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When Alexis Weekes and her team of cloud computing engineers joined millions of Australians in lockdown earlier this year, they knew the weeks ahead would prove a major test of the resilience of cloud infrastructure.
As the cloud operations manager for Datacom Australia, based in Melbourne, Alexis sees her role as 'chief firefighter' for her team of nine. She is the one who cuts through red tape and wrangles technology so that customers enjoy the performance and reliability they expect when they host their data and apps in the cloud with Datacom's public cloud partners, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.
While some Australians felt trepidation as they settled into working from home, remote working was second nature to Alexis’ team; it was simply a matter of booting up their computers and logging back in.
“We were up and working within five minutes,” says Alexis.
“Everything is available through the public console. We just log onto the Datacom server using a VPN (virtual private network)."
I’m really hoping that one positive outcome from this time may be that people have more flexibility in the way they work.
All over Australasia, employees of Datacom’s customers have been also setting up in home offices, lounges and bedrooms to continue their work and provide essential and crucial services to help tackle the pandemic.
Alexis had an advantage – her customers were already taking a cloud-centric approach.
“They were already prepared by and large to use the elasticity of the cloud,” says Alexis.
Scaling up capacity quickly to meet surging demand for online services in e-commerce, government and health services is one of the major selling points of the cloud, especially when backed by the significant computing power and hosting capacity available to the large public cloud provider.
It meant there was no disruption to Datacom customers as COVID-19 closed down the economy, though Alexis and her engineers were constantly monitoring to ensure there was room to scale up to deliver mission-critical services.
“We’ve had to keep an eye on available resources for the hardware back-end to make sure that if customers wanted 10,000 virtual machines, AWS actually had 10,000 virtual machines,” she says.
"It’s the fact you can create a virtual machine in AWS or Azure in five to 10 minutes, without a six-week wait time for hardware to turn up. Instead, you can do it from home.”
It’s making sure that the environment is the right size, the right cloud, and it's running at the right time to make sure that the money customers are spending on their infrastructure is going to the right places.
While making sure cloud-based services continue without disruption during the crisis, Alexis has also at the same time looked for cost optimisation opportunities – what she describes as 'right-sizing' her customers' use of cloud resources.
“It’s making sure that the environment is the right size, the right cloud, and it's running at the right time to make sure that the money customers are spending on their infrastructure is going to the right places,” she says.
The use of ‘containers’ in the cloud is increasingly offering opportunities for improved performance and cost savings.
When applications are run on different machines with slightly different operating systems, inconsistent performances can occur. With computer container technology, the software and dependent files and configuration data are all stored and migrated together. It allows for quicker and more consistent deployment of software and container technology, such as Kubernetes, which helps to quicken the uptake of containers in the cloud.
“The customer can really start to go cloud-native. You don’t need a full-blown Windows server to run an application; you can put it in a container, and you can start saving yourself some really significant money,” says Alexis.
With a three-year-old and five-year-old at home, Alexis, like many, has had to juggle home-schooling duties around her work in lockdown.
“Luckily it was only for prep (the first year of school), so I didn’t have to re-learn calculus,” says Alexis, who studied computer science at Queensland's James Cook University before joining Datacom in 2016.
“The best part of working from home is being able to spend time with my family – getting them ready for breakfast and for the day without having to run around and have everyone out of the house by 7.30am.”
The unexpected move to remote working has fueled growth in the uptake of cloud services. But for Alexis, it has also allowed workers all over the world to achieve a better work-life balance.
“I’m really hoping that one positive outcome from this time may be that people have more flexibility in the way they work."
Lockdown hasn’t prevented the team from growing and learning, with AWS and Microsoft stepping up to offer virtual workshops and training sessions as part of Datacom’s Cloud Academy programme. That included the cloud team’s introduction to DeepRacer – AWS’s fun way for developers to pick up machine learning (ML) techniques by designing learning models which are applied to model race cars.
There’s even a DeepRacer league which allows developers from all over the world to compete in virtual races.
While COVID-19 is reshaping the economy in numerous ways, a few trends remain constant with cloud computing. Datacom’s customers are increasingly harnessing data analytics and creating ‘data lakes’ to put their data assets in one place, where machine learning can be applied to yield new insights.
“We are keen to make sure that the information customers have isn’t a swamp. Instead, it's actually a lake of data."