Chief Content Officer,
Techstrong Group


In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights video, Mike Vizard speaks with Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO for Nutanix, about how multicloud computing is driving digital business transformation.



Mike Vizard: Hey, guys. Welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CXO videocast. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today, we’re with Wendy Pfeiffer, who’s the CIO for Nutanix, and we’re talking about all things cloud. Wendy, welcome to the show.

Wendy Pfeiffer: Thanks, Mike. Nice to be here.

Mike Vizard: You guys just published your fourth index, some of your researching what folks are up to in the cloud, and one of the things that we are seeing post-COVID is, there’s more workloads than ever moving into the cloud, and of course, there’s still stuff on premise, and actually, people are using multiple clouds. And I’m just curious, is this kind of a happy accident? Are people just kinda willy nilly doin’ stuff and putting, developers are running kinda cloud workloads wherever they see fit for whatever reasons they have, or is there some sort of master plan at work and what might that be?

Wendy Pfeiffer: Well, that’s, I love that question so much. Since 1972—I’ve been studying my history—since 1972, IT as a profession has been using a mode of operation called IT portfolio management. And it says that, you know, essentially, we manage our portfolio the same way that you might manage a stock portfolio. You’ve got a mix of investments, you’ve got a mix of different ways to monetize that portfolio. There’s, you know, there’s some decisions that you’re holding on, others where you’re doubling down or something’s working, always some part of the portfolio where you’re divesting yourself of those technologies and those tools.

And so, IT practitioners have been using this mixed mode of operation from the very, very early days since we’ve been using technology to enable business. And the reasons for that are myriad, but they have to do with the changing conditions in the world, the changing conditions within business, and also changing capabilities of technology.

And so, operating in mixed mode is our preferred mode of operations. Each time new technologies come into the ecosystem of enterprise technologies, then we have to figure out how to consume these technologies in mixed mode. And so, you know, we had a pretty good model in on premises data centers. We had a mix of hardware from different hardware vendors, and we would have, you know, standards, but we would have optional hardware vendors, we’d have a mix of tools and technologies from network vendors. And then fast forward to the advent of public cloud. At first, public cloud was sort of exotic and, “Hey, we’re just consuming technology from one, or infrastructure from one public cloud.” Then we moved into this multi-cloud mode where we’re consuming infrastructure or capacity from multiple public clouds. And then, ultimately, we still have this on premises infrastructure in the mix.

And so, you know, we’ve got this mixed mode of on premises, public cloud, more than one public cloud. And so, when we look at this whole picture, we see there are still that same, from the 1970s ‘til this day, this mixed mode of consumption models, the vendor models, but with an improved and a more modern operating model that we call hybrid cloud operations. This sort of notion that we interact with our infrastructure in software defined ways. We interact with on premises infrastructure in the same way we might interact with public cloud infrastructure, infrastructure as code.

Mike Vizard: You talked about hybrid cloud, and it’s not clear to me that we have this one console to rule them all kind of approach for hybrid cloud. We have multiple clouds and multiple consoles. So, are we shifting away from that a little bit and maybe getting to the more centralized console? Because, at least in my experience, every time you add a new console, you add new IT specialists, and the cost of labor goes up, so, that’s where the expense really is.

Wendy Pfeiffer: There, that’s a super rich question with lots of elements of the answer.

So, what we’re looking for is some center of gravity against which to manage. And we see that different enterprise IT organizations are focused at different layers. For example, you know, some of us are pursuing containerization technologies, right? That the container is that center of gravity, and we’re enabling things like monitoring and management and application mobility on the construct of that container. Others are using, you know, the operating system as a center of gravity. So, in this case, having a hyper converged, multi-cloud operating system like Nutanix does, that’s a center of gravity against which we build our hybrid operating model. Still others are, you know, on some vendor island, maybe in just one public cloud, you know, or at a particular layer.

And, you know, each of us are pursuing roughly the same things and we see this feedback, actually, year after year in the ECI, and again this year in the ECI, you know, well over 80 percent of the respondents said, “The thing that I am making hybrid is my operating model.” You know, I’m thinking about, you know, cloud, whether that’s private cloud, public cloud, on premises infrastructure. I’m thinking of that as a, you know, I’ve got a multi-pronged consumption model, you know, multi-cloud consumption mode, but a hybrid operating model. I’m in mixed mode in how I operate. And that operating layer tends to be some of these more modern technologies like hyper-converged, like container technologies, et cetera.

And then sometimes, by the way, we’re also really hyper-focused on components of that puzzle such as data and how we’re, how we are interacting with data and how we’re using data in all these modes.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that as we go along, there’s more C-level executives involved in IT than ever? We’re collectively calling many of them Digital CXOs they’re driving various digital business transformation initiatives. Do you think that they get or even understand or appreciate the complexity that the CIO is faced with these days, and is that gap between the business and IT as wide as ever, or getting narrower?

