Moving to the all-cloud company 'is the next challenge'

Image caption It's in the clouds: Making the move to the all-cloud enterprise is the next challenge, according the Rackspace's chief information officer (CTO)

Each week we ask high-profile technology decision-makers three questions.

Image caption John Engates of Rackspace

This week it is John Engates, chief technology officer (CTO) of Rackspace.

Rackspace is a global hosting and cloud computing specialist. Founded in 1998, the company has 152,000 customers. Net revenue for the second quarter of the year was $247.2m up 32% year-on-year and 7.5% from Q1 2011.

What's your biggest technology problem right now?

For Rackspace I think our biggest challenge is the shift going on to cloud computing.

Everything we've done over the last 10 or so years is having to be re-engineered and re-thought as we move into the era of cloud computing.

I think consuming things over the internet, consuming applications over the web requires a lot of different technology than before, and I think that technology is not readily available. Writing software that powers the cloud is the number one thing that is really challenging us today.

We're spending a lot of time writing new software, inventing new architecture, and helping drive standards within the industry.

We've actually collaborated on this software with a number of commercial and other entities in the form of a software project called OpenStack.

This is an open source cloud infrastructure software project. That's been something that's really helped us go faster and do more in this cloud era

What's the next big tech thing in your industry?

I think the next big thing is moving all applications to the cloud.

We are looking forward to an era where people don't necessarily have to have on-premises computing anymore.

They don't need to have their own data centres, and they can really consume applications and consume IT services from the internet or from the cloud. That's a big shift, it's a lot of work to move applications.

We have this concept here at Rackspace that we call the all-cloud enterprise.

Someone who has every application in the cloud. Today only small companies have that, I think long-term the ambition would be for any company of any size to have that all-cloud approach to their IT infrastructure

What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?

I think that the biggest mistake we've made, and we've made it a number of times, is not thinking big enough in terms of the scale or the scope of the services we're going to offer, the number of customers that are going to consume it or the pace of the growth.

That has happened internally here at Rackspace with software that we've deployed for use by our own employees.

When you deploy a new product or software package, you have to decide how many users you're going to support. On a number of occasions we've estimated too small.

I think the same thing goes on as we move to the cloud.

We have to think about the massive growth that's going on and the pace of that adoption. We have to multiply by two, three, five sometimes 10 times what we estimate just so we can stay ahead of the growth that's actually occurring.

It's a good problem to have, but it can be costly in terms of writing software or refactoring architecture to support that growth, and that certainly is difficult to manage once you're in the middle of it.

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