Category Archives: CTO

Rackspace CTO: no-one is bigger than the software revolution

Rackspace - John Engates

Rackspace CTO John Engates speaking at Rackspace: Solve 2016

While the concept of cloud computing has been normalized to a degree, the industry is now leaning towards the perceived benefits which can be derived from the technology on the whole. For the majority of companies who are evaluating cloud technologies, reducing CAPEX and OPEX simply isn’t a strong enough business case anymore.

This is certainly the case for Rackspace CTO John Engates. In fact, we’re starting to see the beginning of a new trend which will define the future of a vast number of organizations, the ability and desire to experiment. Those who can experiment with new technology, and are prepared to fail, will succeed. And those who don’t, won’t.

Although there can be savings made through the transition to a cloud environment, early adopters are now looking beyond. Cloud will underpin the growth and success of the new wave of next generation technologies, whether it is virtual reality, artificial intelligence or autonomous vehicles. The early adopters are already defining how these technologies will take their business to the next level, though the risk for the rest is how far they will get left behind is they don’t get up to speed quickly.

“Cloud as a technology is just about hitting the mainstream now,” said Engates. “Everything pre-2015 has been early adopters, but for mass markets it was business as usual.

“The main problem is that the majority of these companies are two or three steps away from the cloud. The cloud is not about saving money, but freeing up your developers so they can experiment with new technologies, learn new language and take the company forward. If you’re not thinking about these technologies now, how far behind are you. And you’re probably going to be in a very difficult position in a couple of years.”

Blockbuster is a classic example. Blockbuster and Netflix were in a similar position pre-digitalization, as most people now forget Netflix initially rose to fame through the delivery of DVD’s to its customers through the post. Fast forward to the digital era, where Netflix evolved and created its current market position, one in which a number of major player are now trying to emulate, and Blockbuster no longer exists.

For Engates, this example highlights the importance of experimentation. Netflix was a company which allowed its developers to play with new technologies and methods of delivery, whereas Blockbuster attempted to hold onto the traditional model. This will be the same for other verticals in the coming years, those who embrace the new digital era, adapt their models and allow their developers’ freedom to innovate will continue to be competitive, those who don’t will take the same route as Blockbuster.

Sports woman overcoming challenges“The successful companies of the future will be software companies,” said Engates. “They may not sell software but they will use it as a means to define their business and be creative in the marketplace. The likes of Google, Facebook, Uber and Netflix are all software companies. They aren’t people companies or infrastructure companies, they are software. If you want to compete with these companies you need to get better at creating the software experience.”

Nike and Under Armour are two more companies highlighted by Engates. While both are lifestyle and sportswear brands, both have had to create a digital experience to meet the demands of customers. A few years ago industry giants such as Nike and Under Armour were too big to be bothered by such trends, but the cloud computing era has levelled the playing field. No-one is bigger than the software revolution.

“I think that companies have to enable some of their organization to be innovative and to be creative,” said Engates. “Most of IT has been behind the wall; they haven’t been innovators, they’ve been keeping the lights on. It wasn’t about transforming the company into something new and different that was product development’s job or marketing. But today, inventing the new it-thing means you have to have a digital component, to connect with you users through your mobile device.”

Mobile devices are now redefining business and consumer attitudes. For the most part this is how the consumer connects with new companies; it’s almost exclusively digital and if you’re company is not embracing this, Engates thinks it won’t be too long before you’re not relevant.

But will companies take those risks? “Not all of them will,” said Engates. “Not every company will make that leap. The ones that don’t will be left behind. Now even banks are starting to do this as you’re starting to see more automated investing and digital advisors. Why would you need to go to the branch if you can do it over the phone?”

For innovation to occur within an organization, the conditions have to be right. In the majority of large scale organizations, innovation is very difficult to achieve. There are too many risks, too much red tape and too much politics. The notion that a new idea might not succeed, or reap short term benefits, scares the board and stakeholders, which in turn will inhibit innovation. It’s a difficult loop to get out of, and for a number of larger, stodgy organizations, it will be immensely difficult.

“The reason cloud is so important is because to innovate you need to be using the most modern tools, for example data science, continuous integration, containers,” said Engates. “You need APIs to interact with, you don’t want to wait six weeks on a server. You want to experiment and do things quickly. If you want to do analytics, you need storage and compute power; you need to have the cloud.

