In the business world, just as in the world at large, there is a kind of operational ‘survival of the fittest’ principle, where the most highly adaptable to change will survive. There are other related principles at work, too. ‘Environment’, ‘niche’, ‘competition’ and a form of ‘selection’ are involved, and these principles are more than mere metaphors. EvoBits IT is a company that exhibits such principles, and its adaptability is striking.
EvoBits IT began as a software development company in 2014, which was their primary focus for the first few years. “But, after that, we started branching out into hosting, due to the emerging demand from our existing clients,” says Silviu Catalin Balaci, Chief Technology Officer (CTO). “That's when we built the first data centre, and we then very quickly built the second.”
Exhibiting further acumen for the exploitation of the environment, he says: “Initially, they were purposely built for a particular project, but since then we started trying to attack the hosting services aspect. We already had an established infrastructure and then developed into a hosting provider – mainly B2B, which is our target audience. But we also have the software department, and, instead of merely working for other clients, we are now trying to shift focus and develop different types of software-as-a-service (SaaS) to offer those as a product.”
Balaci says that, being a small company, “the positions here are generally like an octopus with many tentacles, and we have several simultaneous functions so our titles alone don't really capture what we actually do”. Although officially ‘CTO’, Balaci’s role is mainly on the broad technical side involving management of the IT infrastructure, which includes everything that doesn't fall under the data centre operations.
“This includes servers and the handling of the networking part, the operating system and the software – including our own software development department. And then on the business side, I'm more or less overseeing the marketing strategy and consulting on the general business development strategy, where Dragos and I strategise on which direction we should evolve or what market we should attack.”
Dragos Cristian Radulescu is General Manager (GM) and his role similarly entails multiple facets. “On the one hand, there is still a technical aspect concerning the operation of the Data Centres,” he says. “It's related to engineering and to the equipment that we're using, and since I joined EvoBits IT, it has also developed into an operational role, leading internal ops and the general administration of the business – which means dealing with customer and supplier contracts, and includes personnel responsibilities.”
Located in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, EvoBits IT is currently looking to finalise a solid recipe for the business, creating a solid model for their hosting business and, later, one for SaaS, that Radulescu says “can then be easily reproduced and expanded into potentially different locations”.
“The kind of business that we are currently running and the markets for these products and services (the data centre and hosting business) are dependent on location. Expansion, generally speaking, requires relocation towards the customers, so that would be a ‘horizontal expansion’. Then, within our current business model, we are looking at our customers and seeing what needs they have that may not currently be met by the market”
EvoBits IT prides itself on being a company with a boutique mentality. One of their goals in their expansion and development is to maintain this ethos, and where they are focusing only on B2B, they will work to maintain a close working relationship with their customers, discussing all their needs and adapting their hardware – as well as their software – infrastructure in line with customer needs, and developing their products in a particular direction accordingly. “We will never ever become a corporate type of company with a high-street mentality,” says Balaci.
EvoBits IT’s Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
EvoBits IT’s biggest customers are currently in the AI business. “We've identified a kind of niche where we see a great potential because the products offered by large companies are off-the-shelf, fixed and immobile,” says Balaci. “All the large cloud companies have a 'take it or leave it' approach, but this area is complex and some customers require a different type of computational power. Others may need a different balance, such as more CPU power or a specific type of GPU, and either very fast, low latency storage or incredibly high amounts of storage. So we've discerned that there's a large volume of customer needs that are not being met in this department, and that speaks directly to our image as being customer-focused and creating solutions that are best for their particular business, so we are presently tackling this as a service.”
EvoBits IT also has a model that includes renting out equipment and hardware for AI processing, and engaging in consulting for larger customers that want to create their own infrastructure. For example, they presently have a client that has built his own private cloud just for AI processing and are both providing the hardware and creating the design for this private cloud – even the control panel. They are essentially a turnkey solution, with full vertical integration (FVI).
FVI means that EvoBits IT controls every aspect of the package that they provide and deliver to the customer. They have their own hardware and infrastructure that they built with their partners, and have full control of the software that's running on the cloud – fundamentally in control of every aspect on the chain. This gives them a lot of flexibility, as well as the power to adapt to the customer's needs and to react quickly in case any changes are required.
