Episode 49 of The Andy Show
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:00:29] Hello and welcome to The Andy Show. It is a Friday. It is, if you’re in the U.K., it is the 5 o’clock on the 26th of June 2020. The weekend is nearly upon us. And a lot has happened in this last week. A lot of changes to lockdown, particularly in the U.K. businesses are talking about how they can go back to work. We had an event recently that spoke about local government and how they’re going back to work. But there’s some very interesting conversations and also interesting conversations about what’s going to happen with this digital technology that we’ve all embraced during this period into the future. But we have a very special guest all the way from California today. It’s my absolute pleasure to be joined by John Gentry, the Chief Technology Officer of the Virtana. John, welcome.
JOHN GENTRY [00:01:31] Thank you, Andy. It’s a pleasure to be here and unfortunately, not quite the weekend for me yet, but happy to be on the show. And yes, I would agree it’s quite an unprecedented time right now. But we’re not as quite as fortunate as the U.K. and I don’t think we’re as close to opening back up, but certainly forward to the days that we can.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:01:51] Well, as we spoke about in the pre-brief discussion. I’d love to hear some of the things that you’ve been hearing during this period about things that your clients have been asking, your customers have been asking and changes that you perhaps have made. But let’s start at the absolute beginning, John. I do want you to tell us about Virtana and also what you do there.
JOHN GENTRY [00:02:11] Certainly. So Virtana is in the business of what we call hybrid Cloud infrastructure optimisation, which is quite a mouthful. But essentially, we’re in the business of ensuring that our customers applications are highly performant and available by looking at the combination of their public Cloud and private Cloud data centre infrastructure, in a compute and systems infrastructure. To make sure it’s running smoothly and running at optimal cost to performance. So actually very relevant in these times as workloads have changed radically for those customers, particularly in businesses like healthcare and online trading to a larger verticals. Well, myself personally, as the Chief Technology Officer, I’m responsible for really being the bridge between our vision and the marketplace and the market’s requirements in our engineering and technology roadmap. So I’m very much in sort of shaping our future, but also sort of helping customers realise the benefits, not just our technology, but everything that it touches.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:03:16] That’s fascinating. So how did you get into this? Where did this all started and where have you been on the journey of this? What’s your background?
JOHN GENTRY [00:03:28] No, absolutely. So I don’t not to date myself too much, but I started in the industry quite a while ago. And the benefit of really working in most sectors, I’ve been in technology every since I left school. I actually studied economics and sociology. So a little bit of a different background for a CTO than most, it was not a computer science major. But always had an affinity for technology started in the software industry, was one of the early professionals working with Java, moved over to the systems side. Worked through systems integrators. And then got into large scale data centre infrastructure and actually been for Virtana now for 11 years. So the longest tenure in my career, not quite half of my career or worse. But the lined shared nonetheless. And it’s been quite a journey, certainly senior “illusion” of the industry. I think I’ve been here from the early days of Cloud through now. Cloud being really the de facto standard and a part of everyone’s I.T. strategy. So it’s been a real learning experience.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:04:40] I’d say you are definitely the chief boffin at Virtana. I can hear that from what you’re saying. But let’s talk about what you’ve been doing in the last few months, because obviously we are in lockdown, as we say, and the same thing in America and you have clients, I imagine, everywhere, across the globe affecting everyone. And I mean, this is unprecedented. You know, we had, we have occasional times when business is shutdown and we have people coming around saying, but we’ve got short term disaster recovery, blah, blah, blah. But this is just off the charts. I mean, this is like lockdown. Businesses can’t function as normal, et cetera, et cetera. But you’re in a prime position because of this, because you can tell me how has this impacted? How has all this impacted Cloud migration and I.T. operations in general?
