Innovation Heroes

TRANSCRIPT - Democratizing the Cloud with Google’s Omar Dajani

June 8, 2021

Peter 

This episode is brought to you by Android Enterprise Essentials. Visit shi.com/androidenterprise to learn more.

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Omar 

Well, I think the fundamental question is, do small businesses have access to the same computing power as the largest enterprise? I think the answer is yes, because there's an element of a willingness to learn, here.

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Peter 

Welcome to SHI's Innovation Heroes, a podcast exploring the people and businesses giving us hope in our drastically disrupted world. I'm your host, Peter Bean. This has felt like a very long year-- possibly the longest yet if I may be so bold. But even though in some ways it feels like time has slowed down, some companies have been experiencing the exact opposite: warp speed. [mechanical whirring] We already knew before the pandemic hit how important cloud tools can be for helping businesses scale up and keep up with the changing world. But in the past 12 months, cloud technology has been kicked into hyperdrive. Research from this year suggests that as many as 1 in 2 companies have had to seriously accelerate their cloud adoption strategies. We've pretty much jumped 5 years into the future, which is nearly a lifetime in the tech sector. You may have heard that we have the cloud to thank for the speedy development of the COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, Moderna was actually pretty small before COVID-19, but was able to scale up with the cloud to bring us their version of the vaccine in under a year. These small steps for companies and large steps for the tech are unlocking the power of the cloud for us all. [angel choir sings with harps trilling] But now this quick integration of the cloud is raising more questions. What does it mean for security? How do you stay in control of a space without physical access? And who will be able to pull off a quick successful adoption strategy? I love innovation, but from a consumer perspective there's been a lot of big stories, and a lot of changes. So maybe we need some help making sense of it all. To help me have this conversation, I'm joined in today's episode by Omar Dajani. Omar has been talking about the massive opportunity of cloud for over 10 years, and today he heads up Solution Engineering for the Google Cloud Platform in North America. Welcome to the show, Omar. It's great to have you here.

 

Omar 

It's great to be here!

 

Peter 

So, look, this season, we've been looking for stories of digital disruption to the rescue. I know cloud has been a vital component of a lot of the innovations we've seen, like with developing vaccines, and transforming healthcare. Do you have a favorite cloud hero story that emerged in the last year that you'd like to share?

 

Omar 

Yeah, actually have a couple of examples. First, the story of Olivia Adams. After her mother in law had difficulty signing up for a COVID-19 vaccine, Olivia, who lives in Massachusetts, created a registration website to make it easier for mom-in-law to register for vaccine, and in effect made it easier for everyone else to do the same. Olivia built a website that pulls in vaccination appointments from across the state, including government sites, as well as ones operated by private businesses. She called her site macovidvaccines.com. Olivia is a software developer from Arlington, Massachusetts. She said she spent 3 weeks and about 40 hours building the website and she did it while on maternity leave, caring for her 2-month-old son. The other one is a story about a 17-year-old developer, Avi Schiffmann is his name. So back in March/April of 2019 he created a website called ncov2019.live. For a while, that was the largest COVID-19 tracking site. And after that, he created actually another site called 2020protests.com to help people who wanted to engage in protest activity. So, it was a protest tracking site. But these are two examples of individuals using public cloud technologies to make the lives of millions of people better and safer.

 

Peter 

And you said Avi was 17 years old?

 

Omar 

Yep. At the time, 17.

 

Peter 

That's amazing. So, does Avi have a job lined up at Google when he graduates?

 

Omar 

Probably many people are standing in line to hire Avi. [laughter]

 

Peter 

That's incredible. I love hearing stories about young people standing up and trying to change the world. When I was 17 that's all I ever dreamed of. With COVID-19, it seems like companies that had the money were able to react quickly and take advantage of their existing cloud-based footholds, or make the jump to cloud to be able to keep things running, right? It wasn't a difficult thing for large organizations. Like grocery shopping apps, or delivery apps, right? They took off really fast. But you remind me of this-- you know, the small business, when you talk about young people going out there and changing the world with public cloud. Did small businesses have the same access and opportunities as some of these larger firms in the last year to make a difference?

