What does it take to change the way people live and work? In the tech world, we tend to assume we know the answer: technology. The advance of new technology is what changes our world and the way we live and work and interact within it.
This fairy tale tends to go something like this: First, a new technology is developed. It is early; the new invention’s capabilities are modest and its implementation is rough, but the potential is there. And, so long as someone sees that potential, the technology will continue to improve. People will chip away at its flaws and improve its functionality. Other supporting technologies will grow around it. Until, suddenly, it’s here. It emerges in a form that makes mass adoption possible. Adoption accelerates and everyone lives happily – and more productively – ever after.
This adoption story is missing a very important element, though. And it's the one that often holds us back from taking the leap to work – or live – differently. According to Bill Veghte, longtime tech executive and the current executive chairman at Turbonomic, that missing element is about as far from computer chips and software as you can get: It’s courage.
It's a problem he sees often at Turbonomic, a company that essentially sells the enterprise software equivalent of a self-driving car. The software dynamically matches real-time workload demand with underlying infrastructure supply, eliminating the “break-fix” loop where administrators wait until something breaks, and then are forced to scramble to find a solution. But even though the technology to eliminate troubleshooting performance issues in virtual and cloud environments is all there, many CIOs just aren’t ready to cede control to software. Not just yet. Because even though we trust technology, we can’t help but cringe at the idea of speeding down the highway with no one at the wheel. It’s a hard feeling to overcome.
And it’s hardly a new problem, either. In fact, it’s one that Veghte has faced throughout his career which, over nearly three decades, has spanned positions at tech giants like Microsoft and HP, high-growth upstarts like SurveyMonkey, Xero and, now, Turbonomic. But despite all the technological advances he’s seen during this time, Veghte is the first to admit that change can be hard.
“We had the aspiration and the energy as a company, as an industry, as a society – even though we were still learning what that looked like and what that opportunity was,” Veghte says of those days.
“Every generation has its defining industries. For our generation, that defining industry is IT.”
Technology was advancing toward putting a computer on every desk – information at everyone's fingertips – but even the people in the industry couldn't have imagined how far that would go and what that world – our world – would eventually look like.
“One of the biggest challenges CIOs face is the ability and energy and willingness to re-imagine,” Veghte says. “And it’s hard … the last step to real change in any industry is the human mind. Once a platform or technology is advanced enough, it’s the people who are the limiting factor.”
In other words, the last frontier between a new technology and its widespread adoption is, well, us.
We sat down with Veghte to get his thoughts on his career, the industry and the implementation of innovative technology.
Techopedia: Tell us about your days at Microsoft. It looks like you joined in 1990. It must have been an interesting time as Microsoft embarked upon its golden era...
BV: At the time, I just wanted to experience the thrill of building something from scratch. A friend had told me about this company in Washington and it seemed like they were on the verge of something special. I was also considering investment banking and a few other companies, but I decided to take the road less traveled and it paid off – it was a really incredible experience.
Techopedia: So much changed in the '90s – yet today it feels like the move to the cloud is just as big a seismic shift as was the internet back then. How is now different? Is the pace of change less? More?
BV: What the human mind has trouble imagining is not that we’re going to make progress on these things – we will. What we don’t always understand is the impact and ramifications these changes will have.
It’s certainly been fun to see technology evolve in new ways that we couldn’t have imagined back then. I think the pace of change is actually accelerating, even beyond the speed at which the internet changed everything. Right now, enterprises know that “the cloud” is the future, but they aren’t as sure how to implement an efficient hybrid cloud strategy. I think we’re about to witness the next level of “explosion” within cloud computing as companies figure out how to navigate the challenges – such as assuring performance without breaking the bank – of a modern, hybrid environment.
Techopedia: So, to a certain extent would you say that technology, as an industry, has jumped the shark? I wasn't around in those early days at Microsoft, but it was almost like there was this blind faith. Like, what were we going to do with a computer? I think the top use for computers at the time was for storing recipes in the kitchen!
BV: I used to love doing trade shows at Microsoft. I remember doing a big one in Las Vegas. And it was so fun to do because people would walk by, and you'd show them a graph of a spreadsheet, which many people had not seen way back then. And then, you'd do a demo of AutoSum, and everyone would be like, “Whoah! Do that again!” At the time, even the majority of word processor users did not use a spreadsheet.
Techopedia: And now my daughter, who is nine years old, has no idea what a calculator is. She doesn't realize that there's a calculator app on her iPad or the computer. If she needs to calculate something, she opens up Google Sheets, because that's what's she's learning in her class. It's actually astounding how much has changed in just 30 years! So what don't we know about the next 20 years?
BV: We couldn't have imagined that all this information would be available to us 24/7 over the web, but we knew that there was an enormous desire to have all this information at our fingertips. So, the way I think about it is, it's not like we aren't going to make progress on all of these things, but what we don't know is what the opportunity and the impact of that progress will be.
