Spark, New Zealand’s largest telco, says “capacity on demand” allowed it to adapt to a huge workload change it had not anticipated when customers stayed home during the pandemic. Spark says the strategy is also helping it reduce its environmental impact.

Typical peak traffic times for Spark are around 9pm, when New Zealanders are at home, using services like Netflix. It can be a challenge but one that is reasonably predictable, according to the telco. But the traffic patterns changed almost overnight when New Zealand enacted one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, asking citizens to stay home as much as possible to eradicate the virus. 

“That shifted completely during [to] the day when we had work from home scenarios all across the country,” Spark’s head of IT infrastructure, Siddharth Kumar said today on a panel discussion for VMware customers. 

“We could see peak traffic not during night but during the daytime. And that’s when you know the decisions that we took some time back around capacity on demand – how do we scale out all of that [infrastructure] – started paying back.”

“Because we could spin up infrastructure as needed for a variety of workloads. 

Spark uses VMware for infrastructure as a service and virtual computing. It allows organisations to use IT resources on demand as workloads are required rather than owning the physical equipment and potentially unused capacity.

New Zealand’s physical telecommunications infrastructure held up well during the mass migration to working from home. New Zealanders enjoy a sophisticated fibre network, with access available to most consumers. 

Australians will need to wait several more years and spend billions more to achieve that coverage but a recent fibre upgrade announcement suggests that is now coming after a decade of toxic political debate.

“I think fibre is a key to any national infrastructure. Absolutely,” Kumar told Which-50. “The businesses, schools, they will absolutely rely on fibre as much as they can.”

The IT Infrastructure lead said Spark’s partners’ roll out of fibre connections had increased in New Zealand during the pandemic.

But he also noted fibre must come as part of a multi-pronged approach to ensure all citizens have access to a national network, including wireless broadband and 5g, adding the next generation of mobile connectivity will be a “huge change”.

Sustainability benefits

Kumar says using more IaaS has helped lessen Spark’s carbon footprint.

“We consume a huge amount of power from our devices, from radio networks [and] managing them. So that’s a huge [challenge] for us.”

Kumar explained Spark has adopted a dual approach to sustainability: reducing consumption where possible and reusing any resource it can.

For example, Kumar said legacy IT systems are especially poor for power consumption and any off-lining of them in favour of more modern cloud systems typically has a net positive effect. 

“Legacy systems are one of the biggest consumers of power in the data centres. And as we exit them, we reduce our carbon footprint.”

Spark also reuses IT hardware wherever possible, Kumar says, explaining the telco has donated more than 1500 laptops to schools and underserved communities as well as recycling servers and desktops wherever possible.

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