Wendy Pfeiffer: You know, the answer to that is, it depends. Here’s what I know. I know that we’ve really moved the needle in our shared understanding of the importance of technology to enable business at that C-suite level over the last couple of years, unfortunately, due to the pandemic. There are so many functions now and again, the ECI shows some great data, some great movement in this regard.

But there’s so many functions now that are enabled by technology or even dependent on technology that even two years ago, you know, were largely not dependent on technology. So, companies that need to have a customer interface, an interface with their customers that now has to be, at a minimum, hybrid if not virtual, they’re relying more on technology. We’re relying more on the data that we throw out from operations to tune how we operate. We have a number of knowledge workers who are working much more often remotely.

And so, all of that essentially means that we have risk associated with our use of technology and competitive opportunity associated with our use of technology in the enterprise. And so, that means that whoever has an understanding of that, of the operational use of technology in support of business, whether that be a CDO, a CTO, CIO, or a CEO or a Board member, that person has a more impactful voice at the decision making table. And they also have more of a stake in business outcomes. And so, we see that, you know, to greater or lesser degrees, industry by industry, and there’s some nice industry slices in this ECI as well that show sort of the disproportionate share of technology impact in some key sectors of industry.

Mike Vizard: One of the things, at least, that I’ve historically seen is, CIOs almost have a Pavlovian response to centralization. They’re always about, “Let’s reduce the number of vendors we’re dealing with, because then we’ll reduce the number of costs and et cetera, et cetera.” And I feel for that and I understand it, but I have to ask, in this day and age, is that realistic? Are you ever gonna get to that point or achieve that goal?

Wendy Pfeiffer: I think there’s a couple of factors that make that increasingly less realistic. One of those factors is this, I’m gonna call it the consumerization of IT. Essentially, we have large cohorts of our customers, of our prospects, of our employees who are using consumer technologies to interact with the enterprise technologies that our business provides.

You know, I’m speaking to you over Zoom, over public Internet. I’m using my gaming computer and my work laptop. And so, we’ve got this blend of consumer and enterprise tech that is incredibly hard for IT to dictate particular standards around, you know, what Internet service provider should I be using or what brand of camera should I be using, right? That’s just no longer realistic. And our real goal is to, in IT, is to just enable those interactions. Same, of course, is true when we have less people coming into hubs to shop and more people shopping remotely is, we just can’t dictate those things anymore.

And so, we have to be able to figure out that, again, that that center of gravity, what can we secure? What can we manage? And this is, in this particular area, this is another area where our ECI had some very interesting data. Almost half of the respondents said that cyber security is a huge priority for those of us in IT going forward. Because we have this new lack of standards that we have to enable and because we also have this sort of greatly expanded attack surface, if you will, that’s added to some complexity and that’s added to some challenges around even understanding the definition of the extended enterprise and how do we create the perimeters and the management capabilities around that.

So, it’s really pushing on our skills and our capabilities, and also changing our investment profiles in terms of how we’re investing in talent and technology and emphasis of our time in deploying enterprise technologies.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that the definition of what we think is hybrid has somehow expanded and we didn’t notice. And I’m asking because we see all these cloud native technologies that are out there now, there’s Kubernetes and serverless computing frameworks and microservices and containers and lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

Wendy Pfeiffer: [Laughter]

Mike Vizard: They all sit alongside what we used to call hybrid, which was two virtual machines, one sitting up in the cloud and one on premise. So, has the world become more complex before our very eyes and we just haven’t really appreciated the depth of that complexity yet?

Wendy Pfeiffer: I’m so happy you said that. Yes, I really do think so. And what’s interesting to me is, I think that, over the last four years of this ECI, our respondents have been signaling that. The data that we get from their responses was already signaling that, I’m gonna say that vendor, that pundit definition of hybrid had already morphed. And so, yeah, I think multi-cloud is more of a technical term, a consumption term. And I think hybrid is more of an operating model term, and it’s this very nuanced operating model, right? It’s not just, you know, a machine on premises and a machine in public cloud. It’s this notion that there are mixed modes of compute and storage and network and application services that will be flexibly employed to operate.

And so, there may be, on premises, the survey shows there’s still significant, you know, 20 to 30 percent premises infrastructure in the mix that is not being operated as a private cloud. There’s on premises or owned infrastructure being operated as private cloud. There are multiple public cloud infrastructures being operated as cloud. And so, it’s the mix of all of those modes and the adjusting mix of all of those modes that is, that are the inputs to this definition of hybrid.

And so, yeah, it’s really a change in thinking, and it mirrors, I think we’re more comfortable with the term hybrid now that so much in our world is hybrid, whether it’s hybrid education, you know, hybrid collaboration. We’re realizing that that’s, it’s very, very nuanced. There’s multiple modes under the covers of the term hybrid. In fact, one of my pet peeves is that—it’s like we’ve run out of vocabulary words, you know? We’re using the same vocabulary words to describe what are very nuanced and sometimes even profound differences.

