Behind the Scenes

When IT leaders from SAP, GoDaddy, Nationwide, and Cloudera sit around a table, what do they talk about? When the camera is recording, they discuss cloud, data analytics, and security:

  • How did Nationwide and GoDaddy expand their operations without more staff?
  • What are some of the key uses for Cloudera’s Hadoop and other Big Data technologies?
  • How is SAP helping different companies adopt cloud?

Go here for the official story.

When the cameras stopped rolling, we got deeper. How did these IT leaders end up in their jobs? What are they really like? What do they think of their people? What technology excites them?

Watch the video, but come back to read the story behind the story.

Cloud is Made of People (No, Not THAT Way)

Panel 1Everybody on the panel passionately believes in connecting with people. On camera, they talk about deploying automation to scale and meet their business needs. They’re expanding their scale and services without adding more people. The viewer could easily conclude that they are following the mantra on t- shirts across IT organizations. But, dig deeper and you find something different.

Dr. Dietmar Reinelt – VP Cloud Infrastructure Services, SAP. Dr. Reinelt has been with SAP since 1999.As the VP of Cloud Infrastructure Services, his team is distributed across the world. Despite the advances in communication technology and automation, Dr. Reinelt spends weeks every year away from his family, his home, and fine German cuisine.

Why does Dr. Reinelt spend so much time on-site with his teams? Nothing compares with people sitting down together and connecting. As the “how” becomes automated, he needs them to trust him and make sure they understand “why” certain projects and decisions are made.

Dr. Reinelt knows that SAP’s cloud is built by connecting people around the world.

Developing People, Not Discarding Them

The talk of limited staffing, automation, and API-driven development led some of the audience to ask – if you’re not DevOps, will you be out of a job? No. The panelists believed that their people will continue to grow, and that not every team member should be exactly the same.

Jason Kalich – VP, Cloud & Site Reliability Engineering, GoDaddy. Jason joined the IT industry out of high school. He embraces hands-on learning wherever he’s gone – from Microsoft to GoDaddy. Jason has also lived off the grid (more Caine from Kung Fu than Jessie “The Body” Ventura living in Mexico). For a couple of years, he taught martial arts and lived in the dojo and his car. Jason is not afraid of change, he looks for it. That’s why he’s been so successful. Also, he can snatch the pebble from your hand.

Jason has a team that is a mixture of DevOps and more traditional IT skills. He likes that they have different expertise and experience. GoDaddy doesn’t want a team of interchangeable cogs. Instead, the focus is on how best to combine the skills and experience of engineering, operations, and DevOps to build the best team. Of course, if some of the team wants to develop new skills, Jason encourages it. Now, lest you think Jason is an iconoclast in homogenizing world…

Eric Coss – Manager, Infrastructure and Operations, Nationwide. panel 2Eric also joined the IT industry straight out of high school. He’s earned multiple degrees, including an MBA and a Law Degree, while contributing to the community and raising 5 children with his wife. Of course, lest you think he’s without flaw, he’ll humbly point out the reason he earned his law degree. Eric got so frustrated with a personal small-claims issue with a large vendor that he regained control by getting a law degree. The rest of us would have just posted an angry, incoherent rant on Twitter or Facebook.

 Eric wants his team to evolve, not to replace them. Nationwide needs to augment its business-critical traditional IT environment, with a more agile environment for new application development. Rather than taking on the security and compliance risk of public cloud (insurance companies are in the risk management business), they are building a private cloud. Nationwide wants to give the team that built their business the opportunity to deliver the next stage of growth.

With intense pressure to deliver, though, many would advise Eric to split the team and budget. He could run a legacy operational staff that does the traditional “build” and “run”, while hiring a new “DevOps” team to build the private cloud. Over time, he could then transfer the budget from the traditional team to the private cloud team and remake the organization.

Eric hasn’t split the team, the budget, or the skills. Like Jason, he believes that traditional skills – understanding risk, compliance, data protection, and data availability – have value in the new world. Instead, he’s bringing in tools to enable his team, not replace them. For example, EMC’s ViPR Controller will improve “time to delivery” with orchestration, automation, and self-service. Tools like ViPR Controller will give his team a way to deliver the private cloud.

Jason Kalich and Eric Coss know that people are not cogs. Each person’s unique perspective, passion, and evolution drive innovation, execution, and success.

Technology is Cool, Though

Of course, each of the panelists joined the IT industry because they love technology. There are some very exciting technologies on the horizon that they’re watching. We talked about two big trends.

Amr Awadallah – CTO, Co-Founder, Cloudera.panel 3 Fitting with the theme for our panelists, Amr dropped out of the Stanford PhD program to found VivaSmart (acquired by Yahoo!) He did return to finish the PhD. Like many techies, Amr is a dedicated gamer. Just before EMC World, Amr had purchased an Oculus Rift. He’s also a big fan of first-person shooters. In fact, he’s so passionate that he published a paper on improving the fairness of first-person online shooters. Take that “slacker gamer” stereotype!

First, we talked about analytics-driven automation. We all know data capacities have grown inconceivably large. However, we’re so relentless about measuring things that even metadata has exceeded human capacities of analysis. Jason brought up that when something happens, we ask “What Happened” then “So What Does it Mean?” and finally “Now What Do I Do?” With the amount of metadata, we can’t answer those questions without using analytics. Big data and analytics tools will be an IT team’s best friends.

Second, Amr opened the discussion about the implications of non-volatile memory (e.g. 3D XPoint). The group thought it would change application design more than storage. By expanding both the capacity and persistence of memory, more I/O can shift to the server. They believe the benefit will be predominantly for newly designed applications. In those environments, however, storage will evolve to focus even more on capacity and data management. They’d be the first to tell you that their predictions could be wrong, but they all agreed on the importance of staying aware of major hardware trends. To track the trends they depend on their personal research, vendor partners, but mostly… their teams.

Technology is constantly evolving, and IT leaders depend on their team to understand what is happening.


Sometimes, the best part of a panel doesn’t make it on air. With more time and less recording equipment, personalities and back stories emerge. Suddenly, the “IT professional” in suit becomes a person who lives in a dojo or gets a law degree just to stick it to “the man”. Furthermore, the discussion shifts from “what are the talking points?” to “what do they truly care about?”.

This group all are leading major changes to deliver cloud, but that’s not what gets them out of bed every morning. They believe in and trust their people to do amazing things with exciting technology. After visiting with IT leaders around the world, that is the one constant across industries, company sizes, and cultures – IT leaders are passionate about truly connecting with their teams. Meet with them – you’ll like the result. They might even team up with you on a game of Call of Duty, teach you some karate techniques, give you free legal advice, or just sit down and listen to you.

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