Interop: Innovation is About ‘Getting Out of the Way’

NEW YORK — Companies’ approach to information technology needs to become more flexible if they’re to survive changing business models.

That’s the thinking behind this morning’s keynotes here at Interop New York, where executives from XenSource and Google advocated that companies embrace greater flexibility in IT strategies. Doing so, they said, can help IT admins and software developers to innovate amid evolving ways of doing business.

Simon Crosby, CTO of XenSource, envisioned companies’ IT organizations benefiting from the flexibility offered by virtualization, which he said his company is working to make easier to adopt and implement.

“The fundamental concept is to get virtualization everywhere,” Crosby said. “Virtualization will profoundly transform IT. If you’re not doing it now, you need to be. There is no excuse to buy a new server and not virtualize.”

According to Crosby, the idea behind XenSource was not about building another VMware, but rather to commoditize virtualization for all with its open source Xen hypervisor. A commoditized virtualization platform could expand the user base and provide customers with a choice of how to actually use the technology.

“How does one go about the business of getting virtualization everywhere?” Crosby asked the capacity keynote crowd. “It needs to be about making it work with the rest of the IT stack and having IT being able to use their existing skills.”

Crosby said XenSource’s collaboration with other vendors, including IBM, HP, Intel and AMD, makes Xen one of the most strategic code bases in the tech industry, potentially enabling virtualization everywhere and in the process, offering IT more choices.

Beyond just having the open source Xen hypervisor in the market as a technology that can be installed on server to virtualize an operating system, Crosby described a bigger innovation that can further impact flexibility in the IT organization. That innovation is the notion of embedding the hypervisor in the hardware itself.

“This is what will change the industry,” Crosby said. “It will mean every x86 operating system is enlightened so it can be made aware of the hypervisor.”

Not surprisingly, XenSource has plans well underway to bring Xen to the hardware level. The company announced its OEM embedded edition at VMworld and yesterday announced it had signed up Dell as a reseller customer. That deal will mean that the XenServer OEM edition will be an option on every PowerEdge server that Dell sells.

“Suddenly the volume of virtualization will drive through the roof,” Crosby said. “By integrating this into their product, we’ll see huge adoption.”

Though virtualization capabilities are supported by operating systems like Linux, which will be joined soon by Windows, Crosby remained adamant that having it as a separate layer on the hardware is still a good way to go. In his view, when virtualization is on the physical hardware, virtualization features can be offer to all the guest operating systems that may run on top of a piece of hardware.

For Google, the path to innovation certainly involves technology, but also has a lot to do with taking a different approach to how IT can better make use of developer talent. In short: Stop hindering it.

Matthew Glotzbach, product management director at Google Enterprise, accosted the Interop audience, claiming that IT tends to hurt innovation by putting up barriers.

“IT has become a gatekeeper trying to control the enterprise, ” Glotzbach said. “Most employees are just trying to get their jobs done in a collaborative way. IT’s role should be about allowing people do to their job.”

In Google’s case, Glotzbach explained that part of the company’s success stems from giving developers more flexibility on how they spend their productive time. For instance, the company allows employees to spend 20 percent of their time on whatever an engineer wants to work on.

“How do we enable employees to work more quickly?” he said. “We get out of their way.”

He added that “20 percent time” yielded such important products as Gmail and Google News.

“If you let people work on what they want, they will tend to work on innovative new ideas,” he said.

Glotzbach also added that simply spending on research and development is not a silver bullet, and while culture and people are important for innovation, the most important thing remains fostering a flexible environment for collaboration.

“There used to be a hero notion in a company where you hoard information and then create something unique,” Glotzbach said. “Changing business models challenge that notion.”

Adopting a “getting out of the way” policy also involves letting things fail, he said. At Google, the focus is on failing “wisely,” Glotzbach said, so workers can learn quickly from their mistakes.

“There is no penalty for failure, and in fact, we encourage it,” he said. “In fact, if you don’t fail, you’re probably not trying hard enough.”

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