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The Connected Enterprise

PODCAST

Pick the Right Tools for the Job: NS1 on How to Approach Digital Transformation

Posted by Vision33 on Feb 17, 2021 12:30:00 PM

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Full Transcript

Carl Lewis: Welcome to the Connected Enterprise Podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is Kris Beevers, from NS1. Kris, welcome to the podcast.

Kris Beevers: Thanks for having me, Carl.

Carl Lewis: Please tell us about yourself and NS1.

Kris Beevers: NS1 provides DNS and DDI services. Basically, we sit right at the foundations of a network. DNS is the domain name system, and it connects you with the applications you use daily. We power those. I'm the CEO. My background is engineering, and I built a lot of our technology in the beginning. 

Carl Lewis: NS1 did a great research report that blew me away. Could you tell us some important things that affect businesses of every size?

Kris Beevers: We did the report with IDC (International Data Corporation), and we found many fascinating data points, including what's holding companies back from their digital transformation goals. Of the surveyed organizations, 80% said they're struggling to reach some of their application delivery requirements on top of their existing infrastructure. Not a huge surprise, but that tells us the existing infrastructure isn’t suitable for companies’ digital transformation and application delivery goals. That’s critical because almost every company uses applications.

Talent and skills gaps, competing priorities, businesses not having enough capacity, static infrastructures that are difficult to leverage, budget constraints, and tech debt are also holding companies back. Other effects were driven by this year’s conditions – for example, a lot of acceleration and modernization because of COVID.

COVID has compressed six or ten years of digital transformation/modernization into six months or a year. Necessity is the mother of invention! Seventy percent of companies are prioritizing transformation initiatives around workforce mobility, which isn’t a surprise. Sixty-eight percent are prioritizing remote data access, 65% automation, 61% security. Lots of interesting data about what's preventing companies from modernizing the areas they want to modernize, especially this year.

Carl Lewis: I noticed companies are modifying ecommerce areas. They were doing it already, but the landscape changed from being B2B to, suddenly, doing business with just one person. You’d think if they already had ecommerce, it would do that, but many B2B systems aren't built for that.

Kris Beevers: Consider your experiences as a consumer, like during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. What do we expect when we interact with ecommerce as private consumers? We expect a snappy experience. We expect the website to be up. If Amazon crashes, they lose millions of dollars per second. That's not true for every company, but every transaction matters. Every consumer experience matters. And when you go from ecommerce in B2B fashion to selling to individuals and interacting with consumers, expectations change. It’s vital to provide a snappy user experience and rock-solid uptime.

Consumers aren’t patient. If we click the checkout button and nothing happens for 30 seconds, we might abandon the transaction. We work on this with our customers. Large ecommerce companies that power the ecommerce behind hundreds of thousands of businesses invest in their ecommerce applications and make sure they provide great user experiences for their audiences. They’re investing in resilience, uptime, and elasticity. 

That’s another thing companies investing in ecommerce are considering: elasticity to meet demand. Occasionally, you go viral, and you need to capture that opportunity, meet the demand in the moment, and scale up your ability to service those users. 

Carl Lewis: And some companies – especially small ones – are moving at least part of their operations to the cloud because they can get almost instant resilience via an elasticity. Has that trend accelerated because of the virus?

Kris Beevers: Unquestionably. And you just used keywords that are worth reiterating. Companies are accelerating their digital transformations and their moves to the cloud because the cloud promises elasticity, automation, and scalability, which equals resiliency to rapidly changing/shifting conditions and unexpected events. We’re in the biggest unexpected event of our lifetimes. We must be able to shift our investment strategies, infrastructures, and resources to meet new kinds of demands.

And listeners can't see it, but I'm waving my phone around. It represents a big trend. And not just driven by COVID. Over the last decade, we've seen more dynamic audiences interacting with our applications. Dynamic in the sense that we're all moving around all the time, either because we're working from home instead of offices or because we travel. So, we use different devices to interact with our applications. 

And the businesses that are solving this best – the ones we associate with great performance and user experiences – have these positive indicators. They're investing in cloud technologies to automate scaling up to meet demand and shifting resources around as users come online in different parts of the world. And they're resilient because of that.

Carl Lewis: Everybody's used that word; elasticity. Everybody is stretched. And the great thing about the cloud is that it can return when things get back to normal. It can more easily respond to things like pandemics almost instantaneously compared to other technology options. And change is happening quickly. Like you said, you're compressing six years of changes into six months. What are the big challenges people face as they try to take advantage of the equipment?

Kris Beevers: One thing we see with our customers and in the market is that companies that want to make transformational investments move toward the cloud and modern applications. But they’re held back by the foundational infrastructures operating the baseline components of their applications and technology. That’s why I’m excited about where NS1 is. We're working in the guts of the network. The domain name system, like dotcoms, has been around for 40 years. And we don't consider them interesting places to make foundational technology investments. Same with IP addresses.

But almost all these transformational investments depend on the network. They depend on us interacting with compute, storage, and other resources in cloud and microservice ways over the network. They depend on interacting with our applications’ consumers, increasingly over the network, whether that's VPNs for internal applications or over the internet. And because we depend more on the network in ways that demand dynamic footprints, elasticity, resilience, and automation, it's worth it to go back and think about how that network works.

