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Meeting a Variety of Challenges

Over the last three months, VMware has been working with all shapes and sizes of Public Health Authorities (PHAs) and businesses as they respond to one of the biggest challenges of our time: COVID-19.

These challenges have come in different varieties and use cases. Here are just a few examples:

  • State, federal governments and PHAs that want to extend their existing “citizen apps” to include COVID-19 public information, including how/where to get testing.
  • State, federal governments and PHAs that are trying to make the phased policy something that is enforceable (think about police/fire/regulators that are getting new ordinances coming at the speed of light).
  • Universities and enterprises that want to help “back to work” in ways that are safe for their employees and build trust. These often have different “trust relationships” than citizen use cases. These are things like:
    • “Attestation systems,” which link building access to testing results.
    • Geotagging parts of large campuses and tracking movement of employees and students.
  • High Performance Computing (HPC) efforts that have suddenly re-vectored to analyzing COVID-19 protein structures and accelerating vaccine and therapeutic work.
  • Work around exposure notification using the Google/Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) APIs – and also some scenarios where GAEN isn’t the right framework – worth exploring our point of view and what we’ve learned to date.
  • Partnering with people leading the charge when it comes to testing. They want apps to make testing scale better – as automated testing systems improve, part of scaling will include making them something that doesn’t need a diagnostician or a doctor, but that anyone can use.

Teaming for Solutions

Response to COVID-19 is an emergent area that is moving and changing quickly. This is true from a policy, science, medicine and technology standpoint. We don’t bring the policy. In each of the examples I know about, this is the most important thing that the customer brings – along with a passion for getting something done, often in a politically charged atmosphere. What VMware brings is the ability to listen, iterate on great software quickly and ultimately put what the customer (PHA, state/federal government, enterprise) has decided is their policy into software their users will love. And then continually adapt as the science, policy and political will changes.

Several weeks back, the team at the Linux Foundation reached out. They wanted to discuss their intent to create an open source community focused on rallying shared innovation, shared response to this crisis, as well as being a repository for key anchor code-bases. VMware’s immediate answer was “YES!” 

A couple of weeks later, VMware is now a Premier Founding member of the Linux Foundation Public Health (LFPH) effort. Frankly, all of our efforts in this domain are rooted in open source software. Even putting aside the obvious benefit of a larger ecosystem beyond the walls of VMware, LFPH is a really useful way to rally our own internal efforts.

Rooted in Past Successes

We’ve been a core contributor to the Linux Foundation for years, and it’s proven to be positive to our customers, our community and ourselves. Standout examples include our work in the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which is home to the efforts in and around Kubernetes. And, of course, the Cloud Foundry Foundation (a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project).  

I know that for many, they don’t associate VMware with Open Source Software (OSS) – that’s okay – it’s a case of “brand lag.” There’s a historical basis for the misperception. But for years now, VMware has been one of the most consistent upstream contributors, particularly considering some of the acquired entities that are now part of the integrated VMware Tanzu efforts for modern app development (e.g. Pivotal with Spring and Cloud Foundry, Heptio with Kubernetes, Bitnami with a broad OSS ecosystem). In a nutshell, Open Source Software is a great way for rapid innovation, iteration and collaboration, and has become core to our DNA.

Epidemics, Pandemics and Technology – Learning Lessons from History

This is one of the poignant challenges for our time. Public health crises are a textbook example where the answer is rooted in rapid innovation, iteration and collaboration, and in our view, OSS is a great way to make progress. While in no way minimizing the impact COVID-19 is having on us now, it’s interesting to reflect that as much as this feels new, it’s not new. It only feels that way because of how we experience things personally, and how humans struggle to think over multi-generational timescales.

Humanity has faced epidemic after epidemic (and some pandemics) over our existence. There have been hundreds of epidemics during written history, and many hundreds of millions of lives lost.  Through them all – and not at all minimizing all the suffering – we discovered vaccines, germ theory and more.  What’s the main lesson? Perhaps it is that we’ve gotten through these crises before. We will get through COVID-19, as well.  Perhaps another lesson is that in each case, the science and technology of the day played a key role, and humanity moved onwards and upwards. 

Will technology help us get through our current Public Health crisis better? We believe the answer is “YES.” Technology isn’t intrinsically good or intrinsically bad – it’s the choices we make as humanity that makes it so.

VMware Partners

VMware will be contributing to the Linux Foundation Public Health initiative in a myriad of ways – trying to be a force for good:

  • We are building software on top of the Google/Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) APIs. We are pretty sure that GAEN is the best path forward for the state/federal government for three core reasons: it’s the best chance for federated systems across boundaries, it maintains a strong posture on personal privacy, and support of Google/Apple means most devices. In particular, I’m looking forward to work to federate whilst still maintaining the personal privacy model.
  • We are building software for cases where GAEN isn’t a fit. There are real and immediate use cases – driven by different balance points of personal privacy and quality/quantity of individual and general epidemiological data; non-Apple/Google devices (there are use cases where people leave their phone before coming into work, for example). The lessons learned based on experiences pre-GAEN existence (like at the NHSx – a great “behind the scenes” read about the experiences and lessons learnt is posted here) show us what you can and cannot do on iOS devices, as well as building the back-end services for both decentralized and centralized systems.
  • We are building software that has nothing to do with exposure notification – which seems to be more and more necessary every day. This is in the domains of enforcement, testing and helping therapeutics.
  • We can do our part to support the health care professionals do what they need to do, and provide some of the technology that helps scientists work on therapeutics and vaccines in time-scales that we’ve never seen before.

VMware is determined to assist the foundation and its other open source partners in delivering solutions that will bring about positive results to the challenges presented by COVID-19 and be more broadly applicable to other, future public health crises. We welcome your input/feedback. As more and more code repos show up on https://www.lfph.io/ – remember, everyone is a part of making OSS be everything it can be!