JOHN GENTRY [00:05:43] No, it’s been amazing. It’s been trying at times, it has shown. I think the resiliency of our customers, of the people involved, but also it’s really tested the resiliency of the system supporting those businesses. Well, I think there’s been a wholesale shift in some of the priorities for those customers. There’s a wide spectrum. We have customers that are very technology savvy. They run the software as a service businesses. They were able to adapt fairly quickly, they had the systems and infrastructure in place to facilitate a fairly rapid transition to work from home without a lot of business disruption. We had other customers that quite literally were 100% in office, employee base of several thousand that were faced with a very rapid transition to supporting their customers. And as a result, their employees work from home capacity. And so we saw a pretty massive shift of priorities to first just facilitating continuing the business and then to really investigating and investing in, making sure that this type of disruption could be accommodated in the future with less impact to the business. So shifts in spending, a lot of investment in virtual desktop infrastructure, as an example, our moving employees. The ability to work effectively from home and then the sort of reconsideration of Cloud as a priority. We had customers that were evaluating migration to Cloud that now are faced with either accelerating or pre-nap project on pause. And we have both ends of the spectrum, some that had to pause that project to reinvest that in other areas that sustain the business, some that simply accelerated that because they needed the benefits of Cloud from a geolocality or elasticity perspective to be able to accommodate the massive shifts in the way their customers were interacting with them, either their employees were using systems. I mean, you always have dynamic changes in application loads just as a result of business cycles and business process. I think we’ve seen one of the most dramatic wholesale transformations in those workloads that probably we’ve ever seen and certainly that we’ll see anytime in the near future.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:08:15] I mean, how much strain is currently on major I.T. infrastructures at the moment? So, I mean, people have their own internal systems. They possibly go very, very little notice of this. Are they experiencing I.T. performance issues? Possibly not that easy to identify.
JOHN GENTRY [00:08:37] Well, I think there’s two real telling things in that line of questioning. So in this comes back as to why I’ve been with Virtana and why I’m so passionate about our technology and searching our customers. There’s a stark difference between those companies that had clear visibility into the way their applications were interacting with the underlying infrastructure, what available overhead or headroom they had in their systems, how they might be able to shift capacity from, say, a set of applications that serviced an on prem workload and very quickly reallocate those to to service applications that facilitated remote access or remote work on companies that have had a real strong handle on upon the performance of their I.T. systems and the available capacity. We’re able to actually adjust fairly quickly. Customers that we’re maybe not as mature in that journey or we’re trying to figure out those types of challenges. We’re certainly put under much greater strength. I think of one customer in particular I mentioned before, a company that was 100% work from home excuse me, a 100% work in office. Well, there are a financial institution that was used to servicing customers via know in branch and in-person interactions, and they had to transition to 100% remote and do so try to reopen within a week or 10 days of the initial lockdown. They were lucky because they were able to through having clear visibility into the systems, they moved resource from supporting their own branch transaction processing systems and their point of sale systems to build up and support a VDI environment and shore up their online banking systems very, very quickly. So they they were able to actually reallocate existing datacenter infrastructure to new applications and drive capacity up to facilitate. They reopened with thousands of workforce in under 10 days, which was not just a testament to the technology that they had or the visibility thay the had, but also the real sort of efficient process and people skills that they had and that they had nurtured over the years. So that’s one of the more impressive transformations that I saw.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:11:01] It’s a fantastic achievement. In your opinion? I thought that I’ve been wrestling with this thought for the last few months, and that’s the question of whether or not, out of necessity companies have not. Because, for example, you said offices where everybody is currently in an office and now they have to work from home, a necessity based on this lockdown or whether or not some of these things that are suddenly appearing in the digital thing. There were things that companies that meant to be doing for ages and the project just never, ever happened. And suddenly this just gave these dues for right. We’re doing this project. We’re moving to the Cloud. We would be transforming this, this and this. What have you found?
JOHN GENTRY [00:11:49] Absolutely. You know, the adjustment of priorities, the shift of budget dollars, frankly, to Cloud initiatives. I’ve seen a substantial shift at the most extreme. We have a customer that moved 95% of their overall I.T. budget, shifted to of the investment in Cloud. They had about a 45% of their budget, 50% of their budget already allocated to that project. But it got the lion’s share going forward. And for them, it was both investing heavily in a private Cloud that was more scalable than their legacy systems, but also accelerating their migration to public Cloud. Because of some of the elasticity that a bit affords them in terms of the ability to scale up workloads, scale out on demand and so forth. So that project took front and centre. Now they’re trying to execute on that. That’s just one of many examples that you’ve seen a significant rise in, certainly collaboration platforms and communication platforms that live in the Cloud. Getting a whole lot more use. I think one of the most dramatic transformations, and this is certainly true. I know in the U.K. as well, that the full embracing of remote healthcare. The digital doctor’s office and the digital patient interaction was always kind of on the fringe. I mean, I had it in my health online application that I could use, and I always had an ability to chat with my doctor. And now it became that is the preferred method of communication and it’s incorporated things like video chat. And all of a sudden the whole electronic healthcare became not just something we’re considering but are afraid of. But something that is absolutely a necessity. And so, you know, major shifts in what is one of our strongest verticals, which is the healthcare profession, to sort of dynamic changes one. The core patient care systems had to get 100% of the attention just because of the massive influx of patients and the ability to provide relatively consistent patient care under the stresses of the pandemic. While at the same time having to invest heavily in the ability to look to deliver electronic healthcare because there was no more capacity on-prem in what would be serviced by traditional patient records system. So I think the healthcare industry has been one that’s the hardest hit and the most challenged because they’ve had to simultaneously invest in two very different infrastructure to facilitate two very different and distinct requirements for their patients. Actually, seeing in your discussion of your question around how the Cloud plays into that, a lot of very conservative organisations historically that were maybe dappling in Cloud for some non-critical systems now having to really put a Cloud strategy front and centre, particularly in the way in which they deliver that remote care, that remote patient interaction.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:15:06] It’s such a fascinating time for technology and the number of changes that are that are happening. It sounds like you’ve certainly had your hands full, to say the least. But let’s pick into your brain here. So you talk, can you to tell me a little bit a couple of hints and tips of you. How can organisations migrate to the Cloud efficiently in this climate? I mean, what are the benefits of doing so on?