 

Omar 

You know, Peter, zooming out for a moment before I provide a specific answer to this question. Let's quickly and briefly talk about the four computing paradigms. So, you have On-premises, you have Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Software as a Service. Each offering comes with a different degree of management and overhead. Think of these paradigms as a continuum, starting off on the left with On-premises, and then moving to the right across the spectrum, until you get to SaaS. Let's use pizza making as an analogy.

 

Peter 

All right, I like pizza.

 

Omar 

Good topic. The effort and time it takes to build and serve an On-premises computing environment is like making a pizza by assembling it, all the ingredients together, until you have a pizza ready to eat. You get all the ingredients from one place, or need to shop around, let's say, to find specialty ingredients, if that's what you need. What you end up with is customized for your needs. On the flip side of that, SaaS is like dining out at a pizza shop. You come in, eat, drink, and leave-- product and service included. Continuing the analogy IaaS is like buying the frozen pizza from the store, and PaaS is pizza delivering, but you still have to supply the drinks, the utensils, and the place to eat the pizza. So, deciding which computing paradigm, just like pizza choices, is often a deliberate and planned out decision for each business. So, tying the pizza analogy to your question, that small businesses have the same access and opportunity. From a technology perspective, yes, and they've had access to public cloud power tools for a while now. However, from an organizational readiness perspective, it's mixed. Those businesses who started orienting their IT shops and software strategies toward cloud computing were in a much better position to accelerate their move to the cloud when the pandemic came. It's true some businesses by their nature have to move slowly, mostly because of regulatory or compliance requirements. There are also other businesses that have traditionally moved more slowly as they're generally the late adopters in the technology adoption lifecycle. To sum it up, barriers to entry are lower for businesses of all sizes to leverage public cloud services. For those businesses who are not adopting cloud services, know that your competitors will likely start pulling away parts of your customer base who will be served faster and more efficiently with a more modern IT infrastructure.

 

Peter 

Alright, so it's not really about access to technology, it's not really about cost, or pricing, or anything along those lines. It really comes down to having the knowledge and a plan to execute, having a value that you understand that you can derive from the cloud, regardless of which, you know, methodology you take, and being able to execute. So, you don't feel like small business was cut out of the opportunity for anything other than their own ability to take advantage of it?

 

Omar 

Well, I think the fundamental question is, do small businesses have access to the same computing power as the largest enterprises? I think the answer is yes. Because there's an element of a willingness to learn here. Because as we looked at the examples of Olivia and Avi, you know, someone in their garage or in home office can start using the same computing power that the Fortune 500 companies use today.

 

Peter 

I want to dig into this idea of democratization. Online somewhere I saw you mentioned that democratizing elastic and agile infrastructure will allow even the smallest enterprises to leverage the cloud power tools that the biggest global conglomerates run their workloads on. Tell me what's new in the space with regards to cloud democratization and why did it take so long for David to get the same firepower as Goliath?

 

Omar 

To me, the common definition for democratization is access and also making sure that we reduce the barriers to entry. I would like to share another story, which comes to mind because I experienced it very recently as my kids attend Swim School. It's a small business, and it has a handful of locations. With the help of a solution provider, that Swim School-- they built a very intuitive website that provides the full array of services. So, you can get information, advice, enrollment, registration, notification, and so on. Now, the benefit of cloud services come in various ways for that school's online presence. Security of customer data, great performance and reliability of their application, ability to make changes to their application within minutes to deliver more features for their users online. And when the pandemic hit hard and enrollments declined, they paid much less in IT cost because their IT costs weren't fixed. So, to me, this is a classic example of full access through democratization of IT, which is available through public cloud.