Ultimately, the message is the same, though. And that is, you know, the center of focus are these unique enterprise ecosystems that IT have designed and are operating. The operating instructions don’t live within a particular public cloud, don’t live within a particular hardware vendor. The operating instructions, the logical run modes are owned by enterprise IT practitioners and more so today than a year ago or four years ago, those operating instructions are now—now have business operating components embedded in them as we operate business in the hybrid mode of physical and virtual.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that maybe the term itself, the cloud, is kinda maybe, pun intended, starting to dissipate in terms of its usefulness for that description? Because we have stuff at the edge, we have stuff on premise, we have stuff in multiple clouds, and it all scales up and down. So, maybe we should just move back to—I don’t know, it’s just extended enterprise computing. But I just wonder if the term cloud has kinda lost its purpose.

Wendy Pfeiffer: Well, I see what you did there, that was clever. I don’t know, you know? I’m still old enough that I remember when we, many of us in the technology space thought the term cloud for public cloud was kinda funny because it was, you know, we just—you know, cloud was the network and we just sort of drew a cloud to indicate, “Hey, there’s a network, here.” And we sort of said, you know, what’s so special about a different way of consuming network?

So, you know, I think we’ve always been—I think we’ve always been sort of challenged by tech terminology. But I think the main point here is that, more so than ever before, we now have technologies like container technologies, like hyper converged technologies, like hybrid and multi-cloud technologies that put the operating controls back in the hands of those who are operating those technologies, hopefully, in support of the business.

And this is, again, what thousands of IT practitioners are signaling in the ECI. You know, well over 80 percent of them are saying, “This mixed mode of operation where I am individually and granularly focused on optimally operating all of the infrastructure that I have available and all of the services that I have available in ways that are in support of business. That mode of operation is the mode of operation that’s preferred for me, that I’m moving towards. I can’t guarantee that I’m gonna be in the same mix of public clouds five years from now that I am in right now. I can’t guarantee the percentage of capacity I’ll be consuming in on premises data centers versus public cloud data centers, but I can guarantee that I will be in mixed mode years from now, and my people will be delivering services and technologies in mixed mode years from now.

And so, in essence, that’s the enablement that we want vendors to give. That’s the capability that we want vendors to give to us. And that sort of drives toward more—that’s complex, so, we need more AI, ML. There’s lots of data in the mix. We need 5G. We need open APIs, and we need cyber security tooling that’s not point tool based, but is platform based and comprehensive.

And so, honestly, I don’t think that’s, there’s been a giant shift in what we need, but meanwhile, the terms sort of come and go.

Mike Vizard: Ten years ago, we promised everybody they’d have flying cars and IT would be simple. Clearly, that’s not the case. So, my question to you is, what’s your best advice to your fellow CIOs out there who are trying to cope with all this complexity and the rate of change is increased? What do you tell them to help them keep their sanity?

Wendy Pfeiffer: [Laughter] This starts with an underlined assumption that I have kept my sanity.

I would say that, you know, our biggest mission right now is to continue to consume technologies that support our flexible operating models. If there is, you know, it’s back to, I don’t know who said this, but you know, “If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s the one constant in the universe is change.” And so, we are going to be moving from mode to mode in all areas, right, as a society, as we’re dealing with pandemic, as we’re dealing with supply chain issues, as we’re dealing with new generations entering the workforce. You know, this requires us to be flexible in terms of how we undertake our IT mission. But our mission is still the same.

And this is something I would say to my fellow practitioners. You know how to do this, right? Our mission is to enable the business to not only undertake its mission, but to thrive, to be competitive, and our mission is to enable employee productivity, even more important in this time of the rise of the knowledge worker.

And so, in order to do that, the same basic skills exist, right? We need to, first of all, continue to keep signaling as, when we have these opportunities to interact with vendors like we do in the ECI, to let vendors know that this mixed mode of operations is something we expect to have persists, and we need vendors to respond with tooling that’s purpose built to support our hybrid enterprise operations, our ecosystems that we’ve built. And then, you know what, at the end of the day, it’s stick to our knitting. We need to stick to our knitting. We do know how to do these things. We know how to calculate productivity. We know how to calculate operational optimality, and so, we need to continue to do that without being swayed by a particular, you know, the latest operating mode.

Ultimately, I do believe machine learning tools really offer opportunities for us to scale and take advantage of capacity. And then, everywhere we can in our architecture, look for vendors who support that mixed mode of operations, and that becomes the closest thing we’ll ever get in IT to the easy button is knowing that, at least at some layers of our operating system, we have vendors who are as committed as we are to the hybrid future that we’re projecting that we expect to see.

Mike Vizard: Alright, folks, you heard it here first—to your own self be true. Hey, Wendy, thanks for being on the show.

Wendy Pfeiffer: Thank you, Michael.

Mike Vizard: And thank you for spending some time with us. Take care.