cloud computing

Relativity Space’s focus on 3D printing and cloud-based software helps it weather the COVID-19 storm

Just like in almost every other industry, there’s been a rash of layoffs among newer space startups and companies amid the novel coronavirus crisis. But Relativity Space has managed to avoid layoffs – and is even hiring, despite the global pandemic. Relativity CEO and founder Tim Ellis cites the company’s focus on large-scale 3D printing, as well as its adoption of cloud-based tools and technologies as big reasons why his startup hasn’t felt the pinch.

Because Relativity’s forthcoming launch vehicle is almost entirely made up of 3D-printed parts, from the engines, to the fuselage and everything in between, the company has been able to continue producing its prototypes essentially uninterrupted. Relativity has been classified an essential business, as have most companies operating in anything related to aerospace or defense, but Ellis said that they took steps very early to address the potential thread of COVID-19 and ensure the health and safety of their staff. As early as March 9, when the disease was really first starting to show up in the U.S. and before any formal restrictions or shelter-in-place orders were in effect, Relativity was recommending that employees work from home where possible.

“We’re able to do that, partially because with our automated printing technology we were able to have very, very few people in the factory and still keep printers running,” Ellis said in an interview. “We actually even have just one person now running several printers that are still actually printing – it’s literally a single person operating, while a lot of company has been able to make progress working from home for the last couple of weeks.”

Being able to run an entire production factory floor with just one person on-site is a tremendous competitive advantage in the current situation, and way to ensure you’re also respecting employee health and safety. Ellis added that the company has already been operating between multiple locations, including teams at Cape Canaveral, Florida, as well as at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and at its headquarters in LA. Relativity also had a further distributed workforce with a few employees working remotely from locations across the U.S, and it focused early on ensuring that its design and development processes could work without requiring everyone to be centrally-based.

“We’ve developed our own custom software tools to just streamline those workflows, that that really helped,” Ellis said. “Also, just being more of a cloud-enabled company, while still complying with ITAR and security protocols has been really, really advantageous as well.”

In addition to their focus on in-house software and cloud-based tools, Ellis credits the timing of their most recent round – a $140 million investment closed last October – as a reason they’re well-situated for enduring the COVID-19 crisis. He says that Relativity no only managed to avoid any layoffs, while sending out new offers, but they’re also still paying all employees, including hourly workers, their full regular wage. All of this stems from a business model that in retrospect, seems prescient, but that Ellis says actually just has significant advantages in today’s global business climate by virtue of chance. Still, he does believe that some of Relativity’s resilience thus far signals some of the biggest lasting changes that will result from the coronavirus pandemic.

“What it’s really going to change […] is the approach to global supply chain,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a big push to have more things made in America, and then less dependence on heavy globalization across supply chain. That’s one you thing we’ve always had with 3D printing – not only is an automated technology, where we can have very few operators still making progress even during times like like this and printing some of the first stage structures of our rocket – but on the supply chain side, just having simpler supply chains with fewer vendors and different types of manufacturing processes mean it’s much less likely that we’ll see very significant supplier and supply chain interruptions.”

Meanwhile, while Ellis says that ultimately they can’t predict how the coronavirus crisis will impact their overall schedule in terms of planned launch activities, which includes flying their first 3D-printed vehicle in 2021, they anticipate being able to make plenty of progress through remote work and a production line that can easily comply with social isolation guidelines. Partner facility shutdowns, including the rocket engine test stand at Stennis, will definitely have an impact, but Relativity’s resilience could prove a model for manufacturing businesses of all stripes to emulate once this moment has passed.

Google Cloud makes it cheaper to run smaller workloads on Bigtable

Cloud Bigtable has long been Google Cloud’s fully-managed NoSQL’s database for massive, petabyte-sized analytical and operational workloads. At $0.65 per hour and node, it was never a cheap service to run, especially because Google Cloud enforced a minimum of three nodes per cluster for production workloads. Today, however, it is changing that and you can now run Bigtable production workloads on just a single node.

“We want Bigtable to be an excellent home for all of your key-value and wide-column use-cases, both large and small,” Google Cloud Bigtable product manager Sandy Ghai said in today’s announcement. “That’s true whether you’re a developer just getting started, or an established enterprise looking for a landing place for your self-managed HBase or Cassandra clusters.”

With this, Google Cloud is now also enabling the ability to use replication for higher availability for these small clusters, as well as the ability to easily switch a one-node development instance to a one-node production instance as needed. In addition, the service’s SLA now also covers all Bigtable instances, no matter their size.

It’s interesting to see Google Cloud make this push for bringing smaller workloads onto Bigtabe, especially given the organization’s current focus on large enterprise customers and their specific needs. But the company that only needs a single node today could easily be the one that needs massive clusters in the future and Bigtable’s minimums have always represented somewhat of a barrier to entry for smaller companies — and once a company places its bets on a given database service, it’s not likely to switch anytime time.

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