Scott Geng still laughs about how he has a liberal arts degree—in computer science. In the 1980s, computer science clearly wasn’t what it is today; at the time, Geng’s alma mater, Boston University, was one of the few schools in the country offering a degree in the subject. It wasn’t part of any defined curriculum, so computer science got lumped in with liberal arts.
SCOTT GENG’S GUIDING PRINCIPLES
You’ve got to be innovative. And that can mean leveraging or integrating existing technology.
Pay attention to your customers. You have to understand their challenges and invest in solutions.
Keep IT simple.When you’re building technology, you don’t want to complicate it for customers. You want to leverage the capabilities of technology, but make the design as simplistic as possible. Success is almost always in the engineering.
The liberal arts designation hardly matters anymore, though his education and talent have served him well. Geng is now chief technology officer and executive vice president of engineering at Boxborough, Massachusetts’s Egenera, a cloud management and disaster recovery software company. An expert in managing and designing software for mission-critical environments, Geng has held senior positions at IBM and Hitachi Computer Products, where he was instrumental in the development of the operating system for the world’s then-fastest commercial supercomputer.
At Egenera, Geng oversees product development, directs the mission, and manages the software-architecture team, giving him the unique ability to both focus on the big picture while also taking a hands-on approach to important, day-to-day tasks like working with clients who, for whatever reason, cannot jump into the cloud.
Explained in its most rudimentary terms, cloud management is the act of storing and managing software remotely, on the server side, enabling customers to access data from anywhere in the world on any computer or mobile device. Cloud computing was embraced quickly for its ability to increase efficiency and reduce costs, but initially, businesses were slow to hop on board, either because of the initial cost of switching to a new data management technique or because of a simple fear of change. That no longer seems to be the case. According to a study by the consulting firm Emergent Research, the percentage of US small businesses using cloud computing is expected to more than double by 2020, from 37 percent to nearly 80 percent.
The most challenging thing about working in IT, Geng says, is the rate of change and how dramatically it’s accelerating, citing cloud computing as a prime example of how quickly technology—and its capabilities—are forcing organizations to evolve.
“There were obviously major changes in the ten years between 1984 and 1994, but it’s nothing compared to the last ten years,” Geng says. “And cloud computing is the best example I can think of when it comes to a technology that has had a profound, dramatic impact, not just on my industry, but on business as a whole.”
Companies like Amazon, Geng says, have been lowering the price of cloud services, decreasing their costs twenty-five times since 2006. The goal is to make the cloud attractive to those apprehensive to embrace it—and for most individual users and companies, it is now a matter of how to best adopt the cloud model into their IT architecture that stands as the final barrier.
Because of this hesitancy, what’s emerging is a hybrid-cloud environment, enabling companies to leverage cloud services provided by companies like Amazon to put some projects in the public cloud, while day-to-day needs remain premise-specific.
“This hybrid environment is offering a new way to develop processes, and it’s offering a solution to businesses who weren’t sure how to fit the cloud into their environment,” Geng says. “With this approach people are doing much more than sticking a toe in the water; they’re sticking their whole leg in the water. We’re definitely headed in a more hybrid direction.”
This is why so much of Egenera’s products and new developments are focused on a hybrid-cloud service and specifically on the piece of the puzzle so many companies seem to be forgetting: the middleman.
“Companies like Google and Amazon have all gone after the end user. We see a major hole in this approach, namely that those on the channel side are completely left out,” Geng says. “The cloud is changing the way people think of computing, and channel providers are being left with fewer options when it comes to the ability to move into the cloud-services market in a way that allows them to leverage those services.”
Geng says that right now, channel providers only have two choices. The first is to utilize Amazon or Google’s services with minimal margin and effectively compete with those vendors in selling to the end-user—not an easy path to build a profitable business. The second, more challenging option is to create the framework and buy the software to offer their own cloud services, which is a lot to take on operationally, financially, and technologically.
Egenera’s answer is to target the middleman with the most efficient software and cloud services they need at the lowest possible cost. Geng says the most critical problem for channel providers is they don’t currently have a practical path to offer cloud services to their existing customer base—one that will allow them to control the margins they make and offer the value-added services and touch points their customers expect. Egenera entices channels by enabling them to pay as they use with no volume commitment.
“We’ve almost always been a product-focused business,” Geng says. “We’re taking a new position and building out this new market. We’re a small company and for us to stay on top, we have to be creative and blaze our own path. We’re doing that with this new endeavor.”