JOHN GENTRY [00:15:34] Well, so there’s an analogy I like to use. I think the first thing for an effective Cloud migration is to really understand what your technology asset or technology stack looks like on prem. If you’ve got a private Cloud or an existing system, you want to migrate that application workload to the public Cloud. If you don’t want to migrated assets. You really want to make sure it’s running very efficiently before migration. I’d like to say that if your furniture is ugly, just moving it to a new house can make it pretty, it’s just an ugly furniture in a new house. And that’s kind of what happens when companies rushing to a Cloud migration and just try to lift and shift certain like for like their infrastructure from an on premise state to the Cloud. I’m really getting a clear handle, having clear visibility into how things are performing and right sizing the capacity pre migration can ensure a successful migration and can right size, you know, where you end up in that Cloud. So you’re not overspending. I think the latest statistic was your average Cloud instances or overprovision by about 40%. That means that the cost benefits or cost efficiencies aren’t being realised, largely because there wasn’t clear visibility into the real requirements of those applications, pre migration. So they moved what was sized on prem. They moved it to the same sort of sizing in the Cloud. And that really leaves a lot of the efficiencies that could have been gained. So really having a clear methodology for application discovery and dependency, mapping and rightsizing, on pre migration to facilitate a smooth migration and then understanding and optimising that post migration so you sort of stay on top of it. Don’t just put it out there and hope it’s running well. The, you know, I think we just did a survey that said customers that had clear visibility into their I.T. systems. They continued migrations and migrated successfully, whereas those that did not actually in many had to halt migrations and solve but failed projects and lost budgets. So the first thing is to really get a clear understanding of what you have, how it’s performing, what the required capacity to support the businesses, and then making a very data driven decision to migrate to Cloud.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:17:49] And then once you’ve made the decision, they got the minefield that is private, public. Which Cloud to be the go to? Should they primarily just be a private? Should they use a little bit of public? Should they use a little bit of this? where’s the hybrid? You know, from your experience is there are benefits to doing both? And does it matter the size of the business sector or the business? What have you seen?
