maxcluster 2020 - a review

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2020 - what a year. The last few months have held special challenges in store for everyone. Managing directors Sebastian Ringel and Alexander Wilhelm report on what these were for maxcluster in an interview.

Has maxcluster grown in terms of personnel in 2020 and what is particularly important to the employees?

We have also taken on new staff this year and have grown from 38 to 45 people. We were particularly pleased that we were even able to convince a "returnee" (again), but also that we accepted applicants even during the "corona period". The induction of the new staff during this period has of course been somewhat more difficult than usual, but we have found good ways to integrate them into the teams.

In addition to professional suitability, of course, we place particular value on our employees' ability to communicate. In a values workshop at the beginning of 2020, we worked out that trust and professionalism are paramount for us. Within and outside the company, the focus is therefore on appreciative communication - a friendly "please" and "thank you", nice feedback and generally respectful interaction with each other and with our customers and business partners is important to us.

2020 was certainly a special year for you as well. What were the biggest challenges for you and for maxcluster?

The pandemic has certainly caused the greatest challenges. When we were founded, we already placed a lot of emphasis on a pronounced attendance culture because we believe that this allows us to make faster decisions - and of course we also value face-to-face interaction very much. As managers who derive a lot from the body language of the person they are talking to, the switch to virtual meetings was particularly stressful.

Nevertheless, we reacted quickly and straightforwardly to the Covid 19 situation in March and implemented both a hybrid mobile office/office strategy and the necessary hygiene concepts. It played into our hands that we had already converted a large part of the staff to notebooks by the end of 2019. Furthermore, in addition to virtual meetings, we also introduced the live voice platform "Mumble", which compensated somewhat for the missing conversations "between door and door" and at the coffee machine.

In general, "remote work" naturally brings with it some special features: motivating employees via the screen or supporting them to work together cooperatively despite the distance is not always easy. In addition, there is a certain basic tension in everyone, which is caused by both the social and private situation. Critical and negative thoughts are carried over into everyday professional life and composure diminishes.

Independently of Corona, the year was also marked by personnel restructuring for us. In the meantime, we have reached a size where we, as managing directors, cannot be department heads at the same time. Everyone who founds a company knows how difficult it is to hand over departments, because these are real issues that are close to our hearts. In the end, however, we are very happy to have handed over responsibility for certain departments to responsible and capable employees, because this gives us more time to focus on strategic corporate issues.

Have you achieved the goals you set?

We have implemented all our planned modernisation measures and extensions and improved our product both qualitatively and functionally. In addition, new monitoring programmes help us to find errors in the systems even faster. This has brought us one step closer to our goal of offering customers the most fail-safe and high-performance eCommerce hosting.

However, one project is very much behind schedule due to the current situation - the development of a CRM system, from which we hope to be able to advise and support our customers even more comprehensively across departments.

What has changed at maxcluster in the last 12 months?

Besides the obvious - the unfamiliar distance to and between employees - many other personnel issues have changed at maxcluster. For example, we decided to increase the number of holiday days from 25 to 30 days.

As fathers, family orientation and the compatibility of family and work have always been in the foreground for us. That's why we are all the more pleased that more and more fathers among our employees are taking parental leave. In general, we don't have to worry about the next generation of IT staff, as we welcomed three new children in 2020 alone.

The expansion of our health management was also on the to-do list. Whether weekly back training with a professional physiotherapist, body analysis or individual health advice, there is something for everyone.

We have also changed our approach to training, which now focuses more on digital training and certification on various specialist topics. Face-to-face meetings have not become obsolete, but we are trying to minimise them.

Which topics were in the focus of your clients in 2020?

Besides the certainly dominant topic of the "pandemic", there were a number of things that kept our customers busy. On the one hand, there was the Magento 1.9 EOL in June, which brought far-reaching changes for many of our customers. In the meantime, almost 60 % of our former Magento 1 shops have switched to Magento 2, which of course also made preparatory work necessary for us. For Magento 1 customers who have not (yet) switched, we guarantee that they can safely operate their online shop with us for another three years. In addition, through our product management, we support these customers with further features to increase the security of Magento 1 hosting. Our strategic partnerships with MageOne and OpenMage also pay off in terms of security.

The migration of customer shops to Shopware 6 also involved a lot of manual effort. On the one hand, because it was a completely new software basis compared to Shopware 5, and on the other hand, because the software itself is not yet fully developed and we first had to clear some obstacles out of the way.

We also provided support for the upgrade of many customer clusters to PHP 7.4. Incidentally, due to this trend, we also made PHP 8.0 available in the Managed Centre shortly after the release.

