I try to think outside the box at times. Perhaps a bad habit, waste of cycles.
This is a quick note with some thoughts (crystal ball time). Possibly provocative or gloomy.
Starting point: COVID started some shifts, U.S. or other politics may also start to be a factor, and climate change may also play a role. What will those shifts mean for networking?
What triggered this: PacketPushers reposted a 2020 article about impacts of COVID: https://packetpushers.net/possible-impacts-of-covid-19-on-data-networking/. Looks like Greg Ferro got it right!
That somehow got mixed in my head with my doom scrolling on Twitter and this got me thinking …
The main focus here will be WFH (Work From Home). NetCraftsmen’s John Cavanaugh provided some commentary (included).
Impact #1: Impact of WFH on workers (at least for “knowledge workers”).
We’ve already assimilated some of this.
- Actual geolocation matters less. Cheaper real-estate, not having to commute, better use of staff time, better quality of life.
- Hands-on network (etc.) staff, not so much. Perhaps use local remote hands with video supervision?
- If you’re not 100% WFH, well, you’re stuck “near” where your office is.
- John’s counterpoint is you need to be near an office – not necessarily the office where you originally started
- Service workers and other industries: yes, a lot of people will still have to live near where they work, and commute, since physical presence is required. I have no answer to that.
- Neither does John – but I have seen automated fast-food restaurants and automated check outs at stores where the number of employees is minimized
- If you’re not 100% WFH, well, you’re stuck “near” where your office is.
Impact #2: Impact on companies: Will campus networks dwindle? Maybe survive for HQ and hot desking/meeting offices?
This is to some degree already happening. Will the trend accelerate?
- Costs are lower for workers not having to commute, also better use of their time.
- Office space is costly.
- “I need to see their faces to manage them” may decline with experience?
- Climate change is helped by not burning fuel for commutes.
- Flip side of that: good mass transit economics change for the worse when there are too few riders. If schedule gets cut back, it becomes inconvenient.
- Control, or deemed need for control of employees.
- John thinks managers that need to physically monitor employees need to learn new management toolsets and adopt a collaboration mindset.
- Security gets harder. But that was happening in other ways as well?
- Real need for people in an office?
- Pete can’t think of one. Well, meeting people you’re going to be working with.
- John thinks this is useful for new employees (at least until collaboration toolsets become ubiquitous).
- Ad hoc meetings and socializing do have value. It is hard to hang out over lunch when remote. Let alone very remote (i.e., geographically too remote to easily meet).
- NetCraftsmen is in the process of learning on that front. Regional meetings, covering the cost of travel to annual meetings, etc.
Possible Impact #3: How does remote access/WFH interact with U.S politics? (Controversial topic alert!)
- I’m thinking some companies want might to have a HQ in a blue state to not get their hands tied on benefits.
- Counter-argument: red state HQ might well save on benefits costs (but good luck recruiting?).
- One thing WFH does (to some extent) is frees up people to move. Like swapping a red state home for blue state, or vice versa. Yes, relative home prices could be a factor, as could taxes, etc. Being near relatives and in-laws, assuming you’re not trying to get away from them. Thus, any such effect may be somewhat muted. Or not, if “blue” people move out of “red” states, or vice versa. Political impact if that happens is outside my present scope, could clearly lead to further divisiveness.
Possible Impact #4: Depending on new variants of COVID, etc., WFH may be a critical corporate continuity factor.
- Many DR plans for WFH were initially developed after the SARS outbreak in 2003. This was the first time corporate strategy considered a pandemic as a disaster. Those companies that looked at SARS in 2003 fared better than those who had no plans for a pandemic in 2020.
- The new variants are coming faster than new vaccines. And spread more easily. So, what companies need to do in response may go through another learning curve. Or periods of WFH.
- Larger geographic spread and WFH reduced exposure may help companies ride out geographic virus surges, especially if staff mask and take precautions when outside the home.
- WFH also enables working while quarantined (if not brain fogged/severely ill).
- It also is looking like repeated infections can lead to increasingly bad symptoms and/or worse long COVID. Hard data on these is not available yet. My crystal ball is cloudy on the impact of this. The data may never be clean enough for evidence-based medical advice on the subject, which may leave desired to WFH up to individual choice. Will businesses accommodate that? Probably to various degrees?
- Depending on experience with repeated infection severity and long COVID risks, WFH could become almost essential to not getting re-infected. But I would hope that’s a gloom and doom scenario!
Possible Impact #5: If you think about climate- or politically- induced problems (power, cooling, heat, flooding), localized quasi-military or terror disturbances:
- WFH provides a distributed target, better survivability? How distributed – U.S. regions, international? Broadly speaking, distributed could be harder to protect.
- Versus distributed offices? Seems like that comes down to WAN/fiber plant versus road network survivability. Are fiber repairs faster/easier than road repairs? (I’d guess yes.)
- Power grid could be a problem either way, as it appears it could take a long time to manufacture, ship, and replace some components, as in months to years perhaps (e.g., that is my impression re large transformers). News about Ukraine doesn’t seem to be discussing that. The power grid could be in effect a distributed target, hard to defend. I sure hope that doesn’t happen. WFH at least distributes the potential impact?
For data centers, what comes to mind is location may be impacted by laws reducing privacy and requiring government access to data. But that’s only indirectly WFH.
Disaster Recovery (DR) and WFH
John Cavanaugh pointed out that good connectivity to staff is something to think about. The ISPs etc. that connect your company to CoLos and cloud sites may well NOT be the ones that your staff connect via (since they mostly use broadband services). And if local interconnections between broadband services and the “long-haul” (data big pipe) ISPs are poor, WFH VPN may not work well. Or may not work well under disaster loading conditions.
Having said that, WFH somewhat pre-tests that, doesn’t it?
Some DR History
Things have really changed. I recall doing an assessment a while back and discussing why the DR plans for an organization revolved around 2 shifts of 150 “important” staff out of 1,000 at a managed data center or multiple such, and how that wouldn’t work if other customers of the data center also were in DR mode. And how they should be enough remote access VPN licenses for all, especially if the emergency meant staff couldn’t drive to the data center(s).
After COVID, our perspectives flipped, and “why would you want people NOT working from home, you’d have to feed them, provide a place to sleep, food, etc.”
Well, that ended up a bit gloomy. Being risk-averse does tend to focus on risk though.
I do hope the above stimulates your thoughts.
I do sometimes wonder who inflicted the curse “may you live in interesting times” on us!