Exclusive Interview

Q&A with Conference Chairs: Dave Russell and Mike Chuba

We recently sat down with Conference Co-Chairs Dave Russell and Mike Chuba to get an overview of the conference agenda as well as their thoughts on the I&O trends to look out for.


  • Q1. How can my organization become more agile, yet still deliver the mission-critical services that support the business?
Q1. How can my organization become more agile, yet still deliver the mission-critical services that support the business?

Mike Chuba: Most organizations realize that they should be bimodal — supporting mission-critical Mode 1 services and pursuing Mode 2 advancements at the same time — so the question for many has evolved into how it’s done. A large part of the answer is not technological. Rather, it’s organizational, a fundamental shift in culture. For our target audience, VPs of infrastructure & operations, it comes down to looking at things in a very different light and being committed to creating significant change.

Of course, when you talk about changing the culture, you’re talking about people, who can be very reticent to change. In part, the solution is to identify people within the organization who are open-minded, with 21st century capabilities and experiences such as analytics and IoT, and have a tremendous amount of curiosity about how technologies can open up new possibilities for the business. It’s about identifying the right folks and putting together tighter teams that can work with the business to drive the mission-critical applications of the next decade. Then, too, it’s important to nurture the people who are better suited to the reliable service delivery of Mode 1, making sure they know that they are wanted, needed and no less important than those with Mode 2 responsibilities.

  • Q2. How can I&O leadership make collaboration and alignment between Mode 1 and Mode 2 teams a success?
Q2. How can I&O leadership make collaboration and alignment between Mode 1 and Mode 2 teams a success?

Dave Russell: First, determine the kinds of skills you’re looking for — which can mean hiring new people as well as retraining the ones you have. It’s also about new ways of organizing, and finding different ways to attack and deliver capabilities. In a bimodal context, you want to be agile, but you also want uptime for mission-critical applications, where things can be counted on to keep working well.

Historically, the way we kept things working well in the data center was to take a very slow, methodical, extremely risk-averse approach to everything. Now we’re being told that we don’t have that kind of time, that the business can’t wait a year and a half for a capability. They need it right away. That speaks to a complete, 180-degree change in how safety and risk are now viewed.

Mike Chuba: It’s also important to note that these folks are not in competition with each other. It’s not about choosing winners and losers. Both sides are winners for the organization; they just have different charters. One of the values you get from having Mode 2 people from an I&O background focused on agile needs is their ability to become business participants and influencers. It’s one thing to be agile, but you also need to keep the big picture in mind. If you’re creating the next big business opportunity for the organization, it has to be robust in the long term. Having that level of grounding, without being a bottleneck, is important. A lot of I&O professionals in Mode 2 roles understand that the lines are blurring between being purely a technologist and purely a business person — and they have the ability to serve as the bridge. Because of their background in I&O, they can ground things in reality. Mode 1 teams will appreciate the fact that when new applications eventually get left on the doorstep of I&O, they won’t have to be rebuilt from the ground up. That’s because there has been some careful thought around what can be expected two, three, five, 10 or 20 years down the line. Not every application will become mission-critical, but if you plant 10 seeds in the ground, hopefully one or two of them will grow up to be robust plants.

  • Q3. What can organizations do to optimize IT operations for the digital world?
  • Q4. How should organizations consider cloud services across internal, external and hybrid environments?
  • Q5. Given the complexity of today’s IT environments, what can I&O do to help ensure enterprise security?
  • Q6. In terms of trends and spending priorities, where should I&O be focused now?
  • Q7. Cost optimization is a perennial issue for I&O. What are some of today’s best practices?
  • Q8. Is there anything emerging in the I&O space that leaders should have on their radar?
Q3. What can organizations do to optimize IT operations for the digital world?

Dave Russell: Defensively, IT optimization means cost containment; offensively, it means increasing agility. For I&O, the digital world really translates into handling more data and providing faster response times. A good example of digital business is social listening: What are our competitors saying about us? Why do we (the business) win or lose? What do our customers like about us, and what frustrates them? That kind of information can lead to marketing and messaging activity, and can even drive changes in support programs — but it needs to be done rapidly.

For I&O, that means standing up systems faster, and the systems themselves need to process information more rapidly. It can mean deploying specific technologies, like hyperconvergence and flash technologies, which are all about enabling speed and ease of management. Basically the scale of data, new kinds of data and the desire to get information or achieve an outcome faster are the I&O intercepts — all while simultaneously keeping the lights on for everything else.