JOHN GENTRY [00:18:20] So interestingly enough, I think. Whereas historically the vertical or business sector had a strong influence on technology decisions. The reliance on tech is so ubiquitous now that I don’t see a lot of difference between sectors outside of, you know, potentially the aspects of things like data, governance and data sovereignty, things that you may prevent wholesale adoption of the public Cloud. I think we had a period of time that it was a Cloud first mentality. And there is this mad rush to just put everything in Cloud. I know that most customers that I talked to have shifted that to a Cloud smart mentality, which is let’s use the environment that is best suited for the workload or for the use case by the existing capacity on my premise, on my private data centre. And I’ve got an application that is highly performance sensitive or really has a very significant kind of IO or heavy weight data transfer requirements. That may be best suited on prem. You may have huge expense trying to move that the Cloud and create unexpected dependencies on sort of the telco links between your on prem data centre and the public Cloud. Where there are other apps or other workloads that are very suited to the Cloud that probably are even best served through some of the benefits of auto scaling and geo locality facilitated by Cloud. And particularly some of the GDP requirements where I go to a public Cloud provider and meet my GDP requirement because they’ve got a Cloud facility in Germany, for example. Whereas I don’t want to build a personal private data centre in Germany, but I want to serve the German market, so I think it’s really companies are being much more purposeful. I think at the end of the day, it will be a hybrid world. I think that the workload’s will live both in private data centre and in public Cloud unless you’re a company that was born in the Cloud, so to speak, and have been Cloud made it from the beginning. I think it will be a hybrid world. There’s a lot of talk of this concept of multi Cloud, which is I want to use multiple public Cloud providers. I think there are dual Cloud strategies today, but it’s not truly multi-Cloud. And the underlying capabilities for efficient sort of workload migration between the public Clouds aren’t quite there yet. It’s really aspirational. But those technologies are coming. And to your questions around what the current climate or current sort of unprecedented disruption to business is doing. It’s accelerating a lot of that innovation, which is exciting forhtech heads like me, that love disruption. I think in my LinkedIn profile even says I’m a champion of disruptive technologies. I would prefer that disruption not to be in the form of a global pandemic. And I certainly yeah, in my heart “your want to” but there is some forced innovation that’s happening that ultimately, hopefully will benefit us.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:21:26] Yeah. I’ve seen so many companies doing so many different things around this time, and it’s some remarkable things that have been happening. But so we don’t run out of time. I’m now gonna move on to my next thing, which is this is a term that is not that familiar to me. I’ve heard it a couple of times that A.I. Ops, which I assume is Artificial Intelligence Operations. It’s already making a difference. I know it’s making a difference, but where is- you guys are involved in A.I. Ops. So why is this? What is it? How is it benefiting or making differences for end user organisations and not just now during this lockdown. But, you know, before and after?
JOHN GENTRY [00:22:17] It’s interesting. So I think it is a bit of an overused term. It’s been through a couple of different definitions. I think it started out as Algorithmic I.T. Operations and then it was Artificial Intelligence and I.T. Operations. And, you know, I think the jury’s out on how they’ll nail down the definition. “Gartner’s” got a couple of different categories for it today. To me, it’s really applying advanced mathematics, be that Machine Learning or A.I. algorithms to the processing of large datasets to answer very specific questions or drive very specific outcomes, right? And so, you know, to me, it’s not just throwing maths at a data lake, which may be some interpretation. It’s actually doing very purposeful, advanced mathematics in a very specific context that are very sort of established dataset to drive an outcome. So for Virtana, we’ve actually been applying algorithmic intelligence or A.I. and Machine Learning to the large datasets that we collect from monitoring infrastructure. We started back in about 2014 and on the initial R&D efforts, released a product in 2015. We’re now actually the “property C14”. We’ve been in the A.I business for quite a while. To me, it’s really almost the cost of entry now because if you’re not applying advanced mathematics and machine learning that the data’s overwhelming, that the environments are too complex and I’m operating at too great a scale for it to be sort of a human problem to solve. We still like to get involved in the higher order thinking. But if you can process and in turn some of the data and come up with answers from the machine, you can accelerate outcomes. And to me, that’s where customers are benefiting from. It is take the repetitive tasks, take things like root cause analysis and remediation from known problems, known causalities, and let them the machine handle that, set the system, fair those out so that the human resource can be applied to solving larger problems and addressing things like innovation and other challenges. Actually the example I gave you earlier of that customer that was able to transform from a 100% on prem to 100% work remote. They are leveraging our apps platform to actually understand those business patterns and those workflow patterns. And it was that visibility facilitated by that system and the ability for the system to to leverage advanced maths, to run a Monte Carlo simulation, to look at optimal workflow placement that allowed them to identify exactly what capacity they could move from systems they knew would no longer be taxed to systems that they knew would take on new workloads. And so, from my perspective, it’s really A.I. Ops is about applying the right sort of data science to a problem to get to the answer faster so that you can respond to new challenges or unforeseen challenges more quickly, which we’ve seen absolutely at this time. But also, you know, shift from reactive to proactive in terms of overall I.T. operating standards and then even get to predictive so that you can sort of see the patterns come and that’s certainly we saw that an online trading platform that was a customer, they knew market open was always at a spike. They leverage the Machine Learning and the seasonal analysis to understand that the chaos in the markets following the early days, the pandemic was not a normal market open. So now maybe it really is the way they are about their system supporting the online trading, because now after hours trading is through the roof, which wasn’t, right? Things like that.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:26:02] It’s amazing. It’s amazing and leaps and bounds that A.I. technologies come on as well. There was a time when everything’s just got as a label saying that A.I., A.I. and it’s nice to hear stories of true A.I. and Machine Learning is actually being used and utilised in the outside world. But with the outside world and the future very firmly in mind, I’m going to ask you for your predictions for the future. How do you see I.T. operations, Cloud technology panning out in the next couple of years? Put your psychic thinking cap on. Go.
