Raise your gloved hand if you’re more than a little curious about what life will be like when we’re allowed to venture outside and the phrase, “Who was that masked man?” will no longer refer to your neighbor Frank. If you’re reading this with your hand pointed skyward, you’re not alone — but, you may want to put it down before your family starts to think the whole quarantine thing has finally broken you. 

In light of COVID-19 experiences, the frequent comparison of data centers to 19th century railroads proves to be extremely limited in scope. A more accurate comparison would be to the telecom switching gear. In other words, the purpose is foundational rather than transactional. Without data centers, there is no internet or at least not the one we know of today.

Although we have always tacitly understood the importance of data centers, the coronavirus has shined a light on just how much we rely on their ongoing operation, as they support all industries, including those considered to be essential. And as much as we would all like to return to the halcyon days pre-COVID, the economic and societal changes that will follow in the disease’s wake will only intensify the need for reliable data center capacity.

For many of you out there, the phrase “returning to work” won’t look a lot different than your current state of affairs, and “Zoom” has become a verb. Social media use will only become more prevalent as the phrase “social distancing” evolves into a euphemism for alienation.

In terms of industries, such as gaming or applications like content delivery, the experience gathered during our prolonged period of self-isolation can also be expected to jump-start edge-related planning and implementation. While the ability to accurately estimate future traffic patterns and usage volume may remain imprecise, a pandemic factor may now become part of existing capacity planning algorithms moving forward. All of these elements will blend to create a boost for expanding current architectures closer to end-user communities more rapidly than previously projected.

As we reflect on this period of disease and restriction, many lessons regarding the way we live, work, and entertain ourselves will emerge. For many, the internet will become their primary mode of societal interaction; for others, the tether to their office-bound comrades; and, for a growing majority, the conduit to how we occupy our idle time. Although data centers are the foundation upon which the internet rests, COVID-19 has demonstrated the reliance on them isn’t limited to the needs of each provider’s customers but rather collectively, in terms of the applications they provide and the end users they support. In short, it is not hyperbolic to say that data centers fall within the classification of the most essential of essential services.