HP’s cloud CTO: ‘It’s time for CIOs to embrace opportunities of the cloud’

26 Oct 2012

Christian Verstraete, CTO for HP's Cloud Strategy Team Worldwide

Instead of resisting change and viewing cloud computing trends as a threat, CIOs need to start building services for their organisations and focus on protecting their organisations’ data, Christian Verstraete, the CTO of Hewlett-Packard’s Cloud Strategy Team Worldwide, told Siliconrepublc.com.

Verstraete is responsible for the definition of HP’s cloud functional and reference architectures, as well as the co-ordination of cloud activities across HP.

He is effectively the link between the CTO community inside HP, as well as the tech giant’s customers and partners.

What is most surprising to Verstraete is the confusion that seems to reign around the term cloud, which he agrees is just a word seized upon by marketers to describe the computing infrastructure on demand model that has been brewing for years now.

“Increasingly I find myself asking myself is infrastructure as a service (IaaS) really something that deserves the term ‘cloud’ because it’s fundamentally the next step in something that CIOs and IT departments have been doing for a long time, which has been the provision of services and storage.

“It’s basically no change. Where things become really interesting is when you go beyond IaaS to platform and software because that’s where you really go to the essence of delivering a service instead of focusing on infrastructure.”

Same tech, different era

Verstraete, who’s grounding in technology began with mainframes in the late 1970s, says the industry is constantly trying to drum up new terms and descriptions for things already under way.

“Every five years we change names – so the term ‘cloud’ started up in 2007 so we’re probably getting close to when we need to come up for a new name for it.”

Verstraete says the two fundamental things that are changing IT and how everybody uses it are the digitisation of everything we know and our expectations of immediate service delivery.

“Consumerisation of IT is fascinating – there are two things coming together and they are very much inter-related. Firstly, everything has become digital – the phone is digital, the TV is digital, radio is digital, books are going digital. The only thing that is still analogue is electricity. Do you realise that 97pc of our money is just money in computers now?

“The second thing is do you realise that most of us are using IT now without really thinking about it? For example, 40pc of the value of a car today is its electronics and IT. The higher up you go in brands, the more technology in the car.

“In parallel with these trends time is shrinking. What I mean by that is that when we moved houses in the 1970s and 1980s and we needed a new phone line, we were happy if it took three to five months to get that damn telephone line. Now when we go into a mobile phone shop we expect the new phone to be working before we leave the shop.

“We are all using IT and everyone is using the cloud in one way, form or shape. If you use a sat nav, additional information comes from the cloud. Whatever name you give the technology, we all expect to get the information where we are, wherever we are and at any time and in any way we want.”

It’s up to CIOs to be change agents

I ask Verstraete if businesses are ready for this fundamental change and moreover, if their CIOs are ready for this. The answer is a flat no.

“In the old days, when an innovation came out it was first embraced by the business world and then began to percolate into the consumer’s life. Today it is the other way around.

“The innovation starts with the consumer and then percolates into the business.

“A lot of CIOs and a lot of IT departments are in a resistance to change mode. The business users are often a lot more advanced actually than the IT people. The business people are bypassing IT people who refuse to embrace change.”

This prompts me to ask Verstraete where he sees the future role of the CIO.

“The on-demand nature of computing today implies fundamental change and many CIOs and IT departments are against that,” he explained.

The level of change that CIOs and IT people are expected to make can only be described as seismic. These professionals have gone from a situation where they decided what computers people used. That has changed. To many, it’s like the Wild West has encroached on their well-organised garden.

Tomorrow’s CIO

But what hasn’t changed and won’t change and what CIOs need to fully appreciate is the CIO’s role in ensuring information delivery and security. If anything, the CIO’s role in unlocking value for the organisation in this sense has been enhanced.

“Our belief is that the cloud is not one size fits all. At the heart of this is the role of the CIO is to protect the core data.

“What the user wants is a service now from anywhere, on any devices, BYOD (bring your own device) and all of that. Where the big change comes for the CIO is that in the past the IT department would have said ‘you need this, I’ll go and develop it and come back in six or nine months with this new service’. But the user is bonkers and says, I need it now!

“The CIO needs to decide what are the crown jewels, what do I need to develop myself and what can I source from somewhere else and in the process of that sourcing make sure the data is protected, have the appropriate service level agreements, the back-up and recovery that the business doesn’t typically think about but is important for the enterprise and the disaster recovery.

“He needs to move from just being a deliverer of services to become what we call the strategic service programme adviser.

“He becomes the procurement department for services. But there are elements that won’t change. If you spend €100m implementing an SAP platform do you think you are going to throw SAP away tomorrow when you move to the cloud? Not at all.

“The CIO needs to look at the traditional environment and then build around that an ecosystem of services that deliver what the business’ users want and that he can provision very quickly,” Verstraete says.

In other words, change is constant, resistance is futile and those CIOs that adapt the quickest will survive change and prosper.

Join Christian Verstraete’s colleague at HP Martin Murphy and Ireland’s digital leaders will gather to discuss cloud computing and the big data revolution at the Cloud Capital Forum on Friday, 23 November, at the Convention Centre Dublin

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years