NS1 Co-Founder & CEO, leading a world-class team to solve the biggest challenges in modern infrastructure. More: www.ns1.com
Every generation faces a challenge or societal shift that both defines it and determines the course of the future — the Great Depression, the Industrial Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement, the Digital Revolution. For us, the global pandemic has spawned yet another technological revolution in which society is moving rapidly to reinforce and modernize infrastructure to support the foundational systems that are under extreme pressure.
Our challenge is to build and sustain a completely connected economy, combat a never-ending barrage of cyberthreats and manage the massive uncertainties caused by the pandemic. As we do so, critical infrastructure, education, healthcare, utilities, media and every facet of business are facing the greatest stress test of our generation.
With no relief in sight, current circumstances will continue to stretch the infrastructure that hundreds of thousands of technologists spent decades creating to improve every aspect of daily life. Now that digital connectivity is woven into the fabric of our existence, we face a test of not only technology, but also the resilience of society and the human spirit.
Upon the arrival of Covid-19, we saw a massive push to remote work — part one of the grand resilience test. Talk with virtually any company, and you’ll find the top concern — after employee care — was business continuity. How do we stay connected and functioning in a new model for an indefinite amount of time? How do we quickly transform business processes to be digital? How can we be sure the internet and our systems can handle this increased, sustained level of strain?
MORE FOR YOU
Up until now, the internet has weathered the storm well, with little more than a few regional outages and security hiccups. Moving into 2021, however, the stakes are higher and the challenges greater for the technology and systems that keep our society running.
I work directly with internet, manufacturing, financial services, utilities and energy, and media companies every day. They are racing, doubling down on digital processes, safeguards, stability and backup plans to ensure their systems and services are resilient at this critical juncture. They’re preparing for the second part of this great test: appeasing a growing appetite for instant information and outcomes by delivering reliable, seamless experiences for their users.
Millions of children are learning remotely, and schools are deploying wide-scale digital experimentation at all turns. Patients are opting for telehealth when they can’t risk a visit, and connectivity issues have health consequences. As society continues to grow, we are putting stress on our critical infrastructure as well. Internet service providers are being asked to deliver faster and more reliable connectivity. Utilities are being stressed as people working and learning at home are consuming more electricity, water and other natural resources.
In this time of rapid change, anxious uncertainty and serious consequences, we are all looking for stability — in life, in our businesses and in our connectivity and connections.
All these systems depend on IT infrastructure to be elastic, available, reliable and secure — in a word, resilient. The IT foundation built for decades past can no longer support the demands of today’s connected society. It must evolve to meet the needs of our modern world. As technology leaders, we can take steps now to build the necessary stability and resilience to withstand the greatest stress test of our generation.
Shore up what you can control, and prepare for what you can’t.
The internet is a collection of disparate networks. No business — no one entity — can control it all. To dramatically improve the resilience of connected technology systems, start by shoring up what you can control. Implement redundancy in systems and resources and all the fail-safes necessary to mitigate risk where your infrastructure, software and services meet the internet and connect with customers. Consider deploying hybrid and multicloud infrastructures where you can share risk or allocate resources differently for more (or less) important business processes. Move hardware-driven processes to software so a single server failure doesn’t drag you down. Maintain thorough backups to counter the onslaught of ransomware — a huge stressor in hospitals struggling under Covid-19 — and other malicious attacks.
Also, consider building out global traffic steering policies to dynamically manage network traffic and resources for improved resilience. Such policies can direct and balance real-time workloads appropriately or even spin up new resources to alter capacity as conditions and demand shift or in locations where internet conditions are unpredictable. Traffic steering can be used to enable load shedding and automatic failover to prevent outages or performance fluctuations. Leverage full-stack monitoring to identify and remediate problems as soon as possible.
Have simple, solid action plans, including verification and adjustments to access levels, and a clear chain of command in case employees can’t work due to any number of disruptions.
Automate to accelerate.
Everything is moving faster, and we’ve all felt the constant change caused by the pandemic. The less time your staff spends spinning their wheels on routine and repetitive tasks, the more time they have for creating customer value. The great automation gains we’ve seen in DevOps and NetOps processes address the physical limitations created by lockdowns. On-site repair is challenged, both in obtaining the equipment due to supply chain constraints and in accessing the systems. Reduce the need to have a physical human presence for repairs with increased cloud adoption, software-defined networks and other initiatives.
Pay special attention to employee and customer care.
Technology won’t solve everything. The human part of the equation is also important. Sometimes, simple business processes can be stalled by outdated or frustrating technology. Remove that friction. Make people’s lives easier. As we know, good, smart people can make all the difference in the world. The combination of clear communication, great technology, and good employee and customer care can help you succeed.
Ultimately, technology is not just ones and zeros. Code and connectivity are extensions of us. If we do it right and make our technology infrastructure resilient, we can reduce our anxieties and worries and ultimately improve our society — now and for future generations.