I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bill Vass, former CIO of Sun Microsystems, about some technology trends such as virtualization, cloud and mobility.
With more than 30 years of technical and IT management experience, Bill Vass is an industry leader in the field of information technology. Prior to its acquisition by Oracle in January 2010, Sun Microsystems Inc. was a global fortune 100 company with a 26-year history of providing networking computing infrastructure solutions. For 15 years, Sun had a highly flexible work policy that allowed 19,000 employees to work away from the office at least one day per week. Bill Vass and his team selected and implemented the technology to support this highly effective virtual organization.
Elka Popova (EP): Hi Bill. You have a tremendous amount of experience in deploying advanced technologies to support Sun Microsystems’ transition to a more flexible work environment. I would like to hear your perspective on future technology trends.
In view of some key demographic shifts – growth of the virtual organization, consumerization of the enterprise, mobility, etc., what technology trends do you think will shape the market in 2011?
Bill Vass (BV): I think SaaS is going to continue to grow. I think there will be a lot of challenges in integrating SaaS, though. Consumerization will continue to grow as consumer devices penetrate the workplace. I think that will drive organizations to virtual desktops. So the idea would be – we don’t buy you clothing to come to work; we don’t buy you a car to come to work; why do we buy you a PC? I think that is the way it is going to move; and you just choose anything you want; we don’t care; when you are ready to work, we will give you a virtual desktop. That way we will keep our corporate data safe in the corporate cloud; and you can work on any device you want – you can work on your iPhone, or your Android phone, or your iPad, or your Mac, or your Dell Ubuntu box, or your HP Windows box, we don’t care.
Virtual desktop and understanding that environment is going to grow significantly. What you see happening with SaaS is very interesting. I was at a CIO conference with Fortune 100 CIOs. I asked them “How many of you are using SaaS today?” And 60% of them raised their hand. And then I asked them “How many of you, CIOs, selected those SaaS apps?” And no one raised their hand. And the reason is – just like with consumerization, where people are using their own devices, business leaders and users are selecting their own applications.
Picture this scenario. The business leader goes to the CIO and says ”I need this CRM system.” And the CIO says “Well, there are probably 1,100 interfaces on our CRM system. We will have to run it in a SAS70 data center; we will have to go through Sarbanes-Oxley; we will have to buy these additional products and install them and integrate them, and so on. Give me $13 million and 18 months and I will have it for you.” And the guy rolls his eyes and goes back to his office.
But then the salesforce.com sales person comes in and says “I can give you CRM right now, just give me your credit card. It’s only $25 an employee!” And the business leader gives them a credit card, and next thing you know, he’s got 5,000 people on salesforce.com. And then the same thing happens in HR; so then the HR system is on Workday. And then it happens in all these other places.
But then you have to manually type all this stuff people typed in salesforce.com into the Workday program, and into the ERP system, and the Order Management system. And the next thing you know, the business ends up hiring this huge staff to do this – for instance, type a new sales person’s information into all the systems, because these things are not integrated. And then the business leaders go back to the CIO and say “Hey can you automate this for me, just like it used to be?” And the CIO scratches his head and says “Oh, God, there are still 1,100 interfaces; you didn’t make these go away; you didn’t make the Sarbanes-Oxley requirement go away; you didn’t make the integration testing go away.”
I think there is going to be this time of chaos – SaaS chaos and revelation; immense growth of SaaS and immense growth of consumerization, and then a rationalization to virtual desktops, and a managed SaaS environment with integrations for SaaS.
You will also see lots and lots of companies putting up what I call private clouds, which is nothing more than continuing to do desktop virtualization and server virtualization, but with more automated provisioning.
I think you will see people waking up about closed wireless systems, and wondering why they are running these closed wireless systems, while they already have environments where people are working on unsecured wireless systems. And they will get the idea of having a wireless provider run it for them instead of them trying to run it themselves.
I think you will see pico cells being installed and replacing the desk phone altogether. Maybe you will see some more complicated phones at the receptionist’s desk, but for everybody else, who already has a cell phone, you will see pico cells which will improve reception and, now that you are not paying for wireless minutes while in their corporate buildings, you can also do it more economically than you did before. It becomes a very compelling option to give everyone a cell phone. And then you have the added advantage of letting everyone use their device, as long as you have a Web service environment, virtual desktop, and you can deliver an edge mail service.
You will start to see networks being turned inside out. But you will also see tons of companies doing it the old-fashioned way. There are companies still using mainframes, right? It’s not going to change overnight. You will have banks and governments who are very slow to change. And for good reasons around security and all those other things. But the real dichotomy you will run into is the competition between virtual enterprises and physical enterprises. It’s going to be staggering over the next few years.
In the end, the virtual enterprises will be so fast and flexible, and they will be able to run competitive rings around the “old fashioned” companies. Not only will the virtual enterprises be more fast and flexible, they will have a much lower overhead of operation than the traditional way of providing IT services in big companies. They will be able to expand and contract faster, get into new markets faster, and get the best talent from all over the world, without geographic limits.
