Monday, April 20, 2020

Supply Chains and Infrastructure Limits

Supply Chains and Infrastructure Limits

It starts with a cough - congestion - restriction of vital pathways that are critical for our survival.  No.  I am not talking about COVID-19 and our bodies, but the analogy of that virus and the impact the pandemic is having for our nation are very similar. 

Beginning Stages

January 6, the CDC issued a travel alert from Wuhan. While China was busy battling the virus overseas, we were having 1 or 2 cases here in the United States.  January 31 - US government started issuing a travel warning from China.  I moved my home office from Comcast Business to Xfinity Residential in February, thinking the increased bandwidth and lower cost would be good for us.  

In early March, I had to procure sanitizers for the office (hand and wipes) and started to secure those through various Amazon channels, but found that the dates for shipping those items were 30+ days out.  These items and toilet paper became a very hot, very sought after commodity that we normally take for granted. We still had sanitizer but not in the qty we wanted.  This was our canary in the coal mine for the supply chain. The first time in about a 10-15 years that I noticed we couldn't purchase something that was a normal commodity.  First, it disappeared from Amazon, and next our local markets. The run was on!

Then mid March, we had an incident at our office in San Jose, that required us to work from home prior to the Bay Area issuing its Shelter In Place (SIP) order and well before the State of California did the same, but relating to the Covid-19 pandemic we are in the midst of now.  My kids, two at Leland High School and one at De Anza Jr. College, were also told to stay home starting on March 16, 2020 with the rest of the Bay Area.  While our supply chain was starting to have issues, we weren't aware until all of Silicon Valley was working remotely that our Network Infrastructure was about to feel the congestion of 10 million people and kids working from their homes or going on streaming binges.  Kids were supposed to be restricted not only from school, but from one another.  No parties, no get togethers at the local Safeway parking lot (SPL - it is a thing).  With no outlet for our children and no remote schooling plan prepared by our school district, they turned to Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and other streaming services.  Couple this with people using their ZOOM, GoTo and WebEx to be productive for work?  And we have the perfect storm of stress testing our entire network infrastructure.

My move to Xfinity residential back in February seemed to be a cost effective move that my family loved.  Now, with every local family jumping on their Xfinity links, the entire system bogged down to a stutter and shuffle.  I quickly had to reshuffle my chess pieces on my board to allow me better ways to attack the problem.  I had to get XFinity Business back in the house as soon as possible. I simply could not work from 10AM to 4-5PM every day.  The contract wasn't stellar, but it proved useful.  I got 100 Mbit dedicated link with a LTE backup modem and battery backup device for $120 month for the first year.  The kicker was, it would only take 2 weeks to install and configure. 

Meantime, my wife and I were using our hotspots to remain productive during business hours.  Sometimes that worked good - and other times, not. 

As people were working through their lives of being at home and online, more and more people became reliant upon technologies like ZOOM to stay connected.  But the rapid influx of people onto ZOOM sessions and the 'ease-of-use' of Zoom, soon showed us the fragility of the platform.  The general lack of security as a standard, allowed many people to perform ZOOM bombs and jump into public meetings, playing all sorts of things like pornography sounds or displaying graphic images, all to simply be disruptive. 

Things are much better. Zoom has better security, our home internet is also very stable now, but still experiences outages every once in a while.  What this means is that we should now start looking at our general infrastructure and what load capacity it can sustain.  Companies have a responsibility to ensure that their systems have the capacity to expand to peak usage times.  Nobody thought that having 50-70 million school kids online at the same time would ever happen and all in video conferences.   

The silver lining for 2020 is that it is causing a shift in the thinking of businesses.  Altering our perceptions about what was acceptable and what we should be building out in the future.  We don't know if this pandemic will end in 2020 or 2021?  We hope it will end soon, but we really need to keep planning for the future.  Preparing for the worst.  Protecting our Infrastructure and Supply Chain!   Food for thought.

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