From handshakes to virtual ‘hellos’

Yee May Leong, managing director of Equinix South Asia, discusses how event planners need to scale their digital infrastructure – the most vital component for virtual events – accordingly to properly support business conferences

the trend for global virtual events and how this has resulted in a huge strain on existing IT infrastructures

In-person company and industry conferences have certainly taken a hit as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a sector that is dependent on bringing international audiences together in a physical space, the pandemic has forced many to rethink their business models.

However, the good news is foundational unified communications and collaboration (UCC) and content delivery technologies already existed to make the transition from in-person to online conferences.

Nonetheless, the shift from in-person to online events has not always been seamless. The digital infrastructure for these types of virtual venues requires the need to scale communication backbones quickly to support what is turning out to be a new reality for business conferences.

The trend for global virtual events has resulted in a huge strain on existing IT infrastructures

Virtual events are exploding as is their digital infrastructures
The global virtual events market size was valued by Grand View Research at US$77.98 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.2 per cent from 2020 to 2027.

For example, the fifth edition of the Singapore FinTech Festival (SFF) last year reportedly attracted more than 3.5 million session views on the online event platform and social media. Offering a hybrid experience, the latest edition of SFF was able to facilitate more business and virtual meetings that were conducted through the event’s technology platform, compared to previous years.

As virtual conference platforms experience unprecedented growth, it puts a huge strain on existing IT infrastructures. Virtual events can now extend over multiple days, and sometimes weeks, and feature different types of online interactions such as live presentations, streaming video, social media, break-out rooms, chat sessions, polls, virtual reality to hold onto attendees’ attention.

In an IDC Virtual Events Survey, published in May 2020, virtual event attendees ranked how they would like to be engaged during a virtual event. No surprise, the more interactive engagement methods, such as chatting with the speakers and participants, downloading presentations, polling and community discussions ranked the highest. It is also not a surprise that these are highly digital interactions.

As a result, the amount of additional bandwidth required to successfully deliver the various digital aspects of virtual events without any performance hiccups is constantly increasing. For example, high-definition (HD) video for a large virtual event needs a huge amount of bandwidth.

YouTube recommends that 13 Mb/s is used to stream 1080p HD content with other devices streaming on the same network. Multiply that by thousands of virtual conference participants trying to access that same video and if the video streaming technology is poor or fails during a live online-conference, then you’ll probably never virtually see those attendees again.

There are two types of online business events that require the same IT infrastructure modernisation and optimisation to succeed:

• Private corporate conferences need internal virtual private networks (VPNs) to be literally up-to-speed to securely interconnect thousands of distributed participants. For these types of events, network bandwidth capacity, resiliency and security are critical factors.

• Public vendor or industry events, where there is a “rolling thunder” of multiple activities over days or weeks, with participants from all over the world coming in over the public Internet, have the same requirements as private corporate conferences. However, these online venues require scalable IP peering among multiple internet service providers to boost bandwidth capacity for UCC, digital media providers and content delivery networks.

To keep private or public virtual event attendees engaged and happy, enterprises and online conference platform providers need to dynamically turn up the network, redundancy and security capabilities of their infrastructures to meet the burgeoning demand.

New year, new realities
According to the Global Interconnection Index (GXI) Vol. 4, an annual market study by Equinix, 70 per cent of new value created over the next decade will be based on digitally enabled business models. With Singapore ranked as the top Asia-Pacific meeting city on the annual International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA)’s global rankings for 18 consecutive years, business meetings and events – physical or virtual – will always be important for connections, driving business growth and economies forward.

Since October 1, 2020, event organisers can apply to pilot MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) events in Singapore, subject to attendance caps and the necessary approvals from the authorities. There are also robust Safe Management Measures (SMM) in place which event organisers are expected to strictly implement and enforce.

The year 2021 will be the year of transition as we welcome the golden age of events – a mix of physical, virtual, and hybrid events. With this in mind, we expect enterprises and online conference platform providers to leverage interconnection services to access thousands of network, cloud and content providers to successfully host virtual conferences for tens of thousands of participants per event, without a hitch.

Yee May Leong is Equinix’s managing director of South Asia. In this Singapore-based role, Leong leads the company’s business strategy in Singapore and Indonesia.

She joined Equinix in May 2019 with over 30 years of experience in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, holding senior management positions in technology companies including IBM, Lotus, F5 Networks and Orange Business Services, where she spearheaded the companies’ market growth and industry leadership in the Asia-Pacific region.

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