“A lot of the people who want to work on these projects have a lot of options. There are a lot of smaller companies who have these conditions to be innovative, so they attract these developers. Companies have to adapt to them, not force them to adapt to the company. Decision makers need to change their organization to have the modern environment for these developers to work in, to be innovative and to make the company competitive in the digital era.”

Trick or Treat: Top 5 Fears of a CTO

By Chris Ward, CTO

Journey to the Cloud’s Ben Stephenson recently sat down with Chris Ward, CTO of GreenPages-LogicsOne, to get his take on what the top 5 fears of a CTO are.

Ben: Chief Technology Officer is obviously an extremely strategic, important, and difficult role within an organization. Since it’s almost Halloween, and since you’re an active (and successful) CTO yourself, I thought we would talk about your Top 5 Fears of a CTO. You also have the unique perspective of seeing how GreenPages uses technology internally, as well as how GreenPages advises clients to utilize different technologies.

Chris: Sounds good. I think a major fear is “Falling Behind the Trends.” In this case, it’s not necessarily that you couldn’t see what was coming down the path. You can see it there and know it’s coming, but can you get there with velocity? Can you get there before the competition does?

Ben: Do you have any examples of when you have avoided falling behind the trends?

Chris: At GreenPages, we were fortunate to catch virtualization early on when a lot of others didn’t. We had a lot of customers who were not sold on virtualization for 2-4 years. Those customers are now very far behind the competition and are trying to play catch up. In some cases, I’m sure it’s meant the CTO is out of a job. We also utilized virtualization internally early on and reaped the benefits. Another example is our CMaaS Brokerage and Governance offering. We recognize the significance of cloud brokerage and the paradigm shift towards a hybrid cloud computing model. In this case we are out ahead of the market.

Ben: How about a time when GreenPages did fall behind a trend?

Chris: I would say we fell behind a trend when we began our managed services business. It was traditional, old school managed services. It definitely took us some time to figure out where we wanted to go and where we wanted to be. While we may have fallen behind initially, we recognized change was needed and our Cloud Management as a Service offering has transformed us. Instead of sitting back and missing the boat, we are now in a great spot. This will be a huge help to our customers – but will (and does already) help us significantly internally as well.

Ben: How about fear number 2?

Chris: Fear number two is not seeing around the bend.  From my perspective as the CTO at a solutions provider, things move so fast in this industry and GreenPages offers such a wide variety and breadth of products and services to customer – it can be very difficult to keep up with. If we focused on only one area it would be a lot easier, but since we focus on cloud, virtualization, end user computing, security, storage, datacenter transformation, networking and more it can be quite challenging. For a corporate CTO you are allowed to be a market follower, which can be somewhat of an advantage. While you don’t want to fall behind, you do have partners, like GreenPages and others out there, that you can count on.

Ben: That makes sense. What about a 3rd fear?

Chris: Another large fear for CTOs is making a wrong turn. CTOs can get the crystal ball out and there may be a couple of things coming down the road…but what happens if you turn left and everyone else turns right? What happens if you make the wrong decision or the decision to early?

Ben: Can you give us an example?

Chris: A good example of taking a turn too early in the Cloud era is with the company Nirvanix. Cloud storage is extremely important, but what happens when a business model has not been properly vetted? This is one of the “gotchas” of being an early adopter. To be successful you need a good mix. You can’t be too conservative, but you can’t jump all in any time a new company pops up – the key is balance.

Ben: Do you have any advice for CTOs about this?

Chris: Sure – just because you can doesn’t mean you should!

Ben: I’ve heard you say that one before…

Chris: For example, software defined networking stacks, with products like Cisco Insieme and VMware NSX are very cool new technologies. I personally, and we at GreenPages, think this is going to be the next big thing. But we’re at a crossroads…who should use these? Who will gain the benefits? For example, maybe it makes sense for the enterprise but not for small businesses? This is something major that I have to determine – who is this a good fit for?

Ben: How about fear number 4?

Chris: Fear number 4 revolves around retaining my talent. I want my team to feel like they are always learning something new. I want them to know they are always on the bleeding edge of IT. I want to give them a world that changes very quickly. In my experience, most people that are stellar employees in a technical capacity want to be challenged constantly and to try new things and look at different ways of doing things.

Ben: What should CTOs do to try and retain talent?

Chris: Really take the time and focus on building a culture and environment that harnesses what I mentioned above. If not, you’re at serious risk of losing top talent.

