One or two parents required to work from home, online learning for the children, and even recreation all consist of streaming media of some sort. For more secure work, VPN is often the norm. Can all aspects of the internet handle the traffic?

In the current circumstances of home-centric everything, internet service traffic has skyrocketed in both professional and recreational spheres. The streaming service Netflix, for example, saw an unprecedented gain of 15.8 million subscribers for the first quarter of 2020. In my own region of Seattle and Washington State, internet traffic is up considerably – 30% to 40% higher than in January of this year. In response, local service providers such as Comcast and T-Mobile have waived their bandwidth caps, at least in the short term. One of their concerns is this stress test of the “last-mile” services – the modems, routers and other components of home networks.

SMB protocol is more relevant than ever for shared content access

Besides the need for high throughput – or high transfer speeds – another concern is secure access to shared files, and this is where networking protocols come in. Home routers connect to the enterprise local area network (LAN), often through VPN. Many workers staying at home connect through individual paths to a few enterprise servers, and Server Message Block (SMB) is the protocol that allows the sharing of the common files they need to do their jobs.

SMB servers can be open source solutions or proprietary implementations. The most commonly used implementation is called Samba, a helpful open-source alternative. Tuxera maintains its own proprietary implementation – Fusion File Share by Tuxera – with commercial-grade SMB features and enhancements that will handle the current stresses content providers and enterprises are facing during the COVID-19 epidemic – multiple users accessing the same content over the network.

Scalability is critical when countless organizations have switched to remote work

The key measurement for the current situation is scalability, because these network protocols need to provide files to more than just a few people – we’re talking 10s, 100s, even 1000s in the case of a large global enterprise such as a banking or medical institution. Companies are worried if their storage solutions can handle all the load of remote work. When an entire company hits the shared file at once, will all their requests get through without serious delay or even critical failures?

Increased loads have shown Samba can easily max out CPU and memory usage at 100%. This illustrates the challenges facing SMB protocols in today’s crisis. While Samba can be tuned to handle speed issues, implementing proper security and scalability measures unfortunately demands more human and infrastructure resources, increasing costs.

Final thoughts

The increased networking demands we’ve discussed place significant stress on widely used SMB services, with results felt across multiple industries, from banks to medical institutions. These disruptions can put organizations that are integral to societal function at risk. What’s worse, these risks are exacerbated given the uncertain nature of the current pandemic. This wasn’t the use case that most network solution providers envisioned, but this is where we are today. Networking protocols that are sluggish and unreliable are simply unacceptable in a world that requires rapid data access.

Thankfully, solutions do exist to help network providers easily tackle speed and scalability in SMB. Latency and client overload are something Tuxera has tested for in SMB networking events for years, and we stand proudly behind our solution.

But regardless of the solution chosen, network service providers must evaluate how they can stay prepared for the scalability and security needs of the crisis today – as well as the needs of tomorrow.