This is part 2 of the interview with Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco.
Kamla: Cisco has traditionally one of the strategies by which it has grown has been by acquisition. So have you acquired any companies in the last few months at the virtualization space?
Padmasree: I would say one of Cisco’s key strengths is to make the acquisitions and then integrate the acquisitions very effectively. I think I am told throughout our history we have acquired over 125 companies. It is a company built together with a 125 or so acquisitions. One of the key acquisitions we have made in the virtualization space is a company called Nova which was started by ex-Cisco executives which is now very central to how we are deploying virtualization in the data centre space and we are continuously on the look out for acquisitions that will fill in the gaps that we have and also as an area for us to grow into new adjacencies.
Kamla: So there is lot of competition in the virtualization space?
Padmasree: Yes and no. I think virtualization is still a new area- an emerging area. There are players looking at server virtualization such as VM wareand others who have been in thatalthough it helps us lower capex because basically virtualization allows you to separate the logical functions from the physical resources. It allows you to be more flexible rather than have a vertically integrated architecture. It is much more of a distributed architecture. The challenge it brings is that it creates challenges in terms of manageability. How do you manage and get visibility and consistency and how policies are deployed between virtual resources and physical resources. So it presents challenges in terms of management consistency of policy, and actually having visibility of all these virtual resources in something that the industry calls virtual machine sprawl. It is easy to create all these virtual machines and now it is a challenge to manage them so that is where I think Cisco and the network can play a strong role. So what we can bring to the table which I feel is very unique to Cisco is the network actually plays the key role in tying these islands of virtualization together. And that is why the network has a strong role to play in extending virtualization beyond server virtualization into other areas.
part. One of the challenges with virtualization is that
Kamla: Cloud computing is the new buzzword. Is it just the good old ASP model that is being recast as cloud computing?
Padmasree: There is a lot of hype as you point out on cloud computing and some of it is justified and some of it is just hype where there is a lot of excitement about the new technology. I think that is probably natural. I think most new technologies go through the “hype phase” as Cartner calls it; refers to it as the hype phase. We are taking a very pragmatic approach with cloud computing. We do see that it offers advantages because it allows you to have an on demand; combine an on demand way to have access to applications with a non premix way. However in the current way, cloud computing is being deployed, it presents significant challenges especially to large enterprises but also to small and medium businesses. The challenges are with respect to security. When you have your data sitting in someone’s data center and really have no visibility where that data center resides, you know geographically is distributed as well. Then you have issues with making sure that the data is secure in terms of how you access it and how you use it. So security is a big challenge and today most of the architectures are proprietarily closed architectures. So our customers are very concerned about vendor lock in, and so it also prevents them the flexibility in moving an application from one environment to another environment and SLA - service level agreements is a big challenge. So the approach we are taking is how we do really - for cloud computing to really become the major disruption that people talk about. There is still lot of work that needs to get done: in addressing security, making it truly an open cloud. So our vision is something that we call inter cloud somewhat like the Internet, if you think about how the Internet evolved. Want to see the same thing happen to the cloud environment and we think that is how it will evolve, this will go from the stand alone clouds to what I call enterprise class clouds to eventually inter-cloud.
Kamla: What role do you see Cisco play in the consumer entertainment space?
Padmasree: In the consumer connectivity space, - let’s say it that way I don’t want to say that it is entertainment. I think one of the things that we actually see happening is there is a lot of extension between enterprise and consumer. Those boundaries are blurring if you think about the devices that we used to use in the past we had distinct boundaries between what was an enterprise application, what is an enterprise class device and what is a consumer device. Today people want to have the flexibility to bring their devices especially with the mobile in today’s enterprise that is their device whether they are at work or whether they are at home. Our focus in the consumer space is really to connect the home and we call it the connected life effort and at CES we make several announcements with new products and new platforms to manage content and to have access to content. We announced a platform called EOS, the Entertainment Operating System which sort of allows large media players to distribute their media in a secure way and we are also looking at various other ways. For example extending Telepresence into their home. You can think of a scenario not too far away where you have a high definition TV in your home already and you can attach a camera to it and extend TelePresence into that. So those are the kinds of things we are focused on.
Kamla: You are one of the few CTO’s who is deeply involved in social media. You blog, you twitter, where do you find the time to do these things?