 

Peter 

But again, do we see this in practice in real life? Would you say that the majority of organizations who maybe don't have giant IT departments or don't have the knowledge base that the larger groups do-- do they know? Do they know that they have this at their disposal?

 

Omar 

I can tell you one of the biggest challenges is education. And IT staffs that are-- have an understanding of the public cloud paradigm, particularly as they migrate from private cloud, or on-premises to cloud. What does that transition look like? How am I going to get from point A to point B? And oh, by the way, what if I want to keep my on-premises environment but utilize public cloud services. Oh, maybe I actually want to keep my on-premises environment, and my fixed-cost environment, and use multi-cloud environments, I want to use multiple cloud providers. The barrier to entry has been high, mainly because cloud operates different than on-premises. But that's beginning to shift and change as more people get enabled on cloud. And as actually the cloud providers do a better job in providing training that's right for the user. So, there's a lot of YouTube videos that offer you, you know, 90-seconds as to how you configure this feature, or you know, some tools that allow you-- that put you through a guided approach to configuring your environment or setting up what we call a landing zone where you run an application online. So, the cloud providers, I would say, in the last two to three years, have done a very, very good job, particularly in the last year because of the pandemic in providing those tools and those educational capabilities so users can be better-- can be enabled, and better ready to incorporate public cloud in their existing infrastructures.

 

Peter 

So that begs the question, if the education has gotten that much better in the last couple of years, why is it that my, you know, sales teams would tell me every single day they're running into people who don't have a strategy for cloud, don't have the right answers, haven't found that education? What are we missing? What else do we need to do to speed up this adoption, and this democratization of cloud technology?

 

Omar 

There's a number of things that we advise our customer, and we've all heard sort of the people, process, technology paradigm. And I think it applies very much here is, companies have to set up a roadmap to their success. And it always starts with the people. I've always believed technology is a means to an end, it's not an end on its own. So, companies want to achieve a goal, which is generally a business goal. So how do they achieve it using technology? But to do that, people have to buy into it. A lot of partners that we work with, a lot of solution providers out there, have actually created change management groups and they incorporate it, integrate it into the offering that they have for their customers. So being able to make sure people come along with the change that's happening. But also recognizing that, particularly the start will be slow, and it'll accelerate over time. And then from there, there's the whole the next step of process, creating cloud champion team. And then really looking at from that point when the team is enabled, and the mindset has shifted, is really then incorporate the technology. But very importantly, is delivering quick wins. Because that's-- people want to feel like they made the time, took the effort to learn something, to build something, and they actually delivered equipment for the business. So today, I think there's a bigger awareness that the human factor has to be thought of more and incorporated more into a cloud strategy.

 

Peter 

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Peter 

I'm curious how businesses are addressing the long-standing concerns about cloud regarding security, right? Losing control of your infrastructure and data. How are we addressing those concerns in the midst of this rapid shift to the cloud? Are customers buying in? Is it working? Are minds being changed?

 

Omar 

I think the short answer is that there'll always be a concern. Maybe it's okay for business leaders to operate with a bit of paranoia and nervousness. I mean, this could drive their cloud IT teams to gain that deeper understanding we just talked about. But particularly around security and how it operates in a hybrid cloud. Because to fulfill their piece, there is what we call "shared responsibility construct" that exists between the cloud user and the cloud provider. So, there's that other dimension, where companies have to recognize that moving to the cloud, that there's an element of security and losing control, or having less control of your infrastructure. And that again is part of that mindset shift. We have to realize that your data center is no longer something you can walk into, it actually sits somewhere far away from you, even in an international location. However, that is a better approach to be able to secure your data, run your applications, with higher performance and applications that are more reliable. And really, for a lot of companies being able to have an international presence, something they've been wanting to do for a long time-- but now they can actually do it more quickly and more efficiently.

 

Peter 

Seems like a big part of this new democratized approach to cloud is all about interoperability and open source, right? Can you tell me a bit about Google's vision for how customers will consume and use cloud in the future? Is it going to be wide open, pick-and-choose? Are we still gonna see a lot of barriers and walled gardens? What do you think?