Mike Chuba: It’s also about legacy and the careful pruning of what you carry forward to make room for new apps. You can’t do it all, so something may be sacrificed.

Dave Russell: That’s dead on. It becomes a question of application retirement, which in our polling has been a priority for I&O leaders for the past five years. You have to do new. And you keep some of the old. But you also have to figure out a migration path off of the old, which can mean application retirement. Organizations may decide to keep something because they have a commitment to supply it, and it has to be supplied in some fashion, but now they can deliver it differently — move it to a different system or set of servers, or transition to a cloud-based solution. It’s really less binary (support something or not) and more of a triage: What do you do that’s new? What do you continue with, and how? And what do you wean off of or migrate from?

Q4. How should organizations consider cloud services across internal, external and hybrid environments?

Dave Russell: We have a number of sessions at the conference that triangulate on that. This year, we wanted to offer a lot of practical, what-do-you-do-next advice exactly as it relates to cloud, and it’s no accident that cloud is the first track in our agenda. We made sure that we have many, many sessions that range from cloud planning and security to the true economics of cloud, designed to make sure that organizations understand its total cost. Of course, determining the right cloud environment really comes down to the best fit. What are your capabilities? What are your resources? What are the business expectations?

That’s not necessarily different from how the data center has always evaluated things, but now it’s a much broader palette, which can include sourcing decisions. We want to offer different ways of framing the cloud so people can go in with their eyes wide open, consider the pros and cons of various cloud aspects, and then match that up with their own requirements.

Mike Chuba: One of the biggest cloud decision factors is the existence of years and years of legacy applications. It’s pretty clear that the lion’s share of new applications is being done in the cloud, but what do you do with all of your legacy applications? When is the right time to move to the cloud? Is it appropriate to move to the cloud at all? What about colocation? What should you do to the applications before you move to the cloud — migrate to a packaged app and then put it up the cloud, or move to the cloud first and then shop for a packaged app? Is it time to prune legacy applications and simplify myriad interrelated applications? That may be a business decision that involves business leaders. A lot of that is tied to what you are going to do with a body of stuff that you’ve been running on-premises for years and years and years. And are there things you have to worry about keeping on-site, as may be the case in the protection of, and governance associated with, customer data? All of this plays a part in a very complex decision that organizations have to make.

Dave Russell: You almost have to ask yourself what cloud really means, because it’s not one thing, it’s a continuum. It can mean everything from SaaS on one end to infrastructure as a service (IaaS) on the other. For the data center, some current applications will have cloud capabilities that make sense to exploit, and there’s little business involvement. And in other cases, IT will need to work with the business, because the line of business no longer wants internal IT to worry about that; they want to go to SaaS themselves. So then the question becomes: How does I&O become a concierge or value-add provider in that kind of context? We have moved from being pure builders to being advisors.

Q5. Given the complexity of today’s IT environments, what can I&O do to help ensure enterprise security?

Mike Chuba: It’s not sufficient within any organization for the security officer alone to worry about the safety of business data assets. It really is becoming the responsibility of everyone in the organization to protect the “crown jewels.” I&O has to play a role in that by better understanding the risks and exposures, and heightening awareness of the possibility of not just external threats, but internal ones.

Dave Russell: Some of ensuring enterprise security is awareness. In a cloud environment, for example, you need to determine what the major cloud providers are doing — or not doing — so that the I&O team can take steps to supplant it. The first step is understanding your exposures; that’s one aspect. Then take a security threat on the other end of the spectrum, and it’s a nasty one: ransomware. It turns out that I&O capabilities like backup and recovery are really helpful in remediating and recovering against ransomware activities. We’ll have a dedicated workshop on how to respond to those threats. Mike spoke about data leakage, which is relevant here. A lot of ransomware doesn’t attack the main data center. It comes in on employee laptops. And while we don’t have a lot of mobility coverage, we do have sessions that will explain how to stop data center infiltration and exposure. You can do everything right in the data center, but if someone within your organization is connected and has a dangerous payload, that’s a real problem. They can take out all of the other defenses you’ve put in place to keep external people out, because the threat is coming in through a compromised internal system.

Q6. In terms of trends and spending priorities, where should I&O be focused now?

