Covid-19. It will disrupt the supply chain. It will create a talent crisis. It may bring our servers and cloud to a halt. IT teams should not think that their cloud is immune to this virus. It’s not.

COVID-19 has disrupted business-as-usual for organisations globally.  While the long-term ramifications of the corona pandemic are yet to be ascertained, there are crucial lessons for businesses, vendors, and technology leaders to learn from the fallout.

In an exclusive interaction with TFIR, Rob Hirschfeld, Founder & CEO, RackN, shares his thoughts on how the corona scourge will impact business and technology, and how corporates can be better prepared to overcome the impending challenges.

“COVID-19 has led to a lockdown. As a result, all IT has to be rethought with the lens of – “I can’t get there, I can’t touch the gear, I can’t send people out”. Against such a backdrop, we have to build systems that are much more resilient, efficient, self-automated and self-repairing. There has to be more out-of-the-box capability,” says Hirschfeld.

The pandemic has also led to the meltdown of financial markets and a disruption in the global supply chain. While the former could push businesses towards recession and retraction in spending, the latter could impact the delivery of critical IT infrastructure (entire servers or their components).

“From a planning perspective, we should be looking at worst-case scenarios and thinking through what that would mean,” warns Hirschfeld.

Purposefully Repurpose 
Hirschfeld believes the brownfield infrastructure lying with corporates could help them overcome this double whammy of financial crunch and disrupted supply chain.

Over the years, companies have deployed new IT infrastructure without maximizing the old, existing systems and solutions.  It’s time the old infrastructure was revisited.

“We didn’t spend any time really trying to reuse that asset. In a downturn, however, those assets are paid for. If you can put them into productive use, patch them or upgrade them, they can become a great source of revenue. The idea of always moving towards greenfield deployments needs to shift pretty dramatically,” Hirschfeld opines.

Technology decision makers have typically thought of disaster recovery as moving to a new site. COVID-19, however, could get them to think of repurposing existing gear from one use to another.

“In normal times, an organisation would have provisioned 10% of its workforce on virtual desktop infrastructure. Now, in the face of COVID-19, it might need 90% of its workforce to be able to use it. It would, therefore, be really nice if we designed our data centers so that the HPC cluster could actually be pivoted over to a VDI cluster. While this type of dynamic change in infrastructure takes time and expertise to build, it also creates real opportunities for being able to have a disaster reconfiguration by repurposing existing assets,” says Hirschfeld.

Similarly, Kubernetes on bare metal could be another way of taking an older machine, without much RAM or CPU, and repurposing it as a containerized infrastructure.

Such an approach frees up valuable resources and allows companies to become flexible while enabling them to get more without spending a lot of money.

Single Vendor Vs Multiple Vendors
Would aligning with a single vendor rather than multiple vendors insulate a company from supply chain disruption in the wake of the crona crisis?

“Sometimes aligning with a single vendor helps in optimizing and integrating as there are fewer APIs to work with. Having multiple vendors, meanwhile, shields you from supply chain and pricing shocks, which we’re about to see,” Hirschfeld says.

“However, being single vendored won’t protect you from issues arising out of supply chain challenges. You might find that a specific drive or one of the chips or components you need is now in short supply. Having the flexibility to reconfigure your gear based on changing components is, therefore, very critical . It’s all about making the automation resilient,” he avers.

Critical Considerations
In a downturn, like the one we are witnessing at present,  companies veer towards ‘do-it-yourself’ strategy, especially around open source, to save money. Hirschfeld believes otherwise.

“While do-it-yourself saves money, it can also build very fragile, bespoke, hard to maintain systems that can slow you down. Just because you’re in a downturn doesn’t mean you have a lot of time. As a matter of fact, I would expect the opposite. If we see a lot of layoffs across the industry, then you’re going to have fewer resources, fewer people to do the same amount of work. In such cases, building a big stack of do-it-yourself technology just to save costs on software or hardware is actually not necessarily the right idea,” he says.

On the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the IT industry, Hirschfeld says, “A lot more people would have learnt that they can work remotely and be more effective at that. At the same time, I think that we might want to hold more inventory. Some lean assembly, lean supply chains might be questioned.”

“RackN’s team is distributed and we’ve already been relying on all these terms. For us, this disruption is very small,” he adds.

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