Ben: Before I get too scared let’s get to number 5 and finish this up.

Chris: I’d say the fifth fear of mine is determining if I am working with the right technologies and the right vendors. IT can often be walking a tightrope between vendors from technical and business perspectives. From my perspective, I need to make sure we are providing our customers with the right technology from the right vendor to meet their needs. I need to determine if the technology works as advertised. Is it something that is reasonable to implement? Is there money in this for GreenPages?

Ben: What about from a customer’s perspective?

Chris: The customer also needs to make sure they align themselves with the right partners.  CTOs want to find partners that are looking towards the future, who will advise them correctly, and who will allow the business to stay out ahead of the competition. If a CTO looks at a partner or technology and doesn’t think it’s really advancing the business, then it’s time to reevaluate.

Ben: Thanks for the time Chris – and good luck!

What are your top fears as an IT decision makers? Leave them in the comment section!

Download this free ebook on the evolution of the corporate IT department. Where has the IT department been, where is it now, and where should it be headed?



The Mac Chronicles – A CTO Perspective

By Chris Ward, CTO, LogicsOne

It was early February and I was quite excited because it was finally time for me to get a new laptop.  We had recently enacted our Bring Your Own Device “BYOD” policy so I had a decision to make regarding what type of machine I wanted to carry around for the next 3 years of my life.  I’ve been in consulting my entire professional career and always had a laptop given to me by the internal IT group of whatever company I had worked for, albeit with a little personal input on the matter.  So, for the past 16 years, I had carried a Compaq or HP laptop of some flavor in my bag.  Normally, I would always try to get the most bad ass machine I could, which in the land of HP meant a mobile workstation and they were always great.  Fast, multi-core processors, lots of memory, lots of disk space, great video card, and great screen with high resolution.  The downside for me, however, was constant neck pain after lugging around 8-10 lb. laptops over my shoulder for a decade and a half.  So, I decided this time was going to be different.

In my job roles over the past two to three years, I have not been as hands on in the field doing actual implementations and such so no longer truly need the horsepower to run multiple virtual machines, have serial cables to connect to routers/switches, or have a myriad of tools at my beck and call.  No, now that I am a ‘suit’ I need something that is lightweight and very portable as I tend to find myself on planes, trains, and automobiles quite often.  So, I decided to go with the sexy choice and started looking at MacBooks.  I was very skeptical of moving to a Mac platform from an application and productivity perspective but, at the same time, I wanted to learn more about OS X and its BSD/Linux underpinnings so I decided to take the plunge.  The following is an editorial of my personal experience in making this transition.

I picked out a nifty new 13″ Retina display MacBook pro vs. an Air due to the faster i7 processor and the Retina display (yes, I am still a nerd at heart so I do still care).  I was disappointed to discover that with the 13″ Pro you could not get more than 8GB of RAM and also that the memory is literally soldered to the system board so there is no upgrading.  Ok, well as I stated earlier, I no longer need to run 5 virtual machines at once so I’ll live.  I really wanted a lot of drive capacity and performance because I am an impatient guy who does still travel with every OS service pack dating back to Netware 4.11, Windows 2000, and ESX 2.5 (because hey, you never know when you’ll need that stuff right?) and a lot of ripped DVDs to make those 6 hour flights between coasts a little more bearable.  Well, the 512GB SSD option for said MacBook Pro was a pretty penny, but I found a 3rd party one online for a few hundred bucks less and figured, no problem, I’ll upgrade it myself.  So, a few days later, the shiny new Mac and separate SSD show up.  Now, here is where the fun really begins…

So, I know what you’re thinking…. Is this CTO guy really a big enough dumbass to buy a standard SSD to put into a MacBook?  Well, no, I was fully aware of the proprietary form factor of the SSD drives in the Retina MacBooks and did get the correct one and, yes, I know the legacy of Mr. Jobs still remains and he doesn’t want me jacking around with the inside of his precious work of art.  So, anyone ever heard of a Pentalobe screwdriver bit?  No?  Well, me neither. This is what you need to get the bottom cover off the MacBook in order to swap the SSD.  I went to my local Home Depot, Lowes, etc. looking for such a bit but no luck.  I then went to my trusty local Mac retail store (Not an Apple store, but the local mom and pop joint), and while they did have one, it was with their technician and they were not willing to let me borrow it for an hour.  At this point, I was starting to become a bit agitated (again, impatient) but sucked it up and found what I needed online and ordered the magical Pentalobe screwdriver set ($15) plus overnight shipping ($10 – again, impatient).  It arrived the next day and I was off to the races.

