Videoconferencing software company Zoom is providing schools with its technology for free as more schools have shut down because of the Coronavirus, Forbes reports. Zoom has been one of the primary tools to keep students learning and businesses going—on March 12, 343,000 people around the world downloaded the Zoom app; 60,000 in the United States alone, according to intelligence firm Apptopia. Just two months ago, 90,000 people worldwide downloaded the app.
Zoom CEO Eric Yuan had already removed the time limit for video chats on the company’s free service and decided to the do same for any kindergarten through 12th grade schools impacted by the Coronavirus in the United States, Italy and Japan.
“(Schools) told me they’d connect with my team, and I said, ‘no, I’ll do that for you,’” Yuan told Forbes. “I did it manually myself.”
Students and teachers just have to fill out an online form with their school email address and be verified by Zoom to get free access. Accounts associated with a school’s domain will have unlimited temporary meeting minutes. The free Basic accounts are also available by request in Austria, Denmark, France, Ireland, Poland, Romania and South Korea, according to a Zoom spokesperson.
“Given that many K-12 schools are starting closing, we decided to offer Zoom access to all K-12 schools in the country starting (March 13),” Yuan wrote in an email to Forbes.
Coronavirus puts Zoom’s software to the test
Schools are not the only organizations relying on Zoom for communications during this crisis. The vast majority of companies have had to revert to remote work and are using Zoom to stay in communication. Yuan told Forbes the company started to prepare itself for big changes when the Coronavirus began to disrupt business in China in January. Zoom customers like Walmart and Dell reached out with concerns about whether or not employees could move full-time to communications with Zoom. Fortunately, the company had trained staff to handle natural disasters response. So far, Zoom’s servers, which are spread across 17 data centers around the world, have been able to handle the increased number of video conferences and calls.
The Zoom data centers operate a cloud architecture that uses auto scaling—monitoring application use so it’s easier to add more computing power when demand increases. That power comes back down when demand does to save on costs. The data centers can handle traffic surges of 100 times the standard usage, according to Yuan.
“The beautiful part of the cloud is its unlimited capacity in theory,” he told Forbes. The company employs engineering teams around the world, including in China and Malaysia, providing Zoom with the technical talent that can remotely monitor its systems around the clock. This system is in place because the idea of the Zoom technical staff forgoing sleep to keep customers’ weekly team meetings running is not realistic. “Working the whole night is not scalable,” Yuan said.
Meanwhile, the Zoom team is getting an inside look at its products. The company implemented a work-from-home policy more than a week ago and is learning how Zoom works as full-time remote tool firsthand. So far, so good, according to Yuan, even if the volume can be a bit much at times.
“On the one hand, we like working from home; we’re using our own services,” Yuan told Forbes. “On the other hand, somehow, I do not know why – maybe because of the recent demand, maybe the working at home – we just have more meetings working at home than in the office.”