Working through Covid-19

This article was published in Voice & Data on March 26, 2020. You can read the original article here.

Working through Covid-19

Employee health and safety is the main concern: Pravin S Bhandarkar, RtBrick

Bangalore-based RtBrick is a networking infrastructure software vendor-led by technology entrepreneurs – Hannes Gredler and Pravin S Bhandarkar, both Juniper Networks alumni. Founded in 2015, RtBrick has built a full value delivery system for network infrastructure operators. Its offerings include an operating system for driving bare metal network switches, a multi-tenant continuous integration release platform, and a fully integrated cloud-based network visibility, analytics, and management system. 

Voice&Data: What sort of business is RtBrick? How does the company support telcos?

Pravin: We are a software startup, with about 50 as staff, providing networking software for telcos. Most of our people work from our office in Bengaluru, but we also have remote workers located in Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, and the UK.

At Rtbrick we have developed a complete software stack and targeted microservices for the large and fast-growing market for cloud infrastructure networking software. RtBrick has created a new way to build and run networks by applying a cloud-IT approach to carrier networks. Our routing software is designed to be more robust, more controllable and cost-effective over a conventional network. We help build a network with cloud-native flexibility that delivers at the carrier-scale.

Voice&Data: What measures have you taken to deal with Covid-19?

Pravin: Our priority is the health of our people and their families. We already had a home-working plan in place a week or two before the lock-down was announced. Most people who could work remotely were encouraged to do so, even at that point. And, of course, since then everyone is working remotely and self-isolating as best as they can.

Voice&Data: How has this pandemic situation affected your business?

Pravin: Of course, it is making life harder for us, and customer interactions are being delayed. But we are fortunate that the nature of IT development means we can perform many of our core activities remotely from the office. Our physical hardware and labs are still up and running, even though there may be no-one in them, so we can still access them to test the new code we develop. We are a networking company, so we are used to relying on the network to connect our operations together.

Voice&Data: How is this pandemic situation affecting your employees outside India?

Pravin: Wherever we have staff, the situation is difficult. Our people located in Europe would normally be visiting our customers and prospects, now they are in contact with them via video calls and are remotely accessing their installations. But they have adapted well to working remotely from their homes as we were proactive to establish good facilities for this situation. From a health perspective, each country is at a different stage, but we are keeping in close contact with everyone via video conferencing.

Voice&Data: What advice would you give other companies in your situation?

Pravin: It’s hard to generalize. But at an individual level, I think it’s really important to keep reaching out to your people, to emulate the natural interactions of the office environment, and to encourage them to reach out to each other. Virtual meetings continue to run, although we are being flexible if people have had to take on other commitments, such as childcare.

Voice&Data: What will be the impact of Covid-19 on your business?

Pravin: It is likely there will be some delays to projects, but we are well-funded with good customer traction and at the moment we don’t see that as an issue. We’re providing software for the world’s largest broadband networks. As you can imagine, they are all under tremendous capacity pressure at the moment, so our core market isn’t going anywhere and, if anything, will be growing even more in the long term.

But for now, our main focus is to ensure all of our people come through this in good health. As long as they do, then the company will also be in good shape!

Voice&Data: With this pandemic situation, India is working from home, which has caused a surge in demand for internet and voice. How is your company’s software supporting telcos to manage the stress on networks?

Pravin: Our software is part of a new way of building broadband networks, which is more like the ‘cloud-natives’ build their data center infrastructure. Traditionally telcos have built IP networks using monolithic systems where the software and hardware were tied together. They are expensive, take a long time to deploy and lock the telco into a specific equipment vendor. Our software runs on high-performance, low-cost switches that are available from different manufacturers. This ‘disaggregated’ approach allows telcos to build out broadband capacity at less than half the cost, and to deploy new infrastructure quickly, with automated provisioning.

Voice&Data: What can the government authorities do to ease the stress on the networks? 

Pravin: The biggest stress on the network comes from video traffic. In the short term, the best fix is to work with the content providers to reduce the bit-rate of their content, which is happening already. But in the medium term, they need to support telcos to allow them to invest in more infrastructure. This situation has shown us what a critical resource our broadband networks have become for society, and how much we all depend on them.