The five minute CIO: Germain Masse

25 May 2012

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Germain Masse, chief information officer at web hosting provider OVH

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Welcome to the latest in a series of exclusive interviews on Siliconrepublic.com, where IT leaders share their thoughts on technology trends and strategy. Germain Masse is chief information officer with web hosting provider OVH.

OVH offers web hosting services to more than 8,000,000 customers worldwide, including Ireland, managing 120,000 physical servers in seven data centres across Europe. The company is in the process of launching a new facility in Canada, its first in North America.

Do you see your role primarily as a technical one, or a business one?

As technology is the core activity of OVH, my role as CIO remains very technical. That said, I have to admit that the strategic, marketing and management aspects of the job keep gaining more and more importance.

Do you develop bespoke systems or buy ‘off the shelf’?

They are all tailor-made. Whether it’s the software used for server and website provisioning, system monitoring, stock management or billing, the software is developed in-house. We even go further at hardware level, as we design and build our own servers and data centres, to guarantee us complete control over our production chain.

Have you any plans to add to your own skills this year and if so, in what area?

OVH’s Private Cloud solutions are in the process of being ISO 27001 certified to match the highest standards of information security management. I’ve been in training on the different aspects of this standard since the beginning of 2012.

Is your 2012 IT budget increased, decreased, or the same as last year, and how will that affect your priorities?

We don’t have an IT budget, per se. I’d argue that our company’s entire spending can be considered as such since we are in the IT business. Thanks to the continual reinvestment of our company’s profits, we have grown exponentially and will be continuing to do so this year.

What IT initiative are you most proud of?

Over the past years, we have been working around the idea of duplicating our concept of a data centre with all its technological innovations. We’ve already begun putting this in production with our newest installations in Strasbourg and Quebec, and once this challenge is completed we’ll be able to deploy our organisation anywhere in the world in a very small amount of time.

What has been the hardest challenge since you took your current role?

I’m one of the old-timers here at OVH, as I was here when the company just started. The biggest challenge for me was the same as the company’s: growth. In less than 10 years we went from being a small start-up company to becoming the European leader on the web hosting market. It’s one thing to grow in terms of customers and revenue, but it’s another to go from 10 to 500 employees and to still maintain the dynamic approach of a start-up company.

What technology trends are of most interest to you personally and to your own organisation?

Cloud computing is certainly hyped up at the moment but I don’t think it’s going to entirely redefine our line of business. I have no doubt it will make it evolve, but our historical activity – which is to supply a physical infrastructure – keeps on growing. It will be interesting to see what share of the market the cloud will take in the end. At some point, will everything cross over into the cloud? Will these two domains co-exist? Will a third one appear?

At the moment, I am very interested by this third approach and the possibilities in terms of server density offered by ARM architectures. Virtualisation used to be the only way to achieve such levels of density. If ARM processors prove to be server-compatible, it will no longer be the case.

Do you think cloud computing is the revolution that has been claimed, or something that has been around for many years, under different names?

For our cloud computing solutions, we already had the infrastructure provisioning technology; we only added a virtualisation layer on top of it. As such, the cloud hasn’t profoundly modified OVH’s technologies. For me, the real difference is only in the way IT is consumed.

For large companies, it is all about going from capital to operational expenditures. For SMEs, the big difference is being able to acquire cloud computing technologies without having to invest large sums and then the ability to grow it on demand.

Do you believe the logical conclusion of cloud computing is that soon, businesses will no longer have IT departments?

I don’t think so. It all depends on how you describe your ‘IT department’. In the end, cloud computing enables companies to finally focus again on their core activity. Instead of having engineers and technicians working on very basic hardware and operating system issues, they can now concentrate on developing and managing the technology layer that’s closest to the company’s needs, making IT departments more efficient.

If a company disbanded its entire IT department, it would need to replace it by a series of SaaS solutions. It might be possible for small companies with low complexity levels but impossible for larger ones.

What implication does this have for roles like head of IT and CIO – will they become obsolete or simply change?

Across Europe, I see more and more CIOs with less of a technical profile. They manage a budget, take care of RFPs, and handle day-to-day affairs with suppliers. Their role is definitely changing. My hope is that cloud computing will enable them to become once again a leading force for change and development in their companies.

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