If you have not personally seen the inside of one of these MacBooks, the area where this special SSD goes is EXACTLY the same form factor as a standard 2.5″ laptop drive.  However, this special SSD that is just a circuit board has to go into a special case with a special internal connector which connects to a standard SATA cable, but the cable connects to the side of the enclosure vs. the back as a standard SATA SSD.  Wow, someone went through a crap-load of trouble to design a very proprietary solution which was absolutely unnecessary.  Note to Apple, I hope you are enjoying the margin you are making on this stuff!  In any case, I digress, so I got the new drive installed and was now ready to rock.

I got all of the key software I would need ready to go (Office 2011 for Mac, Firefox, Adobe stuff, VIEW and Citrix clients, VLC (gotta watch those movies), Skype, etc. and got them all setup.  And, just in case, I did install VMware Fusion and had a Windows 7 VM on the off chance I would need it for something.  Now, keep in mind that my ultimate goal here with the Mac was to go native.  If I had to constantly be in a Windows VM to do my job then what the F would be the point of using a Mac in the first place right?  Well, the first thing I quickly discovered is that Outlook 2011 is a piece of crap compared to Outlook 2010 or 2013 for Windows.  There is no home style screen where I can see my mail, tasks, and calendar in a single place.  There is no native ActiveSync but rather some ancient sync engine that has more conflicts than a schizophrenic sociopath.  Trying to use group calendaring to see where my team was and what they were up to caused issues because I had to have so many calendars open at the same time (mind you I did this with zero issue in Outlook 2010/2013).  Basically, I was back to using Outlook XP.  So, I thought, well, I want to go native so I’ll go native and use the built in Mail and Calendar stuff from Apple.  While there were some things that got a little better, it still paled in comparison when compared to the experience with full Outlook on a PC.  Then, I got to looking at some of the key reports I use regularly via Excel.

Ok, so there is no ODBC driver that comes out of the box with Excel/Office for Mac.  Oh, but you can buy one from a couple of 3rd parties and Microsoft is happy to point you in the right direction.  Personally, I wouldn’t care if they sold it for a penny, I still wouldn’t buy it.  Are you kidding me?  I can’t update a spreadsheet via an ODBC connection to a backend database?  I’m pretty sure I could do that with Lotus123 on Windows 3.1, give me a break!  So, it was off to the Windows 7 VM for Excel tasks.  Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of my headaches…

I immediately found problems with certain web sites that I use on a regular basis due to the Retina display and the way it scales resolution.  What I didn’t understand about Retina up front (and should have researched it more) was that while the advertised resolution is pretty stunning, the way it actually works is to show you a lower resolution desktop but cram a lot more pixels into a smaller screen area.  The result is admittedly incredibly readable text and super sharp images.  The downside is applications and web apps that are not written to be aware of Retina can have issues with this scaling process.  I also have an issue with the way Apple just assumes the driver of the machine is an idiot.  Example, in the display properties you cannot really select a true desired resolution for the built in display.  You have 4 options such as ‘Larger Text’, ‘Best for Retina’, and ‘More Space’.  Really?? Just please give me the damn list of supported resolutions so I can choose what I want.  I think by this point, you can probably tell where this story is going, and, given this is a blog entry vs. a novel I won’t go deeper into my issues except to regurgitate something I once heard from a friend that certainly rings true in my opinion…

“Using a Mac is like driving tricycle whereas using a PC is like driving a Ducati.  The tricycle is extremely low risk and will most likely get you to where you want to go eventually.  The Ducati, in the hands of an inexperienced driver (Mac User) can be quite deadly however in the hands of a trained professional it can do very amazing things.”

Admittedly, I do believe Microsoft is as much at fault here as Apple as it was the core Microsoft apps that were the bane of my existence throughout this experience.  So, I now have a HP 9470m business class ultra book on order.  It is the same weight and size as the MacBook, has the same or better battery life, requires zero dongles as VGA and gig copper port are built in, has a solid screen resolution of 1400×900, can be upgraded to support 16GB of RAM and can hold both a standards based mSATA SSD plus a traditional 2.5″ SSD or magnetic drive (no F’d up screwdriver required), and has docking capability.  Oh, and did I mention it’s half the price of Mac?