Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

How Verizon Media's networking team is handling COVID-19 supply chain challenges

"We had to create a DR plan for the DR plan," Verizon Media's Chief Network Architect said of the unprecedented global disruptions caused by the pandemic.

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Like many large, well-established companies, Verizon at the start of this year had a business continuity and disaster recovery (BD/CR) plan in place that could see it through just about any kind of calamity. 

"Our company's been around for quite a long time, so we've seen the SARS epidemic, H1N1, MERS, we were around for 9/11," Igor Gashinsky, Verizon Media's chief network architect, said during a webinar hosted by network analytics provider Kentik. "So we definitely had a plan in place."

But once the COVID-19 pandemic began hitting all corners of the globe, the playbook had to change. 

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"I don't think any of us realistically looked at this 100-year event where the entire world shuts down at once for prolonged period of time," Gashinsky said. Ultimately, "We had to create a DR plan for the DR plan, and business continuity plan for the DR plan." 

Gashinsky said his team was well-positioned to handle shifts in traffic, thanks to Verizon's web-scale networking architecture. They treat servers as easily replaceable components and rely on automated systems for load rebalancing. 

At the same time, he said, "Supply chain architecture is also as important as the architecture of your infrastructure."

While some companies may rely on a just-in-time buying and provisioning strategy, Verizon Media buys at least three months ahead. With that level of planning ahead, "you probably have a large enough buffer to deal with these things," Gashinsky said. 

Meanwhile, Gashinsky said, the industry may have been relatively lucky in terms of the timing of the pandemic's spread. "With Chinese New Year coming, we were used to supply chains slowing down normally -- it's just what happens all over the world," he said. 

Even with those advantages, Verizon Media decided to extend its planning cycle from three months ahead to six months ahead to deal with the disrupted supply chain. 

"In general, supply time frames have gone up," Gashinsky said. "What used to take us two weeks to receive now takes four, six, in some cases 16 weeks... Some people have managed to stabilize their supply chain. Some believe supply chain might still get worse."

One key takeaway from the pandemic, Gashinsky said, is that it may be worthwhile to try to shorten the supply chain where possible. 

"Right now, there are a lot of dependencies we're uncovering, especially in networking components," he said. 

For instance, he explained, a product may be partially manufactured in China, then shipped to Malaysia for additional components and then shipped back to China. In such cases, the entire supply chain -- not just one specific country -- needs to be open for business. 

"We're keeping a very careful eye on that to make sure there's not a cascade issue," he said.