In countries where the novel coronavirus has disrupted daily life, the digital phone's been ringing off the hook.
That news comes directly from Mark Zuckerberg who, on a Wednesday conference call regarding Facebook's response to COVID-19, told members of the press that the voice call volume for WhatsApp and Messenger in Italy, and other countries significantly affected by the coronavirus is more than double normal levels.
Presumably, people are relying on virtual communication and socialization more now since they're under quarantine or practicing social distancing in their homes. That has jacked up the amount of data flowing through Facebook's servers.
In response, Facebook has had to beef up its infrastructure and capacity of its servers, noting that it has already doubled the server capacity for WhatsApp. Zuckerberg said Facebook must continue to plan and build for even more strain on its infrastructure in case the coronavirus spreads more widely around the world in countries whose citizens rely on WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram as their primary means of communication.
"This isn’t a massive outbreak in the majority of countries around the world yet," Zuckerberg said. "But if it gets there, then we really need to make sure we’re on top of this from an infrastructure perspective to make sure that things don’t melt down."
Zuckerberg specifically referenced WhatsApp call volume in Italy, where the country remains on lockdown to prevent the further spread of coronavirus. He explained that the "normal spike" for call volume occurs on New Year's Eve.
"We are on a sustained basis well beyond what that spike is on New Year’s," Zuckerberg said. "Just making sure that we can manage that is the challenge that we're trying to make sure that we can stay in front of."
That's presented a new challenge for Facebook employees whose job it is to maintain infrastructure. Facebook's recommended work-from-home policy goes into effect Thursday. However, Zuckerberg said that among the employees who would remain in offices filling essential roles are those in charge of managing servers and security. He likened the people who had to stay at work to first responders in a crisis.
That might certainly be the case if communication is our first line of defense.