27 Jul 2020 20:07 IST

Zoomed: from Virudhunagar, TN to San Jose, Silicon Valley

V Sankarlingam, President, Product & Engineering, Zoom, on how the app scaled to meet massive demand

It’s been a long road from small-town Tamil Nadu to San Jose, the centre of cutting-edge technology in Silicon Valley, for Velchamy Sankarlingam. Now as President of Product and Engineering, Zoom Video Communications, Velchamy is helping his friend of many years Eric Yuan, founder of Zoom, keep tabs on the frenetic pace at which the video conferencing app is, well, literally zooming around the world, with businesses large and small, as well as school and college students using the platform to continue their commercial, educational and cultural activities during the pandemic.

Given that Zoom is growing faster than Jack’s beanstalk, it was but natural that Eric would turn to his old friend and former colleague from their time together at online meeting company, Webex, later acquired by Cisco. As of the end of December last year, the maximum number of daily meeting participants, both free and paid, conducted on Zoom was approximately 10 million. In March this year, it zipped to more than 200 million daily. And, in April users surpassed 300 million daily. India is one of the largest markets for Zoom.

“Eric and I are very good friends from our WebEx days, we share a lot and we think alike; we work hard and also have a lot of fun doing it. That was one big driver for me, With Covid, Zoom had to scale, as it is making such a big difference to the world and Eric needed my help in the scaling up collaborations and cloud technology,” says Velchamy, who moved from VMWare, where he had a long stint after WebEx. Like Velchamy, Eric also moved to study in the US from China and stayed on to realise the American dream.

Velchamy says Zoom is able to handle the sudden massive increase in usage because of the data centres it has around the world, with two in India (in Mumbai and Hyderabad) as well. “To actually scale there is a lot of resilience and an ability to distribute the workload as it grows. Apart from our own data centres, we can also scale seamlessly to the public cloud if we need more capacity with all the compliance and security,” he says. The whole of the last year, Zoom did 100 billion minutes of meeting time while this year he expects 20 times growth, at two trillion minutes.

Performance, security features

The Zoom architecture, he says, is designed such that it does very well at low bandwidth. “So, if it is low bandwidth you still get the audio and you get a lower resolution of video and then if there is higher bandwidth it can automatically adjust and then the video also improves,” he explains.

Aware of the concerns around security features for Zoom, Velchamy says Zoom had a 90 day plan where, over its course, it released over 100 new features focused on privacy, safety and security, and started building end-to-end encryption offering for all users.

Multinationals, he says, have put Zoom through all kinds of security testing, including of its data centres. “The UK government is using us and Singapore Government has shortlisted us as one of the options for learning from home.” To the questions the Indian government raised with Zoom on security issues, Velchamy says it has been working with the Ministry of Home Affairs and is expecting a positive decision. “We have provided all the information needed so they can take a decision based on actual data,” he adds.

Velchamy was born in small-town Virudhunagar in southern Tamil Nadu and studied there till his 10th Std. His father used to trade in tin sheets and all his extended family were in trades and businesses. In those days, he recalls, the town had just two motorbikes. “I still have deep connections there. My three sisters live there and I, of course, stay connected with them on Zoom.” Though a business family, his parents encouraged him to study further.

From a convent school he moved on to a well-known boarding school, Montford, in the hill town of Yercaud, before securing admission for an electronics communication course at Guindy Engineering College, Chennai. After a short stint at DCM Data Products he moved to the US and joined Marquette in Milwaukee, a Jesuit University for a course in electrical engineering. But, Velchamy also took two computer science courses, which he enjoyed, and to pursue that area of study, he transferred to Northern Illinois University for a master’s in computer science. Later, he would also study for another degree in business at State University of New York in Stony Brook.

Stints at tech majors

Working stints at IBM and Anderson Consulting followed before he moved to the Bay Area and worked with a start-up which was acquired by WebEx, where he met Yuan. After WebEx got acquired by Cisco, Velchamy moved to VMWare, where he had a long stint, running various businesses for it, including large development centres in India, before he joined Zoom.

Velchamy says he’s proud that Zoom is helping Indian businesses, government agencies, communities, school teachers and other users stay connected during this global health crisis. Three of Zoom’s top executives are of Indian origin. Apart from Velchamy, Aparna Bawa, Chief Operating Officer, and Sunil Madan, Corporate Chief Information Officer, hail from India.

Many misconceptions around Zoom are disheartening, he says. Zoom’s founder is a Chinese American, of course, but Zoom is a US company, publicly traded on Nasdaq, founded and headquartered in San Jose, California, he says. Like many global technology companies, Zoom has offices in China as well.

“We see great potential in the Indian business community as prospective Zoom customers. From large MNC brands with Indian operations to MSME enterprises looking to expand as well as home-grown start-ups, India is a key player in global business and a key market for Zoom,” says Velchamy.