Zeus CTO David Day on the challenge where to invest
Each week we ask high-profile technology decision-makers three questions.
This week it is David Day, chief technology officer (CTO) of Zeus, a British technology start-up that has made its name with load-balancing and web traffic management software, that help big websites (like BBC News) stay online when visitor numbers surge.
Zeus is based in Cambridge, England, and was acquired recently by US firm Riverbed.
What's your biggest technology problem right now?
The biggest challenge for us as a software product company is where should we invest our research and development (R&D) time. I spend a lot of my time in the United States, working with networking and systems vendors, and we see cloud computing being adopted in large enterprises. One could argue that up until now cloud computing was really germane to small and medium-sized businesses, but we are seeing a lot of interesting adoption from big enterprises.
Another big choice is mobile, with things like the Ipad generating much more need for more complex content to be delivered over the internet, and so this in turn drives the demand on data centres to provide different kinds of content and high levels of service and so on.
So my challenge is: where do we invest our time. We are still a small company really, relatively speaking, we are seeing a lot of growth at the moment, but even so, any business has a finite number of engineering resources. So one of my biggest technical challenges is what do we spend this R&D resource on?
The holy grail of the cloud is the promise of computing as a utility - so you would pay for computing and storage in exactly the same way as you pay for electricity or water. The challenge to get there is that the IT infrastructure to make that possible is immensely complex and there are a lot of challenges. For example security: if a bank moves into the cloud, where is that data actually stored physically? How do you control access to that data?
So what I'm seeing there is a drive to what's called "private cloud", this is where the enterprise will start to use cloud computing more. The idea, in essence, is that companies are outsourcing their data centres to someone else, and in tech buzzword speak that gets called "private cloud, and that helps to overcome some of the issues around security.
Another interesting issue is the fact that virtualisation and the cloud are meant to overcome one of the fundamental problems of the data centre, which is that you spend an awful amount of time and energy on cooling the data centre, and not actually using all that capacity that's there. Big large telecoms firms, for example, are hitting power budgets. They actually can't provide anymore the services that they did, simply because they can't hit the budgets they have to pay for power consumption. And there's also a green argument there, of course.
In mobile, the big problem is that most analysts are predicting a massive increase in traffic to mobile devices, not just mobile phones but tablets and other handheld devices, all these products provide high quality graphics, audio, video - that content needs to be delivered wirelessly over the internet. So one of the big challenges is to meet this high growth in traffic to mobiles, which is set to completely outstrip the growth of the internet and traffic to the home PC.
I think mobile data will quickly outstrip landline data.
What's the next big tech thing in your industry?
From my perspective where I sit in the industry, the next big things are how enterprises adopt the cloud and mobile devices.
However, I see a third big trend that is actually fuelled by the first two: the integration of many solutions into one. An example of that would be Cisco's UCS [Unified Computing System] platform, where they have combined storage and networking and computational power all into one piece of hardware, and that is good evidence where the industry is: consolidation many different solutions into one box. And the big driver there is integration and the idea is that you go and buy your solution factory-built, factory tested by the supplier so that the guy who is deploying these things to the public doesn't have to worry about integrating lots of different components from lots of different manufacturers.
Ninety, 95% of support calls in the industry are generated by integration problems. If you take those away because you have pre-integrated them, you take away cost and allow companies to generate money more quickly.
You see the same message coming from Oracle, they try to provide the whole stacks from the hardware to the application.
What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?
When I first saw the Ipad, I thought 'why would anybody buy that'. I looked at the pictures of people sitting there cross-legged with a tablet in their lap and thought that won't work. But then I tried one out in a shop, and it was actually pretty cool. But I did not buy the first version of the Ipad - I never do that with Apple products. From the second version they get cheaper and better.