Robin: I am Robin Miller for Slashdot. And who do we have with us today?
Curtis: Hi, I am Curtis Peterson. I am with RingCentral, and I am the Vice President of Operations.
Robin: You know, I heard you guys tossing around the term ‘server huggers’.
Robin: What does that mean?
Curtis: Well, you know, they are a dying breed of IT guys that in all legitimate phases actually built a good career around putting in infrastructure for companies and businesses where they ran their local apps. They put their files storage in there, they put their email application on premise, they usually took over a broom closet or a leftover refrigerator storage room and converted it into a pretty nice little server room. But the world’s changed—we’ve gone cloud, we’ve gone network, we’ve gone application, quick integration. The server huggers are the guys that won’t give up their little rooms and keep hugging their little servers.
Robin: Aha. So now you are saying that network is the computer—I heard that once.
Curtis: Yeah, I heard that once too. I have to admit that I’ve been around long enough to know both ends of that cycle.
Robin: Okay now, here’s the thing that gets me—when we say the cloud, aren’t we really saying some space on somebody else’s hard drive and a blade server or else a virtual server somewhere?
Curtis: Yeah, of course. At the end of the day, there are still CPU or processors, there are still spindles, there is still memory, there is still power and network and things moving around. But it is not on premise anymore. It is collocated in the larger data center for the efficiencies of scale are more green, the efficiencies of scale are easier to run and operate. For customers it is more about reliability and uptime.
Robin: What you are saying is that my friend Joe with his little hosting service—what about him? Where is he going to go?
Curtis: He goes out and he brings collocation space and he puts services in there and he provides them either over the top in the internet or with direct connectivity or secure links out to the businesses that use Joe’s services that he hopes.
Robin: Yeah. Actually he is. He controls the servers themselves. But he is in a big facility, you know, he has got a couple of cages in Northern Virginia. So how about him? What does he do when he takes your stuff? Is he in the cloud? What is he?
Curtis: Yeah, sure. He is in the cloud, but there is more than just having servers in a collocation center to make up a cloud. The cloud is a design concept to an application. It means that that hosted service is accessible anywhere in the world, not just in that one network for that one customer. It is usually persistent across multiple devices, so I can get my hand-held smart phone or my iPad or I can work on my computer I can do it from Starbucks, I can do it from my office. And I am seeing the same persistence of data out there. So if your friend Joe designs applications that way, and is hosting it in a data center with really good internet and backroom connectivity, then sure, he is typically meeting the definition of a cloud occupation.
Robin: And has for many years, for that matter.
Curtis: I am sure a lot of years ago we were calling this an ASP, so in the late ‘90s and early 2000s there were application service providers. The big difference between that time period and kind of where we are now is the application service providers typically deployed single tenant based systems in the infrastructure inside the cloud. So each customer had their own set of servers, their own set of networks, their own applications instance. What we have done in the last few years is realize that the scalability of that model and the operational expense of that model is really not different enough from just putting that service inside the company to really make a compelling scale cloud argument. Cloud also includes this concept of multi-tenancy which then brings in that ASP model up to the modern age.
Robin: Let’s talk about small businesses. They are either just getting on the internet, they are still some out there who aren’t.
Curtis: These are the same guys waiting for the yellow pages book to show up every year, right? You know, I worked with a small business not that long ago that actually had a security breach inside their building. They used internet only sparingly. It was some casual email, mostly with the younger staff. A small business, family owned. It was in the printing business. An attacker got inside their system, encoded all their files and demanded fifty grand to unlock the files. This is not a new story. So I had a conversation with the gentleman that owned the company. I said, “Don’t pay off the guy but what you need to do right now is you need to put your storage in the cloud.” That way you could have your on-premise files, and you have this backup out in the cloud where you are not going to get exploited for those images back, twenty years of his work to be precise.
Robin: Yeah. No doubt you found somebody who could undo, who can decrypt anyway.
Curtis: Yeah, well, we won’t get into that side of it, but sure. Small businesses, you know it is already a struggle. I have worked with small and medium businesses my entire career and people have a hard time realizing these guys work 18, 19, business days of the month which is typically 20, 21 days. And that just covers their expenses. That last day is the only time that family makes money. And if you are spending all that money on this super smart guy that you need to protect your data, or to run a 24x7 IT shop, it is really a strain on your finances. But not only that, you put a lot of load usually on a single individual. Presumably, he wants to take a vacation one day. He needs to leave your shop for a couple of weeks. And that’s where cloud scale can really make a big difference.
Robin: That’s really a good point. Now here is the question: Slashdot readers tend to be that IT guy. Whether for a small business or in the bowels of Citibank, we’ve got them. All that is a lot of programmers. Maybe more programmers. How does this move to the cloud affect the IT guy? How should he manage his career in light of it?
Curtis: Oh I mean this is actually, the server hugger IT guy should be celebrating this move. This is a huge opportunity to improve their skill set and to grow in their career and become even more valuable. Look, a company that puts a couple of applications, on a couple of different servers in a closet and still maintains a backup on paper or has an accountant on the side, when they put all their eggs into the cloud basket, you know, they really need a network that performs all the time—class of service clearly set up, network performance that is well understood, great internet connections, sometimes even backup internet connections on there.
And then the next part of their service is they can become what they originally were. You see, 20 or 25 years ago, when the IT explosion hit when the ability to buy a clone IBM server even really a regular IBM server for under ten grand and put it in a business. The IT team became the Holy Grail in the company. They could automate something quicker than anyone else. You didn’t have to go to an outside firm to re-engineer an entire process line. Somebody could code it up real quick. There is a new era coming where you can start taking applications from one piece of the cloud, from another piece of the cloud, start gluing them together and putting together really awesome business processes. So that IT career is going through a little transformation cycle but I think actually the better days are ahead.