Phew! Today is March 31st, the last day of the first quarter of my experience as the leader of a business – a full P&L.
It’s really interesting for me, as I’m still (and always) at my core a passionate technologist and nerd.
Learning is one of the most fulfilling things for me, and I’m learning hand over fist.
I’ve always felt the strong sense of responsibility for my colleagues, customers, the community as an individual.
As I became a leader of people, that sense of responsibility extended to the team that I was directly responsible for supporting. Each step, I’m learning. I’ve commented before about the unexpected joy and pain of seeing people have personal breakthroughs, life moments – and the sadness of making difficult decisions that affect people’s livelihood, and far worse seeing people suffer personal tragedies. That weight is interesting – and can be paralyzing.
As my team grew to thousands of people, it has made me think about the weight of CEOs, of founders, of leaders of countries and look at them with new awe, respect and humility. It’s a real honor, and a real burden – you can make things better or worse for many, many people.
Now I’m learning fast about the harsh binary elements of being responsible for a business end to end – and ultimately, the measure of success is clear: customers and the markets choose you or they don’t, and they vote with their feet and their dollars.
Talk is cheap. Results speak.
Now – we are a publicly traded company, and people who want to see the report card of VCE will need to tune into EMC’s Q1 quarterly earnings call. To be clear, it’s not my report card, the victory or failure is a team sport and the VCE team and the EMC team as a whole is formidable, and it’s an honor to be part of the team. But when it comes to the converged platforms business the buck stops with me – for better or worse.
That said… there are some things I can share.
Two things happened in the last week that are fascinating.
First, the more powerful example – the voice of the customer…
I was at HIMSS – one of the largest healthcare conferences, and it was fascinating. It DWARFED EMC World, and VMworld. The ecosystem was fascinating. I found out something interesting. A TON of VCE success is in the healthcare vertical, supporting EPIC, Meditech and other critical apps including a lot of EuC. After talking with many customers – I discovered that the reason is simple – the business is literally life and death, and they are very clear as customers about what they do that is of value, and what they should consume rather than build.
A few days later, an unbelievable blog post was posted by a customer: Shelia Hartness is a lead software systems engineer at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. I have talked to a truckload of customers – but boy, she really distilled down the personal impact, the business impact, the operational impact. I have a lot to learn from her :-) Seriously, read the post here and come back…
“… we expected a lot from going the converged-infrastructure route. But it turns out our expectations actually fell short: the changes were even bigger than expected.”
“The new technology delivers near 100-percent availability and boosts performance by 30 percent. It also speeds provisioning and slashes maintenance costs. But looking past the bottom line, the benefits are even greater.”
“I certainly didn’t anticipate the impact it would have on our IT team. The most important changes with regard to converged infrastructure haven’t been around the technology and its performance, but how the new environment has allowed our team to operate differently as well as the opportunities it has provided us to grow as IT professionals.”
This part I think is the coolest. Yes, the move to convergence (and a similar macro organization effect is true of hyper-converged architectures, which we think of as one of the “system architectures” of converged models) was good for performance/availability/agility. But… as Shelia points out (and this is common), the big impact is on the operational team:
“…because VCE pretests and installs all upgrades for us, we save a full day in manpower each month by not having to research and stay current with the latest updates. Our teams have become more collaborative and more proactive. We no longer need to wait for answers from the network team, because we can find those answers ourselves. Our IT team is moving towards a more converged model with fewer team members operating in silos.
Converged infrastructure has also led to changes in our roles as IT professionals. To capitalize on the increased visibility, our team has undergone cross-training to better understand the complete IT environment. This effort has made everyone on my team more well rounded and aware of the latest hardware and software platforms. Although I will never be a Linux or UCS expert, I am now able to better understand those environments, ask fewer questions and move more quickly. The goal is to become converged operators and cloud architects rather than just engineers, and the converged infrastructure is helping us do so.”
Shelia – THANK YOU. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center – THANK YOU for what you do for your patients. Thank you for being a customer, and THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts.
Second, the more “quantitative” example….
I think of Gartner as the “big dog” of the “qualitative” analyst world. They listen to inbound queries, they have smart people, they talk to many people – and they use that to build their worldview and opinions – that they then sell. “Big Dog” isn’t a value-judgement about the quality or correctness, but their impact on the ecosystem (which has to ultimately be the measure for an analyst firm).
Conversely, I think of IDC as the “big dog” of the “quantitative” analyst world. They are data hounds. I have no idea how they get the degree of data they get, and it’s amazingly accurate. They use this and generally do analytics of the data which they sell – and leave the subjective conclusions to the reader.
IDC published their Converged Infrastructure tracker for Q4 2015 today – hot off the presses, and you can read it here.
Wow… and to be clear, this is before I became responsible for the business – so it’s all about the team.
Can you think of ANY infrastructure business (other than the public cloud giants) that is growing at 42% And, we’re not talking about startups that state “percentage growth”, which is later revealed to be on small absolute numbers, and who operate at huge losses?
That is customers voting with their feet.
They are getting clear in their minds: “Infrastructure is a commodity, and I need to pick partners that get me out of building stuff that I should consume. Why? So I can go faster, better, and more reliably, and invest my $$ in areas that differentiate me”.
That is the reason SaaS is growing. That is the reason the public IaaS/PaaS models are growing. That is why converged/hyper-converged is growing.
Now – not all customers want converged infrastructure – some want more flexibility, in the form of reference architectures (which are always more flexible, because they don’t come with the integrated support, lifecycle and sustaining elements – which means they are “broader”).
People often make a claim that reference architectures = converged infrastructure. Nope. Also, we don’t have to guess, or use our gut or personal opinions to see what’s happening in the market (thanks IDC!)… while the reference architecture business is good, and important – the fact is that fewer customers go that way every single day (because this doesn’t change their fundamental operating model). Check it out:
Perspective – the VCE business is greater than the SUM of all the reference architecture business.
And reference architectures – still something important, and something we will always continue to do – are declining at 13% year over year.
Look – VCE is far, FAR (!) from perfect. We can, and always must improve. I’m personally involved with customers where we are not living up to the standard we hold ourselves too – but they are the exception, not the rule – very very important exceptions, and we will do everything in our power to always make things right.
Furthermore, most people think of us as “the Vblock people”. And we are… but we’re far more than that – we’re Vblock, VxRack, VxRail. We also industrualize the IaaS, PaaS and data fabric stacks on the infrastructure – example, we are the Enterprise Hybrid Cloud.
And yes, we are only just starting our journey into hyper-convergence with VxRack and VxRail. But we are playing to win, and investing and leaning in. We respect our competitors, and know we need to run fast and disrupt ourselves. We are. But hint – we’re off to a GREAT start – lots more to come, very, very, VERY soon :-)
Oh, and I’ve been with customers in Austin, Dallas, Houston this week, London, Paris, Brussels next week – and their voices are clear. To John, Bradley, Mark, Nathan, the team at Sigma – thanks for the great conversation tonight! Thank you for your partnership. And my goodness, the dessert at Trulucks is off the hook. I need to workout tomorrow :-)
As I go to bed tonight, catching some ZZZs for another busy day tomorrow – to the whole EMC team around the globe, THANK YOU. To the VCE team, THANK YOU. To our partners, THANK YOU.
And most importantly, to customers everywhere, THANK YOU.