Balaci adds: “This full vertical integration eliminates a lot of restrictions. For example we are not limited to the power in a rack. As we actually own the data centre, we can quite easily go in and assign more power to a particular zone or more cooling to a particular area. We're even able to modify the local data centre infrastructure, if that's something that needs to happen.”
Software as a Service
Then there is the SaaS model within EvoBits IT.
The idea is that a big part of the company is still focused on software development, making use of the skills of many great software developers who have been with the organisation for many years. But, at the same time, EvoBits IT has shifted their approach into that of a service provider, focusing heavily on the hosting aspect of the business. One of the first examples would be the complete API builder.
Balaci says: “You have a lot of mobile apps developers that are quite good at creating mobile apps, but all that data in the backend needs to be stored somewhere. Usually, what they do is contract other companies to build that for them. What we want is to have something similar to a website builder, but one that targets building the APIs behind mobile apps or other websites that work with that type of structure. This product will also be ready very soon.”
DC’s, Tech and technical know-how
When Radulescu first joined EvoBits IT, he was in charge of a more technical aspect of the business, related specifically to the equipment used in the infrastructure of the data centres.
“We had two great partners that we worked with to construct the DCs,” he says. “Before I joined the company, we purchased very efficient evaporative cooling equipment from Vertiv – which is a big name in the business – and we've used our local partner Innova to integrate and set up this equipment for the data centre.”
At the time, however, there was a certain lack of internal know-how within the company. Radulescu’s purpose was to understand how the pieces of equipment worked to get the most out of them and heighten their performance.
“You have to think about such equipment as you would think about a race car: it can only operate at high performance when it's within its parameters, and so you have to try to keep it within those parameters.
“One of the data centres that we constructed was a custom job built for max-load (3 MW of power), which means that everything was strung up very tightly. The cooling equipment, especially, was working very close to its rated capacity, and we had to find solutions to understand how to optimise and distribute airflow to ensure that we didn’t have any hotspots. Initially, this took a while, but we can say that we've gone from something that was very tightly strung – where any issues would've led to major concerns during operation – to where we are now, which is an N+1 situation where we can literally shut down some equipment and still continue to be operational without a hitch.”
As things progressed and Radulescu’s role evolved into one more involved with operations, they found that they needed to define numerous procedures to ensure that they have systems in place to record and document activities, and track all tasks – both internal and external – to optimise their workflow.
IT service expansions: challenges and opportunities
IT expansions do, of course, come with their own sets of challenges. Asked about their own particular kind, Balaci says that they found them to fall into three categories – the first of these being global supply issues.
“If we take just network cards as an example, if we were to source them through the direct channels, we would have to wait up to a year in some cases. So we had to adapt by trying to find other suppliers for those particular parts, but even so, nothing really comes quicker than three months – and, in a company where we are trying to be as agile as possible, that means trying to think ahead by buying and keeping things in stock so that, when a customer has a particular requirement, we are able to offer them a solution on the spot. This has been one of our biggest strengths, because we took that risk to buy ahead. We were, many times, the only ones in the local market who could provide, let's say a specialised custom server within one week. Instead of waiting three months, most of the time we had everything we needed ready.”
The second challenge for EvoBits IT has been the software aspect. “We just launched our OpenStack cloud,” says Balaci. “We wanted to go for a solution that caters to high performance computing, which means extremely fast servers and, most importantly, an extremely fast storage solution – completely based on NVMe SSD technology – which is the best of the best with low latency. We have to thank our partners at StorPool for that, who provided the software solution for the storage part and that solution has been great. However, the challenge has been in integrating it with our control panel, because we built one from the ground up. If you go onto Amazon cloud and try to buy some components in one package, you will spend hours reading through the documentation as to where you need to go and what you need to do to gain access to these components. That led us to take the decision to build our own management and control panel, where we can simplify things enough that almost anyone can go there and, in just a few clicks – I would say in under a minute – easily customise whatever they want according to their needs.”
The last challenge was a particularly interesting one. “It relates,” says Balaci, “to the business strategy that we discussed with Dragos.