Are there investments we can make at these foundational pieces of infrastructure, especially in the network, but also in storage, compute, and other elements, that have leveraged how the world now works? That's our basic thesis, but we see it more broadly than just in the DNS and DDI. These basic building blocks of technology infrastructure are being rethought and reinvested in, which is providing leverage to solve the big problems that otherwise hold you back.

You're working around the limitations of your foundations, and there are only so many times you can rebuild on top of a centuries-old foundation; eventually, you must rebuild that, too. That will enable you to build, do heights, and have more modern infrastructures. That's what customers are investing in with the cloud. It's about rethinking foundational infrastructures.

Carl Lewis: That makes me think of applications. They get written, designed, and rolled out on the foundations as they were. How are developers and those writing new software taking advantage of these new foundations? What was holding them back before? What's enabling them to upgrade now?

Kris Beevers: Automation. We've seen the emergence of this idea of dev ops – the combination of software development and the underlying infrastructure’s operations. Businesses going through this rapid transformation are increasingly adopting this dev ops methodology. That's important because the infrastructure is part of your application. It's part of how you build and deliver the technology that serves your customers. You must consider how the infrastructure serves the application’s purposes and how it interacts with the application’s code, data, and connectivity. You must integrate the infrastructure into how you're building the application from the ground up. If you don’t, you lose out on some benefits of those rethought foundations like the cloud’s elasticity and resilience.

Customers like LinkedIn, Dropbox, and Salesforce – the biggest applications in the world – are thinking about the interaction between their infrastructure and the application’s code from the beginning. About how they work together to meet customers’ needs, including a resilient, snappy performance and a great user experience regardless of the conditions. That thinking isn’t native to every company, but every company can get there with some simple, straightforward investments and by placing dev ops at the center of their technology strategy.

Carl Lewis: Many folks are working on making artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IOT), and electronic data interchange (EDI) take better advantage of new foundations. We're talking eCommerce, warehouse management systems, and the machine learning buzzwords. Kris, most companies are trying to get ahead of the curve. What's the next big thing? What are large enterprises preparing for? 

Kris Beevers: There are a million things we could discuss here, but our customers see complexity and heterogeneity in their technology stacks in the future. And they're investing into that complexity. They're not trying to simplify everything, move everything to the cloud or SaaS, or go serverless.

They recognize there's going to be a place in their technology stack for traditional, data center, co-located, etc. infrastructures. A place for public cloud, SaaS technologies/services, serverless, and beyond. And the best companies in the world, including early-stage startups that seem like they have a clean slate because they're starting from scratch and can keep it simple, are not.

We always ask customers, “Do you run a data center in your headquarters closet? Are you running on AWS Lambda serverless with functions in the cloud with a few stops in between? What’s in your stack on this spectrum of infrastructure complexity?” And invariably, they have five out of six kinds of infrastructure. And are okay with it. They're not trying to simplify; they're investing in tools to manage that complexity. They can apply the best tool for the job and direct traffic and workload where it will best be serviced.

That's what digital transformation is all about. It’s not, “I’ll move everything to the cloud.” It’s, “I’ll apply these cloud, SaaS, or serverless technologies to the problems they’re best suited for in my business. I’ll use the right tool for the job.” The best companies are investing in unlocking all the tools at their disposal and broadening their toolbox. That's where you’ll get a competitive advantage. It isn't, “I’ll migrate from the legacy way of doing things to the shiny new way of doing things.” That's a never-ending cycle.

Carl Lewis: Exactly. I have 14 hammers in my toolbox and still wouldn't want to attack every problem with a hammer.

Kris Beevers: Time to get a screwdriver.

Carl Lewis: I have a drawer full of those, too! But what you're saying is that you shouldn’t look at things and say, for example, “We must solve everything with our ERP system.” Because maybe the eCommerce platform would be more effective for the innovation we want to do and the audience we want to serve. Kris, how has NS1 adapted its communication over the last eight months?

Kris Beevers: We’ve always been a very distributed business with offices all over the world. We had remote employees pre-COVID. I'm counting our blessings that we were already practiced at interacting remotely. Something that changed was the pace of change. It was incredible in 2020. We’ve been constantly replanning. Asking, “What's changing this month? What new thing are we learning about how the world will be?” Just since you and I last talked, we've learned the schedule of when we can get the vaccines. 

It’s changing how we're thinking about the future. And communications cadence has increased with the planning cadence. During COVID, we’ve gone from a once-every-couple-of-months all-hands meeting to a meeting almost every week. So many things changing creates so much uncertainty. Can I work in the office? Do I need to attend this meeting? How will we interact? What are our plans? You really need to over-communicate. That's been the biggest driver behind the changes.

We also had to quickly determine what this meant for customers. How does it affect them? What do they need from us? We needed our own elasticity and resilience. Our customers depend on us to get through these conditions.

Carl Lewis: Early in the experience – March 2020 – we did a podcast about working from home. How to set it up, how to get the provisions for it, etc. And just last week, someone thanked me for that. We helped our customers with the issues we knew they would face in the upcoming months.

Kris Beevers: We found that the most important element this year for literally everyone – employees, customers, partners, ourselves – was responding with empathy. Everybody's having a tough year. That's served us well. It positioned us as elastic strategic partners for our customers so we could support them through tough times. And through boom times – we've had customers do well this year.

Carl Lewis: Our listeners will be impressed with that observation and how your company has taken a lead on it. Kris, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today.

Kris Beevers: Any time, Carl. 

Carl Lewis: Well, everyone, thanks for joining us. Until next time, stay connected.

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