Let's take, for example, Moore's law. We knew it was happening. There was no doubt about that. The cost of compute continued to decline precipitously. But what would that mean for the experiences that we could deliver? The ramifications of that progress over five or six years or a decade, it really stretches the imagination.
Techopedia: From Microsoft, you moved to another legendary company, HP, where you held a number of roles including COO and chief strategy officer. What did you learn from being at the helm of such a massive organization?
BV: My job was to partner with Meg Whitman, the board and the management team to help architect a turnaround at an industry icon that had lost its way. This meant rethinking the mission and purpose of the company, and clarifying and accelerating innovation in the key areas that would position the business for success. This meant taking significant cost and headcount out while increasing the confidence of customers who buy, partners who rely on us and employees who make their careers with us.
We increased market capitalization by $40+billion, employee engagement by over 20 percent, and accelerated our innovation in key focus areas like infrastructure, imaging and security. Customer and partner confidence and, just as important, satisfaction improved in every business.
Techopedia: And from there you've spent quite a bit of time in smaller companies like Xero, SurveyMonkey and Turbonomic. There must be something drawing you back to the earlier-stage firm?
BV: I’ve had the good fortune to look at lots of different opportunities to apply this passion and energy, from very large to very small, from for-profit to not-for-profit, operating role to investor role. I joined Turbonomic because of its mission, where it was in its trajectory, and its people. The mission Turbonomic is pursuing is a critical problem for the IT industry that I have wrestled with for a good part of my career. The company is both a product and a platform that is scaling quickly so I can help a lot. It is a group of passionate and committed people that I love spending time with. It has a culture that is customer- and technology-centric. Frankly, it reminds me a bit of the early days of Microsoft.
Techopedia: Help our readers understand what Turbonomic brings to the table for customers, or even just for people who are interested in innovative tech.
BV: Turbonomic empowers IT professionals to understand and optimize their infrastructure and to guarantee that applications and web services run optimally. Whether the applications are cloud native in a public cloud or traditional applications behind your firewall, Turbonomic can become your hybrid cloud management platform, providing you the elastic capacity you need, whether private or public. Over 1,700 businesses have adopted the platform, with some of the largest and best-run IT shops in the world relying on it – and lots more are signing on every day.
Techopedia: So, is the average CIO thinking about their infrastructure a decade in the past?
It’s a lot like getting into a self-driving car. I recently got the opportunity to do this. And, I mean, I’m a technologist. I believe that this car can drive itself. But that doesn’t change the feeling you get when you’re sitting in the passenger seat. It can be really uncomfortable.
Techopedia: You mention Turbonomic for hybrid cloud. That’s something Turbonomic’s CEO, Ben Nye, talked about in our earlier interview. That seems to be Turbonomic's sweet spot. How do you see this space developing?
BV: So, I think the true power of the hybrid cloud will be realized only when companies are able to trust workloads running in multiple clouds, on and off premises, and move with ease between all three. We’ve always known that it would be useful to have something that combines infrastructure and apps. You just keep chipping away at it and eventually, something tips over and it becomes possible.
The technology advances over the last 10 years enable Turbonomic to finally solve the problem – and they are complimentary and accretive to a customer’s move to the cloud.
Turbonomic’s approach is the right way to solve this problem, and the technology and architecture can support the scale and complexity of customer environments. If solved, it will enable tremendous efficiencies in the IT industry, both in lowering costs as well as improving the experiences of the applications and web services we have come to rely on to run our businesses and live our lives.
Techopedia: That sounds compelling. Where do you see Turbonomic in 10 or 20 years?
BV: So, when I look at an IT landscape that’s exploding in innovation with things like cloud and containers, the problem of assuring application performance is only going to get more complex. As these interdependencies between storage, compute, networking, public cloud, private cloud, etc. become more intertwined, the problem of assuring application performance while minimizing infrastructure costs is only going to compound upon itself. Look at disruptive companies like Uber or Airbnb, none of them own cars or rooms – they understand demand and own the ability to match buyer with seller. In the cloud, that buyer is the workload and the seller is the underlying cloud infrastructure – with Turbonomic matching buyers and sellers in real time. I believe Turbonomic has the most elegant and compelling solution to this problem I’ve come across and I believe we can create the next tech giant.
Techopedia: What is the biggest misconception IT pros have about the cloud and virtualization?
BV: I think IT is still the only industry in the world that waits for something to break before trying to fix it. We have a few sales reps that like to ask if anyone changes their oil in their car at designated mile markers. The answer is, of course they do – it’s a part of preventative maintenance, otherwise we’d drive cars until our engines blew up, and that wouldn’t be cheap or safe. So why, in IT, do we wait for a problem to arise in the first place? Why wait until something breaks and then fix it, especially when it’s no longer necessary?
When you think about cloud workloads and whatnot, it takes courage and vision to go there. Once the platform or technology is advanced enough, it’s the people who are the limiting factor. We have this amazing platform. We can take you all the way to self-driving. It makes your life easier, but that doesn’t change the feeling of giving up control. It’s hard. We’re at a different threshold when the human becomes the limiter rather than the technology.