Padmasree: For me it is part of my job. The reason I twitter is because it allows me to have conversations and listen to voices that I don’t normally listen to. My day is packed, I have a very tight work schedule . I’m scheduled from 13 hours, 14 hours a day and I would like to have a peripheral vision of who I am talking to, what conversations are occurring that are not normal for me to have in my day to day schedule. I find twitter to be very useful from that respect. I mean I post a comment and people send me replies that I don’t normally get a chance to meet to and I think as a CTO or any executive that is an important element to have the peripheral vision and not have just a turn out focus of what I do in my daily job at Cisco. I used to blog much more actively than I have done I would say in the past 12 months and hopefully sometime in the future I will pick it up again. Blogging, I think is time consuming because I actually used and still write all of my stuff myself. It is a way of expressing your ideas and being open to comments both good and bad. You know sometimes you get bad comments and criticism about you. You know you are wrong and it is actually having the courage and the willingness to listen to commentary. And blogging allows you to do that. In a way these are tools for me to extend the influence that I can have in my role at the same time provide me with avenues to listen to feedback that I don’t normally have.
Kamla: How do you handle criticisms that are leveled against you? Do you engage with the person or persons that criticized you?
Padmasree: It depends- I think most of the time if it is a critic of a position or of a viewpoint then it is good to know where the other persons view is coming from. Typically it is based on their perspective or their experience or their business model and sometimes usually when there is a conflict with respect to ideas and how they are implemented, it’s usually the business models are very different from the company I am working for or the company they are working for or their innovation has a different set of applications, etc. In those areas I find it very interesting actually to engage in trying to get to the deeper level of understanding. Sometimes criticisms are just personal attacks and those I usually ignore because there is nothing- I mean people are entitled to their opinion when I am not sure what value there would be in pursuing those right. But it is unfortunate and that is the bad side of what the Internet gives us today. People can just make comments and not take ownership for what they say.
Kamla: Who inspired you and mentored you to where you are today?
Padmasree: Wow I think that’s a great question. I cannot say there has been a single person that I can say this person mentored me or made me who I am today. I do owe a lot to my parents; I think both my father and my mom when I was young growing up, gave me the freedom to pursue my interest and in fact encouraged me to perhaps do things that are more out of the norm for a young girl growing up in a small town in India. I would say that actually probably gave me the foundation to reach for some of the things that I am doing today. I also feel my husband who was my classmate at IIT, who was my partner, is someone that I feel is an anchor in my life and someone I can go back to with a lot of things. I think it’s important to have a circle but it is your family or friends that allow you to reach and take risks in your career and I have been fortunate to have that. From a professional mentor perspective, I would say it’s different people each one giving me advice in a different area. There is not a single person that I can point out but there had been several people that I have worked with and worked for that have been great sounding boards for me that I still go back to occasionally.
Kamla: What was it like growing up in Vijayawada before you went for your IIT studies?
Padmasree: Yes actually I went to IIT Delhi which is even farther away from Vijayawada than Chennai. Growing up in Vijayawada, I have very fond memories, I have great friendships that I still maintain to this day, and I am still in touch with my friends from kindergarten that I have grown up with. Our lives are very different now but we still have a very common understanding of what it is like to be kids and you know growing up together as kids that I think has held us together. I have memories of a small town, hustling and bustling with activities and I learnt a lot there. I finished my high school, I went to IIT Delhi. So I went from a small town to a huge city, speaking a different language and very few women in a very competitive technical university, which is a major transition. Probably one of the biggest transitions of my life I would say more than being CTO of Cisco or coming to the US, because I think I was very young. I was only 16 or 17 then, and making that big transition it was a huge deal and going into a very male dominated field was something that can sometimes be intimidating. But I think again, I had great friends there and had a lot of support system.
Kamla: What are the major things you are going to be doing for this year 2009?
Padmasree: As the CTO you mean or…
Kamla: CTO , as a mom or as a wife or as a person.
Padmasree: Oh it is personally. Well, you know 2009 I am actually really looking forward to it. I think it will be a great year like I said from a growth opportunity perspective. I am-we as a company and I am as a CTO focused a lot in terms of virtualization bringing back to the market, we see a lot happening this year in the market for that we will have a lot of new products coming into it. We will be implementing our cloud strategy so that’s something that we’ll be unrolling this year. So there is a lot of exciting things happening there. Video as I said going to take off quite a bit in TelePresence we already see this as an opportunity for companies. Actually it is interesting to talk about the economic downturn but as companies are reducing their travel budgets, they want to have technology that helps them still meet with customers, meet with suppliers, meet with their employee base and so we are seeing a lot of demand for product such as TelePresence. Personally I hope to settle down further in my new home in Palo Alto. I am still commuting back and forth, my family lives in Chicago. Hopefully I will get more proficient in going back and forth between the two cities. I look forward to meeting our customers all over the world. I am actually just headed out to Europe in a couple of weeks so getting to know their customer base much more.
Kamla: Padma it was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for this conversation.
Padmasree: Thank you.
You were listening to Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco. This is Kamla Bhatt; this interview was brought to you in association with Livemint Radio.
And as always thank you for tuning in.