 

Omar 

My view is what the cloud needs and is actually starting to get is a standard cloud operating system that runs across hybrid multi-cloud. So on-prem and multiple clouds. Everyone seems to agree Kubernetes has become this standardized cloud operating system, similar in ways to which Linux has become the most commonly deployed open source server operating system. So today, every public cloud provider supports running open source Kubernetes on their platform. They also have a managed version of the service since Kubernetes still requires specialized skills to operate. Beyond Kubernetes, though, the future of cloud will be powered by open source technologies, I strongly believe. Look at Apache Hadoop, that's a popular framework that allows for distributed processing of large data sets across clusters of commodity computers, so choose your computer. It's open, and it's free. Each open source technology is offered as a managed service by every major cloud provider. I feel this future of open cloud will benefit consumers and customers of those cloud providers, as it will prevent vendor lock-in and allow for customers to switch cloud providers with ease.

 

Peter 

So, I want to dig into that, right? You know, historically, preventing-- or rather, enabling vendor lock-in is what a lot of technology companies have tried to do, right? It's a strategy of growth. It sounds like we're going with a different approach here in the cloud. How does that look for a big company like Google down the road, who's so heavily invested in cloud, making it so easy for people to work with your competitors?

 

Omar 

For those cloud providers who haven't embraced this, this is where the future is going, honestly. And we're actually seeing it. The biggest challenge to accomplishing that today really is the whole concept of data gravity, right? Which is, if you have a lot of data sitting in one public cloud provider, it just takes a lot of bandwidth to move it to another cloud provider. So, there's-- the shift happening here is that a lot of companies, or cloud providers, are bringing their computability to the competitive or the other cloud provider so they can actually run processing within the cloud of their competitor. And that is really enabled by Kubernetes. So, when you have a platform, like Kubernetes, which is a cloud operating system, you can actually deploy it across multiple clouds and on-premise, and then whatever applications go on top of that is what actually drives the data analysis, delivers the insights, and then sends it to your favorite dashboard of your choice, you know, whether you use Looker, or, you know, any other type of dashboard. So that is where things are moving, I believe, and I'm actually seeing it progress over time. The other challenge which we have today is-- I think most of your listeners probably know is, you know, we talk about, you know, data coming in, the concept of ingress, to a cloud comes at no charge. But the concept of egress, data coming out of a cloud provider, there's a charge associated with it. I honestly believe over time that charge is going to go away. And so, add to that the barriers around having an open source based constructs, across multiple clouds, the barriers are going to further be reduced to allow companies to make basically real time choices on which cloud to use based on what they're trying to accomplish at the moment. So, I see that democratization really accelerating in the months and years ahead.

 

Peter 

So, without, you know, breaking any NDAs or getting yourself fired, is there anything that Google is doing right now that you can tell us about that you feel like is going to turn some heads in the next couple of years with regards to reducing those barriers and challenges that are there today getting in people's way? Is there anything that, just-- you're really excited about that's different, and unique, and innovative coming down the pipe?

 

Omar 

Well, without necessarily advertising necessarily a Google crowd product, but what I'm excited about is a newly released product called BigQuery Omni. So a lot of your listeners may have heard of BigQuery as being sort of our data warehouse and analytics platform. So, what we've done is because we've extended Kubernetes via our Anthos offering, now we can actually run Anthos on another public cloud. So, without necessarily having to move data from the storage of another public cloud over to Google Cloud to run the analysis and pull the insights, we can actually run BigQuery in another public cloud, pulling the data out of the storage, the cloud storage of that public cloud provider, running the analysis on that data, pulling the insights. And then actually what egress is, is the insights, which is a smaller amount of data. And it will be shared-- now, again, through an open source or a licensed dashboard. And I think a lot of companies are going to be moving in that direction of being able to run some of their key solutions, or their-- to say differentiated offerings, on different clouds, to be able to deliver these kind of, you know, offerings to customers. And again, further breaking down the barriers of being able to use the best solution that the cloud provider offers in any other cloud.

