A Technical Plan for Disaster

Marc Morales

IAC’s Marc Morales breaks down how he brings deep experience and a broad range of skills to technology management

In an organization like IAC, which owns such highly visible Internet brands as Ask.com and Match.com, IT administration requires a steady, experienced hand. Fortunately, Marc Morales, IAC’s director of IT infrastructure and security, not only brings decades of technology experience to the company, he has also built a portfolio of skills that ranges from call-center user support to systems administration to disaster recovery.
After getting a formal education in computer technology, Morales quickly began gaining real-world expertise. During his early help-desk days, he was encouraged to participate in hands-on activities in the systems areas. When opportunities to work on application-development projects came up, Morales pounced on them. Now, as the head of IAC’s IT Infrastructure group, he uses his breadth of experience to tackle challenges of all types, from overcoming the hurdles posed by the growing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement to keeping the company functioning after the tremendous damage unleashed by Hurricane Sandy.

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Virtualization’s positive impacts
The environmental benefits of virtualization are abundantly clear at IAC. IAC runs a lean IT organization, and having a small physical footprint streamlines maintenance. Reduced energy costs have also been realized because having less equipment requires equally less power and cooling. But Morales says those aren’t the only savings his team has found. “There are additional tertiary cost savings in network switching, cabling, and fiber ports on a SAN or a SAN switch,” he explains. “All those things are mitigated by having only a single host connected, and a number of virtual machines on that host.”

By using VMware, IAC is also able to get a quick dashboard view of the computing environment, one of many time savers that administrators find helpful. “The biggest thing we’ve enjoyed through virtualization is the ability to provision quickly,” Morales says. “Instead of having to wait a couple of weeks in lead time for physical hardware, we can provision servers within a couple of hours.” Server sprawl is also mitigated with IAC’s virtualized environment. For those groups that only need temporary server resources, IT can delete them as soon as they’re no longer required.

Up Close & Personal

Getting to know Marc Morales

Where did your IT journey begin?
After finding out that I was going to be a dad, I decided I needed a real career. I went to computer school and started out with support jobs before working my way to the systems side of things.

What job did you want as a child growing up?
My dream occupation was middle linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, but that didn’t work out. I’ve always been a gadget guy. Whether it’s high-end stereo equipment or video games or computers, I’ve always liked anything high-tech. It seemed a natural progression for me to get into computers.

How do you unwind?
My guilty pleasure is video games. Given the 15- and 16-hour days we were working throughout the recovery from Hurricane Sandy, it was a welcome break to come home and just sit in front of the TV, veg out, and not have to worry about anything for couple of hours.

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Contributors to virtualization success
Through the combination of VMware with HP’s 3PAR storage, Morales says the company is seeing remarkable performance out of its virtualization platforms. “Unlike some previous SANs that I’ve worked with in the past, this storage is so easy to manage,” he says. The team gets all the functionality, reliability, and resilience of a regular SAN, but without the administrative hassles that usually accompany it.

The IT group at IAC supports a large and energetic operation with just a handful of people. That makes the “set-it-and-forget-it” structure of the VMware/3PAR relationship especially helpful. “There’s not a whole lot of day-to-day management with the unit,” Morales says. That frees up his fairly small team to do other things and tackle performance-enhancing, cost-saving projects for the company. “That’s a big deal for us in particular,” Morales says, “because we do run rather lean.”

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The challenges of BYOD
The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement presents new challenges for Morales and his team. “It hasn’t been easy,” he says. “The ability to centrally manage what people can and can’t access—and what happens when devices are off-premises—has been a significant challenge for us.” The technology is out there to accomplish these things, but Morales says the biggest obstacle is often the pushback to what may look like a big-brother culture. “We need to make sure that the businesses understand that we’re not trying look over their shoulder,” Morales says.

Instead, IAC approaches BYOD as a data-protection strategy. Once users understand that the data belongs to the company, Morales says they’re much more accepting of security and authentication requirements. “You get the convenience of using the platform you want, but the company still has a responsibility to ensure that certain protections are in place,” Morales explains. He reports there was initially some hesitation among users, but because of the IT group’s education efforts, most are now peacefully cohabitating with the mobile-device-management initiative’s policies.

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Hurricane Sandy: Lessons learned
Every disaster offers a chance to gain new insight, and IAC learned some valuable lessons during the recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Systems were successfully failed over to an alternate data center on the West Coast, but the team discovered their disaster-recovery e-mail platform was a bit under-scaled. “For an extended outage, it’s not the best solution,” Morales says. “We ended up being on it for six days.”

Redundant power was also an issue during the storm. “We learned not to rely on just one generator,” Morales explains. The failure of a $30 belt on the company’s single generator caused a lot of havoc, and led to the implementation of a more robust generator solution. In addition, IAC’s electrical switching gear was located in the basement. It’s a common spot for many companies, but it’s not a good solution when flooding hits.

“The biggest takeaway is that you really have to plan for the worst-case scenario,” Morales says. After Sept. 11, companies took disaster planning much more seriously, but Morales says that the passage of time has eroded some of those efforts. “As we get further away from that event, I think certain aspects of DR have been value-engineered out in the name of cost savings.” Hurricane Sandy taught him not to fall into that trap.