IT in the desert is no picnic

Around the rally

You are in the middle of the desert. You have to set up and maintain a computer network, keep 15 computers running and connect them together, ensure data security, manage computer applications, intervene immediately in the event of a problem, etc., and all under extreme conditions: temperatures than can reach 50 degrees, frequent sandstorms that undo all your work. Would you take the job?

This is exactly what Bruno IVARS has been volunteering for for the past 12 years. A computer professional in a public hospital, he has also witnessed the evolution of the Rallye for 12 years. When he started, there were 70 teams. Today, there are 190: “Over the years, we have worked hard to evolve according to the requirements and changes in the competition”, (…) “12 years ago, there were 4 photographers, today there are 11: that’s a lot more photos to index and data to manage”.

The beginning was not easy. Despite handover from his predecessor, managing the entire Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc network is quite a responsibility. Bruno puts in many hours leading up to each event anticipating all the problems that could occur on the ground, preparing “duplicates” (duplicate computer equipment, duplicate software, etc.), reviewing the procedures, etc. “At the bivouac, there is always a sense of urgency; every issue must be resolved right away. That represents a lot of work at the beginning of the Rallye, and then things stabilize and we focus on keeping everything operational. There is a sense of solidarity between us, a real team effort. When everyone is doing his or her job, it’s a well-oiled machine”.

Bruno has also brought a friend along for the adventure. Franck DEAL joined the photo/web team of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles au Maroc 11 years ago thanks to Bruno, working alongside Sébastien VRILLACQ, communications director for Maïenga. For 5 years he indexed photos: “I remember, when I first arrived, I wanted to come back so much that I wouldn’t miss a single detail on the photo. To the point that they called me the “crazy indexer”.” Indexing involves sorting and identifying every photo so they can be catalogued in a database. After working as “photo manager”, he joined the “web” team, publishing articles such as this one, which he illustrates with photos taken from the aforementioned database. “It’s concrete. I see the results of what I’m doing right away.” With social media, this work is increasingly important. “We share what happens during the day, we’re a connection to the outside world.”

My life at the Rallye

For the Gazelles, they work in the shadows, following their own schedule that tends to run very late. The photographers’ memory cards often reach the bivouac at the same time as the Gazelles, which is “rush hour” in the photo/web trailer. For the Gazelles, being here is a dream come true. It is very important to us. We’re one link in the chain.” say the two friends.

Why volunteer their time for more than a decade in the middle of the desert?

For Franck: “Coming here helped me realize two dreams: 4x4s and the desert.” (…) “My first time, I was so filled with excitement. I was like a little kid. I thought the desert was all sand dunes, but it’s also rocks, vegetation and so much more.” (…) “I come back for those who welcomed us with open arms. The work is hard, we finish late, but we laugh a lot, it’s very friendly.  The conditions have also improved a lot over time; they look after us. The days aren’t easy, but we come back. The relationships are important; Sébastien is the cement that binds us”. (…) Bruno feels the same way: “We come back for the family. When we get together, it feels that we only just left each other the day before. Even if it only takes place once a year. We come back for the people.

As well as friends, Bruno and Franck are colleagues in their professional lives. During the Covid 19 pandemic, thanks to what they learned from their work at the Rallye, they were able to switch their organization’s entire IT team into “emergency mode”. “We went into “fail soft mode”: we were used to  working in emergency situations, finding immediate solutions; worst-case management”.