By guest author Shaloo Shalini
As part of our Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing series, in the following interview Sramana talks with José Almandoz.
José Almandoz is the vice president and chief information officer of Novell, where he oversees the company’s information systems and technology infrastructure. With over seventeen years of experience in the software and consulting industry, Almandoz brings real-world experience to Novell’s in-house technology to ensure the highest levels of customer, partner, and employee satisfaction and results.
Almandoz joined Novell in 2001 through the acquisition of Cambridge Technology Partners as vice president of operations for Latin America. In 2005, he worked as executive operations assistant to the president and COO of Novell, Inc. In June 2006, he served as chief of staff to the CEO, and he assumed his current role in July 2007. José is also a member of Novell’s executive leadership team. Prior to joining Novell, José ran his own consulting company from 1992 through 1996 and served as a consultant with Accenture between 1989 and 1992.
José received a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Universidad Simón Bolívar and also studied for a master’s in management engineering at Universidad Metropolitana, both in Caracas, Venezuela.
Novell is a global leader in enterprise class software and services, with over $1 billion in sales and one hundred offices around the world. Novell provides a flexible combination of open source and commercial technologies based on open standards to help its customers manage, simplify, secure, and integrate their IT systems.
Novell provides solutions for data centers, security and identity, resource, and desktop management.
SM: Let’s begin our conversation with cloud computing adoption. In general, is cloud computing going beyond pilots and evaluation? At Novell, are you dealing with serious, large-scale projects in the cloud domain?
JA: Yes. We have actually been using Software as a Service (SaaS) for a long time, even before the term “cloud” became popular. Today, we have a few solutions that are in full production, for example, PivotLink. It is a SaaS solution used for reporting, and we rely greatly on that service for our financial processes. It is used across the entire company. Last year, we implemented another solution for our partner registration called BlueRoads. [BlueRoads was acquired by CSG Channels in 2009]. That is also a SaaS-based offering, and it was an interesting project for us because we had to do a lot of integration with some on-premise solutions at Novell. Later we integrated it with SAP. There is yet another SaaS solution that we have deployed for sales payments, both for employees and partners, called Callidus. [Callidus Software is a provider of sales performance management (SPM) and incentive compensation management (ICM) software and services.] They too have been in the market for a long time, but in the past couple of years, Callidus has been migrating its offering to a SaaS platform.
[Note to readers: You can read more on the Novell–Callidus case study here.]
So, yes, at Novell we do have a few solutions based on clouds, SaaS in particular, which are in production, and adoption is continuing. Let me switch here a little bit to bring in my perspective on the marketplace. As a software vendor, we see a lot outsourcing service providers and telecom companies trying to reach out to us to help them build their cloud-based offerings. We see a lot of adoption happening on a daily basis. The reality in the market is this – although only 2% to 3% IT spending is going into the cloud, there is a lot of activity in this space.
SM: Are these telecom companies reaching out to Novell to build certain cloud-based services of their own that they wish to offer to their clients, say in the form of value-added services?
JA: That’s correct. These telecommunications c0mpanies are reaching out to us to see if we can support them with our infrastructure software and help them build their cloud-based offering. I don’t know whether you are familiar with Novell’s products and solutions – we offer an open source solution in the form of Linux. There are security solutions, too, and these service providers are trying to build their own cloud-based offering, for which they need software vendors such as Novell.
Novell, as a company, is nailing this market of cloud providers that are responsible for the application layer, and we are helping them with the infrastructure software layer.
SM: Interesting! How do you see the evolution of cloud computing? Does it level the playing field between large and small companies in terms of infrastructure? From your experience in working with these telecom vendors, do you think that cloud computing is enabling them to cater to small and medium companies?
JA: You are right. Based on what we see and hear in our conversations with these service providers, my perception too is that they are targeting small and medium business with their cloud-based offerings. I do believe that cloud-based services will help to remove some of the obstacles that small businesses have to deal with to get access to sophisticated technology and applications, especially infrastructure. Today, the software model has changed. Earlier, if you needed a complex and business-critical solution, you were required to put up lot of cash upfront to buy and maintain that software. In that model, you had to buy servers and infrastructure to support those applications, and so on. That was an expensive approach to take if you were a small company. With cloud computing, especially SaaS offerings, what usually happens is that such complex business-critical solutions are now accessible through a pay-as-you-go model, so many of these small companies will get access to the knowledge and the infrastructure where such solutions are deployed. This will allow smaller and medium-sized companies to be more effective and focus on the key business functions that they are trying to deliver in the marketplace.
