the changing traffic patterns in the more than 200 cities in which we operate hardware.

Big changes in Internet traffic aren't unusual. They often occur around large sporting events like the Olympics or World Cup, cultural events like the Eurovision Song Contest and even during Ramadan at the breaking of the fast each day.

The Internet was built to cope with an ever changing environment. In fact, it was literally created, tested, debugged and designed to deal with changing load patterns.

Over the last few weeks, the Cloudflare Network team has noticed some new patterns and we wanted to share a few of them with you.

Entire countries are watching their leaders

Last Friday evening, the US President announced a State of Emergency in the United States. Not so long after, our US data centers served 20% more traffic than usual. The red line shows Friday, the grey lines the preceding days for comparison.

On the Sunday, March 15, the Dutch government announced on the radio at 1730 local time closures of the non-essential business (1630 UTC). A sharp dip in the regular Sunday traffic followed:

The French president made two national announcements, on March 12 (pink curve) and March 16 (red curve) at 2000 local time (1900 UTC). The lockdown announcement on March 16 caused French traffic to dip by half followed by a spike:

Evolution of traffic in quarantine

Italy has seen a 20-40% increase in daily traffic since the lockdown:

With universities closing, some national research networks are remaining (almost) as quiet as a weekend (in purple). Current day in red and previous days in grey (overlaps with previous week):

The Internet Exchange Points, a key part of the Internet infrastructure, where Internet service providers and content providers can exchange data directly (rather than via a third party) have also seen spikes in traffic. Many provide public traffic graphs.

In Amsterdam (AMS-IX), London (LINX) and Frankfurt (DE-CIX), around 10-20% increase is seen around March 9th:

In Milan (MXP-IX), the Exchange point shows a 40% increase on Wednesday, 9th of March 2020, the day of the quarantine:

In Asia, in Hong Kong (HKIX), we can observe a faster increase since the end of January which likely corresponds to the Hubei lockdown on the January 23:

The emergency has a non-negligible impact on Internet services and our lives. Although it is difficult to quantify exactly the increase, we observe numbers from 10% to 40% depending on the region and the state of government action in those regions.

Even though from time to time individual services, such as a web site or an app, have outages the core of the Internet is robust. Traffic is shifting from corporate and university networks to residential broadband, but the Internet was designed for change.

Check back on the Cloudflare blog for further updates and insights.

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Louis Poinsignon|@lpoinsig

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