EP: Bill, how strongly do you believe in cloud architectures? Do you think businesses will increasingly leverage external clouds? Which applications do you believe are best suited for the cloud?
BV: A lot of companies will be deploying private clouds, mostly virtualization with automated provisioning. However, it’s important to note that these concepts are not new, IBM invented virtualization back in the late 60s and what we call cloud computing in the early 70s. What we are seeing is just another cycle of centralization from decentralization but now on top of more open platforms.
The thing that will slow the movement to public and even private clouds will be the normal politics between different parts within large companies, but newer / smaller companies will not have these issues.
If I started a company today, I wouldn’t install any servers, I wouldn’t install any phone systems, I wouldn’t install any wireless systems. I would go to 802.11 service provider and have them run wireless APs in my office. I will have pico cells installed on the wireless network and give everyone cell phones. I would go to Workday for my HR, and salesforce.com for CRM, and I’d build an IT environment that costs maybe about $2K a year per employee. The old-fashioned way, it cost about $17K a year per employee (business systems, plus network and hardware, and data-centers). So you will have a company with an overhead of $2K a year per employee competing with a company that has an overhead of $17K a year per employee. You have a company that can double its size in a day because of its virtual environment; it doesn’t have offices. And then you have a company that has this real-estate portfolio that’s slow to change. You are going to start to see these battles.
And the other thing that you are going to start to see is anxiety among the IT organizations about their jobs, and their place among all this. In a virtual company, the CIO is the same person who does real estate and who does purchasing. That’s a scary thing for CIOs; that’s a scary thing for the whole environment. That is also going to slow change and the adoption in the big companies.
The virtual companies will put everything in the cloud. They don’t have a legacy. Companies with a legacy will try to gradually move everything in the cloud, except their ERP systems. Mail, calendar, that will go faster – nobody is going to run those on the premises, that’s the dumbest thing in the world. Your web sites – why would you run that; just go to Amazon and have them run them for you.
I think desktop virtualization is going to go to the cloud; but most companies are going to run this internally, at first. I think you are going to see custom apps stay inside the premises, but commercial apps move to a more SaaS environments. I think the easiest stuff to move is the stuff that you don’t have to deal with Sarbanes-Oxley about. There are companies that legitimately have custom requirements, and companies that legitimately have security requirements that will prevent them from moving to SaaS. Those would be banks and governments, and other similar organizations. But even they should be delineating what they can take advantage of in the cloud. But they should also be careful about what they put in the cloud and make sure they don’t get locked in with a SaaS provider, and have an exit clause in contracts, and make sure they understand the SLAs properly.
EP: How about voice, Bill, corporate telephony? When will it get moved to SaaS on a large scale?
You know, the way I see things going, people would just put pico cells in their offices and use mobile phones. I think VoIP, beyond using it for Skype or something like that, might start to become one of those things where you ask yourself “Why did we even bother to develop something like that? We all have cell phones any way.” Why would you go and put in a bunch of Cisco VoIP phones in your company if you all have cell phones? What if you could reduce the cost and improve the quality by just putting in a bunch of pico cells?
EP: I think one big question on many customer and vendor minds is whether all-in-one solutions will eventually become more dominant. Currently, most businesses deploy best-of-breed architectures and this approach has both its advantages and disadvantages. Some vendors are making concerted efforts to become the one-stop shop for their customers’ communications needs. Where do you see the potential for this approach, especially in view of the SaaS and mobility trends you just talked about?
That’s what I referred to earlier as the chaos of SaaS that’s coming. What I described about the business users going and selecting SaaS on their own, outside of the organization, is going to continue and they will do it on the principle of best of breed. And then this giant chaos is going to occur, maybe 4 or 5 years from now, when we try to figure out how to integrate all the SaaS apps together into a best-of-breed environment.
The trouble with the all-in-one systems – old companies that have all-in-one systems are going to resist moving to SaaS. New companies, that don’t have anything, are going to move to SaaS right away.
I don’t think that any single SaaS provider is qualified to provide everything to a company. Certainly it’s simpler to get everything from the same company; but everyone who has had the experience knows how unpleasant it is when you are negotiating your next year’s support costs and there is no competition.
EP: When do you believe IT and telecom will fully merge – technologically, organizationally and in all other related aspects?
BV: One of the areas where I worked with Mitel a lot was this combination of the desktop and the phone. The challenge is that those two groups – the people who manage the desktop and the people who manage the phone – don’t talk to each other. And they are both threatened by each other. It is a people problem, not a technology problem. I think it is still going to be a long time before they merge, because they are two different camps internally and two different sets of vendors. I think what will cause them to merge is the younger generation coming in. They are already using Skype on their desktop, they are used to SIP-compliant VoIP on a desktop, and used to working on a cell phone. And those are the things that will drive the change; I don’t think organizations on their own are going to change.
EP: Bill, thank you very much for your insights. I think many CIOs as well as vendors and SaaS providers will appreciate your perspective on technology evolution.