SM: For a large organization such as Novell, what do you consider the key requirements for adoption and deployment of cloud-based solutions? What are Novell’s selection criteria for solutions such as PivotLink that are used in-house?
JA: This is interesting. The first requirement for any solution is to have a compelling value proposition. The reason why I even mention something as obvious is because with a term such as cloud computing today, you see a lot of vendors, especially new vendors, approaching you with a solution which is a cloud-based offering, but you don’t really get any significant value if you look deeper into the value proposition. Many vendors are just trying to leverage the new terminology and we are very careful about that. Our first condition for any cloud offering is that it must have something to offer to Novell’s business. The same was the case with PivotLink, BlueRoads, and other cloud-based offerings that we deploy at Novell itself. The reason we implemented BlueRoads’s SaaS solution in 2009 was we were introducing a major change in our pilot program. We looked for an offering that addressed our requirements, and there were not many offerings available that we could use. There was this company called BlueRoads that was the only option and solution available for our requirements, and it was a SaaS-based offering. A lot of the value proposition that you get from cloud vendors is in terms of cutting costs, and that is definitely a valid consideration for us, too.
The second important thing that we consider for any solution is whether we can manage the security access and identities that are going to be using this solution. Novell, being an American company, must comply with many regulations such as Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX) and other compliance measures, and we have to make sure that every solution we put in place takes care of that aspect. We need to have the right security and access framework for every solution that we deploy at Novell.
The third requirement is something that you don’t hear too many vendors talking about but is important for Novell – the capability of the solution to integrate well with the rest of our IT. This is a first problem that anyone who is deploying cloud-based solutions has to deal with. It is a challenging process because now you need to integrate an existing on-premise solution with something that exists in the cloud. It makes the entire process much more difficult. At the same time, you don’t have many vendors out there that have the services or methodology expertise to address the issue of integration. So integration is a big item on the checklist that we need to cross off before we decide to move ahead with one of the cloud-based solutions. And then you start to work on questions such as vendor viability – is this vendor right for us, will it survive? Do I have the right tools to manage this solution? This is important because you don’t want to put in five, six, or ten different cloud solutions, especially in the SaaS arena, and then have to manage each one separately in an ad hoc manner. Therefore, management of individual cloud-based offerings is also a big question for Novell. Those are probably our top selection criteria for a cloud-based offering – value proposition, security, integration, and manageability.
SM: Are these SaaS vendors that you deal with at Novell responsive to your requirements? I would like to know how prompt they are in addressing customer issues, because these vendors have to deal with lot more customers and feedback all at once owing to their new distribution model. What is your experience about the vendor’s ability to process your feedback?
JA: There are two types of vendors playing in the cloud market. You have the traditional big vendors that are trying to migrate some of their existing solutions to the cloud or trying to enter this space. Some of them are not listening that well, and it might be because they are uncomfortable with some of the implications the cloud could have for their legacy business. The new entrants in the market are the second type of vendors, typically small players trying to take advantage of this change in distribution model and new opportunities in SaaS market place. They are the ones bringing in newer solutions. I think they are listening very well to feedback and are very responsive in terms of addressing customer issues. I will go back to the examples of Callidus or BlueRoads, which are the solutions we deploy ourselves. We spent a lot of time with these vendors trying to understand the capabilities of their products, how they manage their data centers, and so on. With SaaS-based offerings, remember that we are relying on these vendors not only for software solutions but on their data center and back-end that supports their solution in terms of its availability and security. So what I want to understand from these vendors is, What do they have in their data center? Do they own their data center, or is it managed by somebody else? I need to know all about their service level agreements, whether they have another vendor behind them, and so on. These smaller companies are more willing to listen to customers, and they also spend a lot of time with us, especially in talking about integration. Many of them will have application programming interfaces (APIs) and Web services available to integrate their functions with what you have in your legacy environment already. But those are APIs and interfaces are usually incomplete. So they are willing to sit down and get new requirements from customers. If you are talking to new entrants, the smaller companies, then they are very willing to listen to your requirements. If you are talking to larger players, some of them are very open to sit down and talk about your needs, but many of them are still trying to figure out what cloud computing will mean to their traditional business, and they may not be as responsive.