The Trustmarque and S3 XPO Panel 2018 marked the first time that we brought together market-leading vendors from both cloud and storage, providing the perfect breadth of expertise to discuss issues effecting the full IT infrastructure eco-system. From innovative technologies like AI and machine learning to digital transformation and skills shortages, here’s a run down of the top topics discussed by our expert panel.

The XPO Panel A-list: Expertise across Cloud, Security and Storage

  • Kostas Synodinos – Azure Solution Specialist, Microsoft
  • Matt Fordham – Software Defined Storage Leader UKI, IBM
  • Jorn Lutters – Lead Cloud Architect, Sophos
  • Simon Todd – Senior MDC Systems Engineer, VMware
  • Steve Chambers – Storage Sales Specialist, DellEMC
  • Savas Nicolaides – Systems Engineering, EMEA Strategic Account, Pure Storage
  • Paul Haddow – Systems Engineering Director, EMEA, Tegile
  • Danny Clarke – Senior Sales Engineer, Citrix

Innovation in storage design

XPO panel host James Butler, CTO Trustmarque and S3, kicked off the discussion by talking about consolidation in the market and how traditional storage platforms intend to innovate to stay relevant in an age of public cloud

Paul Haddow, Tegile, was keen to confirm that “innovation is not dead in storage”. While he agreed that the market has been crowded for many years and some smaller vendors have been pushed out, he also felt there is a huge opportunity to grow and innovate.

Savas Nicolaides, Pure Storage, added: “We’ve seen a lot of consolidation and small players not staying in the market. In terms of innovation, there’s lots of aspects to it; innovating the business model and using new technology like AI and machine learning are all important factors.”

Dell’s Steve Chambers said the key to success moving forward is relevancy. He commented: “We all represent different vendors but we are all striving for the same thing; how to make ourselves relevant for our customers and how to help them stay relevant to their customers. I’ve never seen change at the pace it is now. It’s physically changing the way we live as communities and affects our daily lives.”

He went on to talk about the increasing importance of recognising the needs of the end-consumer, using his family as a clear example. “My daughter was astonished when I told her someone, somewhere has to pay for the photos that she uploads to facebook”. That gathered a laugh from the crowd.

Security in a multi or hybrid cloud future

All of the XPO panel members discussed the importance of a multi-cloud future, but James Butler was eager to find out if perception to public cloud and security has changed. The general consensus was that attitudes have shifted, but according to Jorn Lutters Sophos, there may be “too much trust”.

“There has been a massive shift in thinking about security in relation to cloud. In the past five years people have moved from very little trust to too much trust in cloud. We have a role to play in the security design for those environments and to press the fact that there is a need for security when moving to cloud. However, the end-user experience must not change. It’s about security regardless of the platform.” He commented.

Microsoft’s Kostas Synodinos agreed that attitudes have definitely shifted. “Everyone is more mature about it now. We spend a lot of money to secure environments. We provide services from Azure so that everyone can utilise our security. Security is no longer the number one blocker but it is an important part of the conversation.”

IBM’s Matt Fordham agreed that “control, security and transportability between clouds is key” to ensure customers can thrive and grow but that tech has an increasingly important role to play in enabling the secure movement of data between clouds.

According to Citrix, their direction of travel is a cloud-based subscription model which is “secure by design”.  “Whether consumption of web apps, mobile apps, window apps, we’ve invested in AI to really understand what is going on and make sure that security is key,” comments Danny Clarke. “We can utilise the power of the cloud platform to secure the experience and give visibility to what is happening.”

Skills fit for the future

James Butler was keen to get the XPO panel views on a topic that affects the entire industry; the skills gap. Technology is advancing at a faster rate than ever before, but do we have the capabilities and skills to support its delivery? And if not, then how do we better identify the skills needed to accelerate the digital transformation?

“I 100% agree there is a skills gap” confirmed Sophos’ Jorn Lutters. “It is hard to find people with a cloud mindset and a client mindset. It is even harder to find recruits who are not tied in with other vendors”. He went on to reveal that the long term solution is two fold and needs to include both education and a more “frictionless design” for the role out of new technologies.

“Firstly education. Everybody should be able to understand at a BASIC level what code is. This mindset is important. Secondly, we need to re-focus on our design methodologies. Our role is helping customers with templates, automation, AI – anything that makes it easier to implement new technology without years of training. We need to make it as frictionless as possible.”

Savas, Nicolaides from Pure Storage, agreed that changing processes would allow customers to get on with the day job and think about other challenges.

According to IBM, the key to tackling the skills gap is through agility. Matt Fordham commented: “We’ve seen a huge change in where the staff members are coming from. We’re increasingly looking at millennials and younger generations and thinking about how they think and feel to create an agile eco-system. Agile development is through our core. We’ve seen a shift in the way we plan and execute and develop our products and agile thinking is the biggest driver.”

Both Dell and Microsoft pressed the importance of their diversity and inclusion programmes in broadening the workforce. Microsoft’s Kostas Synodinos commented: “It is a big challenge to find the right people. The industry is dominated by males and diversity is an issue. But Microsoft is a global company with multi-cultural and global ideas. We invite all Microsoft employees to be part of a community that helps us to grow. Our growth is underpinned by diverse, multi-skilled teams.”

However, the panel were challenged by a member of the audience who commented that a degree should not be a pre-requisite for a job in IT and we need to consider on-the-job training. He said: “University often doesn’t teach the skills you need for the real world. Nobody is talking about apprenticeships. Taking a young person and moulding them to fit the needs of your company.”

James Butler agreed on the importance of work-based learning and that the whole industry needs to do more to facilitate this and to attract the brightest talent from all walks of life.

Future Focus: 2019 predictions

From discussions on the exhibition floor, AI continues to be a real buzz word for the industry. And our XPO panel also agreed that this will be one of the key disruptors for 2019.  Savas Nicolaides, Pure Storage, said the key opportunity is in how they will use AI. For him it is about delivering high value data insights and using automation to deliver data back to the customer that they didn’t even know existed

Microsoft, Tegile and IBM all agreed that the key is about listening to the industry and being responsive. IBM’s Matt Fordham went further: “Quantum computing is a huge investment for IBM at the moment. Machine learning and AI is feeding into everything we do. The most disruptive point is figuring out how to use it to your advantage.”

Jorn Lutters, Sophos, commented that the two big areas of focus in security and cloud continue to be “hybrid and integration”. He commended both Microsoft and Amazon for recognising that a hybrid cloud approach is vital as not all types of customers will be able to completely move to the cloud, particularly those who are legally required to keep their data on premises.

Meanwhile Danny Clarke, Citrix added that crucial to all areas of technological advancement was a changing work environment to complement or accelerate the transformation. “We need greater adoption of flexible, agile working practices. Moving away from the 9-5. That as a society is changing; how, when and where people work. As an industry we must embrace agile working.”

And finally, of course there was the B word; Brexit. Dell’s Steve Chambers was the only panelist to comment on the topic but only confirmed continued uncertainty. He commented: “We don’t know how it will affect our buying power in the UK and there are so many unanswered questions”.

Thanks to all of our XPO Panel members and our host James Butler, Trustmarque and S3 Chief Technology Officer, for providing us a lively debate and some food for thought.

To see how Trustmarque can help solve your IT challenges talk to your Account Manager or email [email protected]

By Katherine Murphy, content enthusiast