Yes, and of course, as every year, there are topics like "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday", which we have managed well together with our customers. It is interesting to note that the entire e-commerce structure has shifted due to the reduced stationary purchasing opportunities and that we were able to observe, for example, that the classic online shop summer slump hardly had an impact this year.

What was the biggest learning for you in 2020?

For us, eCommerce was always so important that we even included it in our claim "Optimised eCommerce Hosting". However, we did not foresee how important it would become and how important it would also become for stationary trade. The 30% increase in online trade in 2020 speaks for itself.
It is simply impossible to imagine the present without e-commerce, as it offers a way of trading without any health risks.

Another important learning for us was the topic of "remote work". How do you deal with people who are not on site and whom you "only" see via a monitor? This was an important and sometimes exhausting process for us personally, but also for the whole organisation, but we all mastered it very well.

What were the positive highlights for you and for maxcluster 2020 and what are you particularly proud of?

The Magento 2-Patch spontaneously comes to mind. During more than 100 hours of their working time, but also in their free time, some of our employees developed a patch that can increase the performance of Magento 2 online shops by more than 30 %. For Magento, this result was so significant that they decided to include it in the release of Magento 2.4.2 at the beginning of February.

We are also very pleased with the results of our two customer surveys, which we conducted for the first time in 2020. In both surveys, we achieved an NPS>76, which is a fantastic result for us. And even if it may sound trite: the feedback we received in the form of change requests, suggestions, but also criticism is so valuable for us, because it allows us to tailor our product and services even more to the needs of our customers. Together with our newly established internal idea management, this information is the basis for successful product management.

Speaking of new products: The introduction of "ShopSecurity" at the beginning of the year was definitely a highlight. With it, we gave customers who (can) only invest a little in security a tool with which they can operate their online shops or blogs as securely as possible. With this function, extensive malware and shop scans can be carried out and concrete recommendations for action in the case of problems that may occur support their elimination. The topic of security was and is so important to us that we entered into an exclusive partnership with Sansec for this purpose, because we feel obliged to be able to offer our customers the most secure hosting.

We were also personally pleased when our Managed Centre was mentioned in an article about Managed Services in iX (note: article can be downloadedhere) ‒ it simply makes you proud when you come across a picture of your product while leafing through a magazine that is so important for the IT sector.

But what makes us most proud again this year are our employees. We are simply happy that they can be relied on even in difficult situations. We take our hats off to the speed with which the team has pulled together, the flexibility with which everyone has reacted and the determination with which solutions have been found to satisfy the customers.

What new themes have emerged during the year?

Two topics had already been announced a few months earlier, but came more to the fore during the year: PHP 8.0 and Elasticsearch.

PHP 8.0 with the JIT compiler was certainly eagerly awaited by many and we are excited to see what future performance increases we and of course our customers will experience with it. In order to give our customers access to this as quickly as possible, we integrated PHP 8.0 into our Managed Center just one week after release and informed about the innovations in a blog article.

Another important topic is Elasticsearch. Elasticsearch is now a fixed requirement for the use of Magento 2.4, which is why we have introduced some innovations. These make it easier for our customers to use the search engine, because they can, for example, make analysis, ingest and mapper plug-ins directly in the Managed Center, or configure daily, automatic snapshots for Elasticsearch instances.

In addition, we have had two employees trained as "Elasticsearch Certified Developers" in order to be able to offer our customers the necessary expertise when they have questions.

What are the most important topics for maxcluster this year?

PHP 8.0, Elasticsearch, but also MySQL 8 will certainly be in focus in the coming months in order to optimally integrate these applications into our stack and to increase the benefit for our customers. With regard to customer benefit, we will of course also continue to train and educate our employees with regard to the software frequently used by our customers.

Of course, performance enhancement will also remain on the agenda. To this end, we have not only invested in the fastest CPUs and NVME SSDs currently available on the market, but we can also guarantee our customers that they will always receive the fastest cores.
We will also invest in even better analytical tools, both in the area of monitoring and profiling, and will make additional optimisations at container level.

Another important topic is still to come: The changes in our Managed Centre, which will go live at the beginning of February. Even if it is not so obvious to the customer that anything will change in terms of use, the technical underpinnings have been completely reprogrammed and set up, and we are pleased to finally be able to go public with this after months of hard work.

Another highlight is on the agenda for September: maxcluster will move into new offices. Another milestone in our 10th year as a company.


Published on 02.01.2021 | NM

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