“Technology is easy. People are hard.”
Perhaps more than any others uttered last Thursday, this adage shared by Shutterstock CIO, David Giambruno, has stuck with me. Thursday marked Turbonomic’s first-ever Vision Summit, a half-day symposium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York where CIOs (and one remarkably bright CTO) shared their visions for Information Technology in the coming half-decade. Specifically, the theme was Embracing Disruption in an On-Demand World, the risk of which was a potential deluge of generalizations about ‘the cloud,’ ‘disruptive innovation’ and the like.
I was so very impressed by our panelists, who included Peter Lesser (Skadden Arps), Michael Manos (First Data), Vic Bhagat (Verizon Enterprise), Bill Veghte (formerly of HP and SurveyMonkey, and Turbonomic as of last week) and of course, Mr. Giambruno; who presented their visions with an inspiring degree of specificity. A shared belief among them was that Information Technology, and specifically the CIO, need not only meet the needs of the business, but in fact preempt them. As Giambruno averred, “My job is to bubble wrap businesses, and I have to do it better, faster and cheaper – before they even know what they need.”
Distilling their message to three simple themes, the day was about People, Consolidation and Rationalization.
Every CIO, in some capacity, posited that People are the singularly greatest source of competitive advantage and more profoundly, cultural stewardship. As Turbonomic Executive Chairman Bill Veghte put it, “Technologists are the stewards of the defining industry of our generation.” Mike Manos discussed First Data’s IT evolution since the company’s IPO (FDC) in October of 2015. In 18 months, FDC decommissioned over 220 tons of infrastructure, completely eliminated five data centers with plans to eliminate five more by Q2 2017, and have filled these gaps with a combination of high-performance computing infrastructure and hybrid cloud architecture. Manos contends that this transformation was only possible because his organization is staffed by people who are precocious and curious about technology. “You need an incredibly passionate employee base who are hungry to learn more about technology,” said Manos.
Giambruno echoed the sentiments of people first when he discussed Shutterstock’s API-Driven Infrastructure (more on this ahead). “People are meaning-making machines, and they are generally far more capable than they think,” the Shutterstock CIO maintained. “You can push them hard, to the edge, as long as you give them a hug after it’s all said and done.” Giambruno went on to discuss the delicate balance of keeping employees engaged and working hard to create leverage, without inciting burnout. Shutterstock’s leverage goal is to get to $1M revenue per employee, with projected revenue of $1B by 2019.
Verizon CIO, Vic Bhagat, specifically discussed a joint project with Turbonomic called Verizon Intelligent Cloud Control (ICC). ICC represents a flattening of the already-disruptive public cloud space by leveraging Verizon’s network (called Secure Cloud Interconnect) to seamlessly migrate cloud workloads between Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, IBM Softlayer and future Cloud Service Providers based on real-time performance, cost, compliance and geolocation requirements. ICC, Bhagat explained, represents a consolidation of consolidations. Though mainstream adoption is believed to be several years off, Bhagat believes that enterprises will seek to consolidate cloud usage to realize cost savings. Inherent in said consolidation is one of both data and management, which is to say, organizations will continually consolidate to fewer and fewer sources/versions of data – ultimately converging on a single source of truth – in their IT and business decision making and will reduce the number of management solutions/layers in the process.
In the here and now, Manos’ narrative was most representative of the potential for private data center consolidation. Despite forecasting 400% and 200% growth in usage for their internal and external clouds, respectively, First Data has managed to divest five, going on ten of its legacy data centers. Additionally, First Data’s massive storage backend – they have record of every credit card transaction they have processed since 1971, 2,500 per second, and now run Apple Pay, Amazon Payments, Samsung Pay and Mastercard PayPass – has actually been reduced through FDC’s leveraging of automation (i.e. Turbonomic) to safely increase their storage and compute densities. Over the past 24 months, Manos reports $6.5M savings through operational consolidation alone.
Turbonomic Senior Software Engineer, Mor Cohen, briefly presenting on the shifting dynamics of public cloud. She and her team calculated that 100 instances of an incorrectly-sized AWS instance, just one template too large, can yield a cost overrun of $1.283M per year. Granularly, to the technologist provisioning these resources, the incremental hourly cost may appear minuscule. At scale, and played out over the course of a year, the expense is daunting.
This example made concrete the need to continuously rationalize IT portfolios and investments as we approach 2020. By and large, this rationalization is empowered by ongoing efforts to commoditize hardware and define intelligence and workflows entirely in software.
Shutterstock’s API-Driven Infrastructure must maintain 99.9999% uptime – allowing just 13 minutes of failure per year, and does so purely via software-defined resilience and auto-scaling. Said Giambruno, “We run a single process to deploy any cloud – public or private – and data. Another single process to deploy services & applications. We employ load-based auto-scaling and elasticity of applications for the best customer experience, and all of this is done via globally accessible API calls.” Effectively, Shutterstock has rationalized its API portfolio to a set of basic calls.
In the ensuing conversation, moderator Peter Lesser brought the discussion full circle by encouraging the audience to “Build an environment where it is safer to disrupt than to sit still.” This notion ties directly back to the people we hire, and the cultures we foster. It is not enough for a CIO to mandate change, rather, the CIO must select an intellectual and cultural fabric in the form of people who can both imagine and implement disruptive change.
Moving ahead of the business, so much so that we can preempt its needs, requires much more than investment in new technologies. For it requires investment in the minds that can stitch them together in new ways, previously unforeseen, and bring meaning to the infinite permutations of the possible.
At least, this is the vision.