The five-minute CIO: Joe Baguley, VMware

16 Oct 2015

Joe Baguley

“We are bridging the gap between the client-server world and the mobile cloud era,” explains Joe Baguley, CTO for EMEA at virtualisation giant VMware.

Earlier this week Dell acquired cloud storage giant EMC for US$67bn, the largest acquisition in tech industry history. Included in the acquisition was a shareholding in VMware, the virtualisation company which EMC acquired in 2003 and which it held an 81pc stake in at the time of the acquisition. While EMC will be subsumed into the now-private Dell, VMware will remain a publicly-listed company. In fact, because of the rise in value of VMware, there had been speculation that it might have bought EMC itself.

VMware recently marked its first decade in Ireland, where it has grown from 10 to 750 employees.

The company now has a five-building campus in Cork and an office in Dublin – and VMware expects to expand to a further building on the Barrack square, Ballincollig campus in October 2015.

In recent weeks, Limerick native Ray O’Farrell was appointed to the roles of global chief technology officer and chief development officer.

Baguley is vice president and chief technology officer of VMware and works closely with customers and the company’s R&D teams to figure out where enterprise technology is going next.

He is considered one of the top 50 influential IT leaders in the UK, according to Computer Weekly, and is a recognised leader within the European cloud community.

How would you describe VMware’s technology ethos right now?

We are really about three focus areas: the software-defined data centres, the hybrid cloud and end-user computing.

You can put them all together in one very simple story, realistically, in that the software-defined data centre is about evolving data centres to be controlled, scaled and managed by software as well as using software to manage networking and storage.

The hybrid cloud is about extending customers’ IT environments to include not only their on-premises but also their off-premises IT and other cloud providers, allowing them to look at the One-Cloud Any Application. The One Cloud is about organisations made up of multiple internal and external clouds but managing it all as one cloud.

‘As the business turns more digital, the IT people they have in-house probably understand the business more than you know, only they have been hiding in the IT department for the last 20 years’

Then the Any application and accessing it on Any Device, which is the end user computing piece and that is really about allowing users to securely access any application on any device and that’s not only DDI but also managing and securing content from mobile devices, iPads, tablets etc.

It is really right across the board from modernising the data centre through to extending a customer’s IT to be spanning multiple businesses in different locations and then evolving their applications to literally any device.

And one of those other things you might hear us talking about is a fairly new area for us, which is Cloud Native Applications. This is much more in the area of containers where we are helping customers embrace innovation and bring services onto our platform and others.

CIOs are your main customers. What challenges do you believe they face and what are you hoping to help them mostly address?

The real challenge is the fact that now the focus is changed. So if you think back over the last 20 or 30 years IT has been very much around infrastructure, conversations around storage networking, computer hardware, software and all those kind of things.

The real difference today is the conversation is around applications. It’s around what people are using IT for in the first place. And so you have broad conversations with CIOs around how does it become more agile, how does it support the businesses etc, and the short answer is realistically looking at themselves as someone who delivers applications and information to a business as opposed to someone who supports an infrastructure.

Realistically, that is the challenge they are going through. All the terms being bandied around like business agility, it is really just symptoms of people being forced to look at how they can deliver and support a business with applications as opposed to how you deliver infrastructure.

Instead of getting easier, IT seems to be getting increasingly complex. Do you agree?

We think of ourselves as bridging the gap between the client-server world, which is the traditional IT world, to what we would call the mobile cloud era.

Most CIOs that I talk to don’t have the luxury of being able to throw everything away and start again, so it is much more about an evolution. It is about embracing new technologies and techniques and the challenge for most CIOs is a lot of organisations will look at new technology and new things and think ‘how can I fit that into what I do today’?

Whereas the real clever ones are the ones that look at new technology and say ‘how can I use that to change what I do today’? And that is one of the fundamental differences.

They realise they are not trying to cope with the onslaught of new technology, what they are trying to do is embrace new technologies so they can better find out ways they can integrate with what they have already invested in, and that’s a big difference.

It is the difference between feeling an opportunity and feeling under pressure.

Every business today is a digital business and now there are new challenges like the emerging internet of things, how best should CIOs prepare firms for the next wave?

I can encapsulate that quite succinctly: it is looking to get feet at the table. The CIO that let things run along and kept the lights on, they tend to be viewed as a necessary evil.

IT wasn’t viewed traditionally in organisations as something that added value to the business, it was something required to do business.

In that context, IT was viewed as the guys who were under the table crawling around fixing things and the people you shouted at when things didn’t work.

The opportunity is there for CIOs who want to be something different and are fighting to get a seat at the table and say ‘I’m not here to fix your projector, I’m here to tell you how you can change your business’ and actually directly affect revenue or customer satisfaction or patient health or whatever it is you are measured on as a business.

They can change that for the better with technology rather than just keeping the lights on.

Those are the real challenges I feel when I go to CIO conferences; it is very much how do I increase my relevance to the business, show value and show we are making a difference.

As the business turns more digital, the IT people they have in-house probably understand the business more than you know, only they have been hiding in the IT department for the last 20 years.

As a CTO, how do you go about predicting the future?

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future. What I spend a lot of my time looking at is evolution and secondary effect.

Secondary effect is very important, someone could have predicted the car but they didn’t predict Wal-Mart and the rise of Wal-Mart is the direct result of the rise of the car.

A lot of what I look at, we know we are entering a software-defined world. Look at the leaders of computing right now– Google, Facebook, Apple – how they are solving services and applications, you are looking at a truly software-defined environment.

There is an almost religious focus on applications and end-user satisfaction.

I am much more interested in what is the next piece after that, what is going to become as a result of that, what are the secondary effects, what is the next pressure on the CIO, where they are going to be pushed next?

It is very interesting because as we look at some of the current buzzwords like internet of things, connected cars, etc we are getting involved in those conversations on a daily basis with customers, but not for the reasons people think. It is much more around how IoT affects me from a legal perspective, how will it affect relationships with customers, relationships with employees etc.

So it is a lot more around how a business is going to change and evolve because of technology and from our perspective what technology will that in turn require and it is all about looking at that and figuring out what happens next.

It was the same with virtualised networks and storage, and the consequences like the software-defined data centre are now a reality – it’s about what’s next and there are interesting moves across the board in IT.

Hardware has become a very interesting space; convergence; networking is a very fast-moving environment and everything is losing to software and I think you are going to see the same with storage.

But I am far more interested in people’s thoughts on secondary effects and a lot of people miss that when they are looking at innovation. Understanding that it is an evolutionary process, that is really important.

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