“We have all this hardware and we're going to build this high performance cloud, so we thought, 'let's take the strategy of not overcharging our customers, because fundamentally, we don't care about profit'. Right now, our concern is getting our name known and expanding our brand. But, oddly enough, a lot of people are wondering, 'what corners are you cutting if you are able to offer these prices? Why is it so cheap?'. They think that we can’t offer this performance for under a half or a third of what other suppliers in the market offer. We built everything properly, with the latest high-performance equipment, with top-of-the-line software components, and we’re simply trying to not overcharge anyone. Even our biggest customer – who we're building the AI cluster for – came to us directly and said, 'your prices are so low that people are really thinking that something is off here'.
“We need, therefore, to convince our customers that we are not cutting corners and are not underpricing our services, but that other providers are overcharging them.”
EvoBits IT’s upcoming 3rd DC
EvoBits IT are also focused on a third DC. Finding the right location has been a challenge as, for DCs, location is key. Specifically, power is a big problem, because data centres require large volumes of it to function effectively, and EvoBits IT is in a city where a number of areas have been built up and a lot of power resources have been used up.
The next stages are about obtaining approvals for the new location and for the new building, which is also a lengthy process. There's a lot of bureaucracy involved. Balaci says: “We hope that we'll be able to overcome all the challenges on the way which will be basically the implementation of all lessons learned. We aim for it to be as efficient as our most efficient, as reliable as our most reliable, and as flexible as our most flexible DC. We expect the building permits and zone development permits to come sometime next year.”
The critical importance of the partner ecosystem
EvoBits IT’s partner ecosystem is also key to its successes. Hearkening back to evolutionary analogies, this ecosystem functions in a way that’s somewhat akin to symbiosis.
One of these partners is Supermicro, who has been very reliable. Most of EvoBits IT’s servers have been from Supermicro, and they have proven themselves to be – despite the fact that they’re a big company – extremely adaptable, and, as EvoBits IT offer customised solutions, they require flexibility. Supermicro constantly adapts solutions for EvoBits IT and the two work together within the supply chain. They were also quick to point out delays caused by the sourcing of parts, offering solutions to go in a different direction to solve EvoBits IT’s delivery issues.
Another one of EvoBits IT’s partners is AMD, who they’ve been with since 2019, where EvoBits IT were a launch partner for Epyc Rome CPUs. Balaci says: “They are always fast to supply; their CPUs are great, as is the support that we receive from them and, if we contact them concerning more niche software, they will help with custom settings or tweaks.”
On the partner ecosystem, Radulescu continues: “We have our partners on the infrastructure and equipment side for the data centres, and the most important name here is Innova. They have been our partners since the construction of the data centres, and they have basically been holding our hands throughout the process of our operations. They've been our partner for maintenance and have been supporting us for any changes that we've carried out and have been there to help with any problems that we have, and have been open to suggestions and requests. They even helped us to learn about specific equipment, such as the Vertiv cutting edge evaporative cooling systems.”
Most importantly, Innova have been able to hand EvoBits IT knowledge down from Vertiv as an intermediary – “and they were very open in doing so,” says Radulescu. “We are very pleased to have them as a partner and have found many opportunities to collaborate with them.
“Obviously, I can't go on without mentioning Vertiv themselves, who have delivered the product and have been very diligent in supporting it wherever it was necessary - and even when it was out of warranty. It must be said that our use-case isn't the most usual case for this type of equipment. We've been pushing those units in that project close to max load continuously, which has also been a very interesting experience for Vertiv themselves, to see how the equipment handles that sort of situation.”
StorPool is another one of EvoBits IT’s partners. They offer a really fast, low latency storage solution for cloud systems and for high performance computing, “and those guys are just awesome,” enthuses Balaci. “We begin with the fact that their solution is great and works really well, but the level of support that they offer is what really sets them apart.”
EvoBits IT’s focus is about trying to develop the business and to make a name for themselves in the market. “One of the approaches is how to start our own marketing campaign to highlight the brand, highlight what makes us special, what specific aspects of our service set us apart from our competitors and why customers should come to us in spite of our very low prices,” says Radulescu. “And, on the other hand, we want to push forward on the development of our data centre, which is very important to us in terms of the next few years, which will be pivotal for the development of our company as a whole.”
Balaci says: “My area of focus will heavily be on our cloud solution. The one that we just launched is something that is also extremely critical for the software-as-a-service aspect of the business, since it provides the backbone for that area. We'll focus heavily on evolving, adding new features, expanding the offering and trying to educate our customers.”