 

Peter 

Let's play futurist here for a little bit, and let's look at the world 10 years from now. What just makes your spine tingle when you think about it?

 

Omar 

I'll have to borrow from someone else here, because I was-- I just recently was listening to one of the preeminent cloud pioneers in the industry, who described today's public clouds to the state of mobile phones going back 15 years. So basically, the mobile phones were devices that were used to make calls, send text messages, with some ability to share photos. And if you had one of the better phones, you're even able to share videos. And if you had a Blackberry, you had-- you were one of the lucky ones that had that single game, right? Snake. [Peter chuckles] Some people may remember that.

 

Peter 

Oh, yeah, I remember that. I was really good at it.

 

Omar 

So, but today, most mobile phones-- they run either iOS or Android. So, we've standardized on operating systems. But more importantly, the amount of functionality and choice of apps available through our devices today is almost endless. And we're starting to see that in public clouds of today. Like when you fire up the cloud console of any major public vendor, integrated within their user interface our options to click and run a third party cloud service. So, like Databricks, which is managed Spark, for instance, or Confluent Cloud, which has managed Kafka for event streaming. These are just examples. So, if we build on that innovation, and start imagining what public clouds could be offering us in a few years from now, that's what really excites me.

 

Peter 

Yeah, I mean, when you think about that-- so you're saying that basically public cloud is in the state of those early cell phones, right now? We can make some calls, we can maybe send some pictures, and if you put a lot of effort into it and you got all the best setup, and you're advanced, then, you know, you can send some video. That's basically the analogy, and to look at what the cell phone became over the next 10 years, and how it became basically the hub of our lives-- are you saying that the public cloud will become the hub of our personal and professional lives in the same fashion?

 

Omar 

I think so. I think it's-- the barriers are further gonna come down. And just like SaaS today seems to be the choice of many small businesses. But it's-- you can only use what you get. And so, people want a bit more choice and be able to interact with the platform a bit more. But it's difficult, and it's not easy to be able to interact with a platform without learning and becoming very good at it. I think, too, if you think of the cell phones today, you know, any Android or iOS phone, it's a quick learn. You just look, you point you click and within minutes, you're able to operate. I think that's what's coming to public cloud is that ease of use, which will then incorporate sort of the late adopters. Thinking of technology adoption lifecycles, the late adopters, the businesses, mainly, will be the ones coming on board. So, I think that's the audience that will have access to this technology, and because of the ease of use that's coming with public clouds.

 

Peter 

Do you think we're still in an early adopter phase?

 

Omar 

For public cloud? I think-- personally, I think we're in the early adopter phase now. Yep.

 

Peter 

Well, then there is definitely a lot more to come. That's exciting. Well, Omar, thank you for being on the show. I really appreciate you being here.

 

Omar 

Thanks, Peter. I enjoyed it, too.

 

Peter 

Omar Dajani has been helping Google lead the way with their cloud solution since 2016. But the truly amazing thing about this tech is that it's ultimately benefiting us all. No matter how big or how small your company is, the cloud is bringing us together to make for a better future-- not just from a tech perspective. But it's on its way to becoming a fundamental part of how we do business.

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Peter 

Innovation Heroes is an SHI podcast, with new episodes streaming every second Thursday on Apple, Spotify, Google, and everywhere else. If you like this episode and you want to be our hero, leave us a 5-star review on your podcast listening app of choice. On the next episode of Innovation Heroes, I'll be joined by Keegan Tully, who's working hard with the OPG and Ivy Charging Network in Ontario to make access to electric vehicle charging easy for everyone. Until next time, I'm Peter Bean, reminding you that wherever there's a challenge, there's an innovation hero waiting to be born.

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Peter 

This episode was brought to you by Android Enterprise Essentials. Learn more at shi.com/androidenterprise.

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