Dave Russell: For years, we’ve had a highly attended session called “Top 10 Trends in Infrastructure & Operations,” an overview of 10 impactful technology topics that may just now be appearing on our attendees’ radar, and in some cases, not quite yet — which then points to other relevant sessions at the event. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a great example — a phenomenon happening largely outside of the data center: RFID tags on packages, sensors on trucks, airplanes and other moveable objects. But eventually, information may come into the data center when someone wants to run analytics against that kind of data payload.

It really comes back to awareness: Be cognizant of what is happening in the business world, and be prepared for it rather than surprised by it.

Mike Chuba: In terms of specific technologies, virtualization was a hot topic at the event five years ago, and the window of opportunity that created was quite impactful. Now we’ve moved to the next step in that evolution with containers and microservices — with most people still early in their understanding and deployment of them — so we have a lot of focus on that. We’ll look at AI and machine learning; these are bubbling to the top on gartner.com in top search terms on a consistent basis. And while they’re not purely I&O topics, we’ll be looking at the implications for I&O. We’ll look at edge computing and what that means for I&O. Will all of that data go to the cloud? How critical is it for data to go to a centralized location? How important is it to keep it at all? There are a lot of things going on that are still formative in nature, but it behooves folks to become knowledgeable about them, and in some cases, be early adopters.

Dave Russell: If we look at the 2018 Gartner CIO Survey, the CIO is really interested in things like digital business, artificial intelligence, machine learning and continued analytics — and wants to spend less money on infrastructure & operations. The take-away for I&O folks, either lifelong professionals or those newly started in their careers, is that your boss’s boss’s boss wants to stop or slow down investment in your area and invest in other things. From a relevancy perspective, it’s time to expand your thinking. That’s not an easy trick, because you’re still tasked with keeping all of the current systems up and running. But at the same time, you need to know as an individual that the landscape is shifting and learn how to navigate that better — explaining the value of your contributions to the business, and being able to support topics that are top of mind with the CIO.

Q7. Cost optimization is a perennial issue for I&O. What are some of today’s best practices?

Dave Russell: The goal is not to cut costs necessarily, but to contain costs. It can be perfectly valid to make multimillion-dollar, multiyear investments; but the objective is to maximize the return on those investments. Optimizing costs doesn’t mean to just stop spending. If a business is in trouble, eliminating all advertising, for example, may not be the way to increase revenue. You have to step back and evaluate how to get more effective utilization out of what you’re doing now, and what you will shift to doing.

With that as a backdrop, cost optimization can come from a technical viewpoint — implementing or expanding the use of new technologies such as flash, storage arrays, hyperconverged server and networking compute, just to name some examples. But there are also organizational dynamics at play; optimizing costs can include deciding how and where things will run, perhaps even moving some applications and activities off-premises.

Mike Chuba: As we’ve said, cost optimization is not cost cutting. In large part, it means ensuring that the money you’re spending on workloads is money well spent, and the sessions in our Cost Optimization track address that. In areas of new investment, how do you ensure that you’re negotiating the best price and not overpaying? How do you make the best deal and avoid getting locked into an unfavorable outsourcing contract? We also talk about improving enterprise data center efficiency. There, it’s not just about costs; it’s about quality of service. In fact, many organizations are being challenged to provide higher service quality, and SLAs. For people who are moving to the cloud, there is a real risk that they will be surprised by a much higher than expected bill for software that’s running in that cloud environment. How do you make sure you’re protected? So it’s not just about cutting the costs of running the operations and things that have been running for years; it’s also about spending dollars on new workloads and applications in the most optimal way, making sure you’re not leaving money on the table in terms of negotiations, or putting yourself in a box when it comes time to renew a contract in two, three or five years.

Dave Russell: We’re also shifting from a heavy capital-expense pricing model, that we’ve had for years and years, to an operational expense, or as-a-service, model, which does bring new challenges to the table.

Q8. Is there anything emerging in the I&O space that leaders should have on their radar?

Dave Russell: I think we’re looking at an amplification of pressures we’ve been feeling for some time; the tension of finding ways for I&O to show relevance to the business, for example, continues to increase. And, not to be alarming, but a few people still have their heads in the sand. It’s important to realize that just because something has worked for the past 20 years, doesn’t mean that it will continue to work for even another five.

We’re doing a little push and a little pull, depending on where people are on the awareness spectrum. The cost issue is also definitely a factor — subscription versus perpetual, lease versus buy — with different cost models coming more strongly into the equation. You may pick new vendors, pick new technologies, and pick new terms and conditions, which all vary across the individual areas and products that you’re looking at. Think of it as a multiway matrix; the options are increasing in many regards, not contracting.