The Secret to Scaling During a Global Pandemic: Cloud Computing

With the work-from-home economy booming, flourishing companies are leveraging the cloud to grow big, fast.

By Jacob Gedetsis

By Jacob Gedetsis November 02, 2020

Some love and others loathe working in their pajamas, conducting video calls all day and measuring each day’s commute in steps instead of miles. Either way, most experts believe the the rapid shift to remote working from home is here to stay.

Indeed, analysts and researchers believe the work-from-home or work-from-anywhere economy will likely outlast the coronavirus pandemic that incited it. Apparently, investors agree, as the tech-heavy Nasdaq in May reported that it had recovered all the gains it lost in the COVID crash thanks in part to investors who decided to pour their money into companies addressing the technology needs of a new, socially-distanced society.

“Investors now are looking forward to those kinds of business models and to companies that will not only survive this environment, but thrive as a result of it,” Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman, told The Hill this spring.

The new business models of which Clemons speaks happened remarkably fast: The pandemic began in March, and by June nearly 42 percent of the American workforce was working from home, according to Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom. Among those fueling the transition are offices, school districts and restaurants, all of which have turned to tech-based solutions in order to remake their operations for a new, more digital world.

For the companies providing these tech-based solutions, the result – surging demand for their services – has required a scaling-up effort of unprecedented speed. Although some have fallen short, those that have successfully kept pace share at least one common denominator that has helped them meet the moment: cloud computing.

Take videoconferencing giant Zoom, which utilizes both on-premise infrastructure and public cloud in order to keep up with increased demand. At the end of its fiscal second quarter in August 2020, it reported a 355 percent increase in revenue compared to the same period in 2019. In just a few short months it has come to dominate both the work-from-home economy and remote education, achieving nearly 150 million monthly active users.

“I hope this crisis can be over very, very soon, but one thing I know for sure is that companies will learn this is the way to work,” Zoom CEO Eric Yuan told the Associated Press in March – months before most companies were willing to admit he was right. “I am pretty sure almost every company will be thinking about it and say, ‘Hey, maybe working from home makes sense.’”

A New Home School

Although Zoom is the enterprise that most exemplifies the work-from-home economy, it’s not alone in its need for rapid scalability. One industry, in particular, is teeming with companies that have a similar appetite for sudden growth: education.

As school districts and universities scrambled this summer to launch effective and safe back-to-school plans that included online and hybrid solutions, ed-tech companies like Kaltura, a video platform and solutions company, found itself in an extraordinary growth scenario.

“We have seen a tremendous uptake in usage both in new and existing clients,” said Jeff Rubenstein, vice president of product strategy for Kaltura’s education business. “We are also seeing new parts of the market emerge, like K-12, that had almost no tech capacity before the pandemic.”

During the first days of the U.S. response to COVID-19, Rubenstein received a nervous call from the chief information officer at an American university who asked: “If we increase our usage by tenfold, are we OK?”

Rubenstein didn’t hesitate; he knew Kaltura could handle that and more. 

“We can run on-premise, but everyone wants cloud at this point. And with the cloud … our architecture is very scalable,” he said. “We basically have clusters that spit up new clusters when there is new demand … Video is very demanding on resources in terms of compute, storage and bandwidth, so from our early days we built a very flexible architecture that makes scalability easy.”

Kaltura supports three modes of video delivery: on-demand, real-time communications and live-broadcast. Its users need instant access without latency. Rubenstein credits the company’s cloud-powered content delivery network with making seamless delivery possible. It tracks usage geographically and caches regularly requested videos for fast access. This eases stress on the main servers and ensures quick delivery to the teacher or student.

Traditional brick-and-mortar companies are looking for digitally-based solutions to survive and grow during the pandemic. In ed-tech, companies like Kaltura are hoping to use the influx of new data and users to move beyond their pre-pandemic role as a supplemental piece to traditional delivery models of education.

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“For me, the most exciting thing is that we have the potential now to rethink how education works,” Rubenstein said. “We will go back [to our old ways] somewhat after COVID – if there is an after – but some of the changes will stick and grow even further.”

Leaning on Scale Technology

Imagine you owned a retail store and could simply add more showrooms during the holidays, and just as quickly take them away when the rush is over. Cloud-based scale technology gives IT teams that type of flexibility to meet their clients’ needs.

From restaurants accepting online orders to offices setting up remote work environments, businesses of all stripes have had to quickly scale their technology in response to the pandemic

These businesses, including Kaltura, Zoom and food delivery company DoorDash, to name just a few, have credited their flexibility and scalability to their cloud computing infrastructures. Shortly after DoorDash’s initial launch in 2013, the company migrated its IT infrastructure to a cloud-native solution. This allows for the company to quickly scale as it continues to grow. It also gives it access to various cloud-based applications that help it collect, track and analyze data about it customers’ ordering habits.

Similarly, Zoom uses a hybrid-cloud solution with a mix of public cloud infrastructure and 17 on-premise data centers to deliver its service

“Prior to this crisis, we by and large used our own data centers to handle traffic. Due to the pandemic crisis, our own existing data centers really couldn’t handle the traffic,” Zoom’s Yuan wrote in a blog post

In April, Zoom added more cloud capacity and now transfers nearly seven petabytes through cloud-based infrastructures every day.

“It is indescribable to watch something that you’ve built from the ground up help people in so many different ways,” Yuan continued. “We ramped up to meet the incredible demand, working around the clock to add network capacity and provide support to everyone new to Zoom.”

Jacob Gedetsis is a contributing writer. His work has appeared in The Kansas City Star, The Post Standard and The Plain Dealer, among others. Find him on Twitter at @JacobGedetsis.

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