JOHN GENTRY [00:26:45] Well, it’s interesting because I even as a technologist, I always look at the intersection of people, process and technology. And so I think that relationship is going to continue to become even more intimate, as it were. We are more reliant on technology now than we ever have been. I mean, the fact that the only way I could have this interview with you is remotely via video conference. That is a distinct change, my daughter’s 22, she is a Gen-Z. She grew up with this. It was no problem for her. But I think what you’re going to find is an increased not just reliance on but influence over the way in which tech is is applied to our day to day lives. That’s more from a perspective from an I.T. industry perspective. I think what you’re going to see is a profound shift in companies willingness to collaborate and solve problems together. I think it’s been interesting. I saw this trend somewhat coming pre-pandemic. I’ve only seen it compounded. But the fact that there’s no single I.T. provider that’s gonna to deliver all the answers to a given customer. And the customer’s desire to get an ecosystem to bring full solutions to bear and conversations I’ve had with some very large technology players that have historically wanted to be everything to their customer and their CTO is acknowledging, you know, it’s no longer enough to bring the best box to the party. We have to bring business outcomes to the customer and those business outcomes can only be delivered through partnership with other technology providers. And so, one of the things I’m responsible for is our strategic alliances. And that aspect of my business has been absolutely through the roof. It’s really 300% more of my activity is around collaboration and strategic partnership than it was before. So if I put my sort of futures hat on I think, you know, I think it’s going to be people working a lot more closely, both across companies, to deliver innovative solutions. And people working a lot more intimately with the technology itself to be sure, it’s not technology for technology sake, but it’s technologies for humanity’s sake. And maybe I hearken back to my sociology roots there and that I am an optimist and looking for the best in humanity. But we are seeing it in certain bright spots that people are applying technologies and even in some cases, giving away certain innovation to facilitate community collaboration and community improvement. Those things can only get for us, right? So I think for better or worse, our relationship with tech will only become more intimate. Hopefully, as a result, we can also have more influence on its application to bring better solutions to our business customers and bring new and innovative ways to collaborate and have social bonds to to humanity as a whole.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:29:44] Absolutely fascinating. I agree with you on so many of those points. I think it’s. Yeah. You spoke by your daugther. You will never, ever know the pain of waiting for the dial up modem to connect.
JOHN GENTRY [00:29:59] It’s a good thing this interview is taking place before she’s out because you “can get away” from my video chat.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:30:06] Well, the interview sections is over. However, I have a unique window into the world of a Californian or someone in California. What is behind you? I want to know. What’s in the room behind you?
JOHN GENTRY [00:30:20] Oh, well. It’s my backdrop. So they say that you should have a plant for every 50 square feet in your house. A hundred max, to oxygenate your air. So I have several plants, as you can see. And then it’s actually a mirror by the doorway. So that’s just a reflection back.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:30:39] I thought that was a doorway. You tricked me, you fooled me.
JOHN GENTRY [00:30:45] So, yes, I can wave to myself here. But no, it’s just the home office. Fortunately, it’s been my home office before there was pandemic. I’m lucky I had to shut the window before you got on because there was a glare from the sun. But I’ve got a lovely view. So at least if I have to be shelter in place, at least I’m shelter in place, someplace nice.
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:31:10] Excellent. Excellent. Well, thank you for showing us your wonderful California, Californian office. It’s your entire office is probably about the size of my London flat. But never mind. That’s what you get 50 for, I probably got one plant in there. Never mind. John, you have been an absolutely fantastic guest who is clearly incredibly knowledgeable around technology and a very impassioned as well. So thank you so much for your time today.
JOHN GENTRY [00:31:38] Andy, my pleasure. Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity. And now it’s 5:30 over there. So I go have that pie, right?
ANDREW MCLEAN [00:31:47] I think I well, I think I’ll be hitting the gin soon. I said gin, not gym. John, thank you so much. Thank you. That was John Gentry, the Chief Technology Officer for Virtana. What an interesting guy. Well, you have been watching The Andy Show. We are back again next week, but it is a Friday. The time is now coming up to 5:32. Sadly, the pubs are not open. It is, I hope everyone enjoys the weekend and until next week. I’ll see you soon.