Top IT CEOs speak out about cloud boundaries

SAN FRANCISCO – Cloud computing and virtualization are drivers of innovation, but also present organizational challenges, a panel of the industry’s top CEOs told a packed VMworld 2012 audience earlier this week.

Security in virtualized environments presents challenges that require a new set of tools to limit who can access what data. Security used to be about putting controls and checks on physical boundaries, said outgoing VMware CEO Paul Maritz. Now we’re seeing a move from physical to logical boundaries, where security is becoming behavioural, more like fraud detection – where certain behaviours by individuals or applications raise red flags.

“This is easier to do in a software-defined world,” said Maritz. Not surprisingly, VMware is promoting its vision of a “software-defined data centre” this week at VMworld, where all infrastructure is virtualized and delivered as a service.

But too much security means less functionality, he said, which is necessary for commerce. “We can no longer wall ourselves off. We have to expose ourselves digitally in order to do business.” He recommended placing logical boundaries between personal data and business applications.

Dell chairman and CEO Michael Dell said we’re facing new security challenges as personal mobile devices are being used to conduct business – often over third-party networks using third-party applications.

But it’s important to embrace the consumerization of IT, the panel suggested, particularly with a new generation of tech-savvy workers entering the workforce.

“They’re mobile, they want innovation to occur anywhere inside the organization and they’re looking for IT to make it easy for them,” said Dell.

Collaboration is occurring across time zones and geographies, enabling new models of work. At Dell, for example, there are three types of employees: remote workers, those who occasionally come into the office, and those who work in a traditional office environment.

“Increasingly it’s the first two categories,” said Dell. The boundaries that separated firms are also coming down, particularly in the supply chain. But, he cautioned, this has to be done securely. “This is a real security challenge.

Virtualization can help address that, but there are big challenges here that are not to be overlooked.”We’re seeing that pace of innovation pick up, said VMware’s incoming CEO Pat Gelsinger, who officially starts his new role on Sept. 1.

Scale is an enormous economic barrier – or at least it used to be. “In the cloud era we’ve destroyed time, we’ve destroyed the economic barrier,” said Gelsinger. “It really is a pretty fabulous thing to watch.” But people and process changes are critical to making this work, he added.

“We can spend all day talking about the obstacles and what stands in our way,” said NetApp CEO Tom Georgens. Instead, the conversation needs to shift toward enabling the capabilities of knowledge workers, or “difference makers,” in an organization.

At the show NetApp announced a new integration between VMware VSphere 5.1 and NetApp’s Data ONTAP 8 software to securely manage and deploy infinite storage pools and deliver non-disruptive migration of data among hundreds of virtual machines at a time.

“We tell CIOs it’s a new world,” said Georgens. Previously, they were tasked with keeping the lights on and systems up, or they’d get fired. All those things are still true, he said, but now there’s something else that will get them fired: Another company is creating competitive advantage with technology you told the CEO is too risky.

Cloud is one of those technologies; some CIOs were slow to latch on and got left behind.

“There’s some risk-taking at some level,” said Georgens. “There’s an enormous opportunity for innovation from a technology perspective.” While there’s still integration work that needs to be done, he’s optimistic that “people are going to take that risk.”

When it comes to enabling collaboration, organizations are going to have to deal with a disparate employee base – and need to find a way to embrace it. “Clearly the cloud is out there as one (enabler),” said Georgens. “I’ve heard, ‘I’ve been burned by outsourcing before, I’m not sure they can meet my SLAs, I’m not sure they can secure my data’” he said. “There’s some truth to that.” But in every major IT transformation he’s seen, the cloud has resulted in a much faster implementation.

EMC CEO Joe Tucci said IT investment is required for innovation and productivity gains, yet three-quarters of IT budgets are still being used to maintain legacy infrastructure. Cost savings from virtual and cloud technologies could be used to spark innovation, he said.

At the show EMC made several announcements, including a collaborative effort with Cisco to provide three paths to the cloud: custom-designed infrastructure, validated reference architectures and pre-integrated converged infrastructure. EMC also previewed its joint analytics solution with VMware, which provides EMC VNX storage performance and capacity analytics for VMware vCenter Operations customers.

Businesses need to revise their organizational structure as they adopt these new technologies, said Gelsinger. Virtualization means database admins no longer control information, since this is done at the virtualization layer. IT needs to look at itself as a service organization, he said, that charges business units for services.It’s people and process changes, the panel suggested, that are necessary to getting the most out of virtualization and cloud technologies.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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