CTO Sessions: Andres Rodriguez, Nasuni Corporation

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? “Oh, yes. Absolutely. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I spent a year in a small village in Spain, working both as a shepherd and as an apprentice to a butcher.”

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Nasuni Corporation

Name: Andres Rodriguez

Company: Nasuni Corporation

Job title: CTO & Founder

Date started current role: March 2009

Location: Boston, MA

Nasuni Founder and CTO Andres Rodriguez brings passion and energy to his role refining and communicating Nasuni’s technology strategy. Rodriguez was previously Founder and CEO at Archivas, creator of the first enterprise-class cloud storage system. Acquired by Hitachi Data Systems, Archivas is now the basis for the Hitachi Content Platform (HCP). After supporting the worldwide rollout of HCP as Hitachi’s CTO of File Services and seeing the Archivas team and technology successfully integrated, Rodriguez turned his attention to his next venture, Nasuni (NAS Unified). Delivering value-added enterprise file services on top of cloud object storage was the natural progression of Rodriguez’ cloud storage vision. Before founding Archivas, Rodriguez was CTO at the New York Times, where his ideas for digital content storage, protection, and access were formed. He joined The Times through its acquisition of Abuzz, the pioneering social networking company Rodriguez co-founded.

What was your first job? My first real job was working as a research assistant in the condensed matter lab within the Physics department at Boston University, as an undergraduate.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I wanted to be a physicist. Specifically, my plan was to build computer simulations of large systems – condensed matter quantum states that require tons of compute. I was very interested in quantum entanglement at the time as well. Earlier, as a child, I wanted to be an oceanographer – the next Jacques Cousteau.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a master’s degree in Physics.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss.  Oh, yes. Absolutely. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I spent a year in a small village in Spain, working both as a shepherd and as an apprentice to a butcher. Honestly. I taught Math and English in the local schools as well.

What type of CTO are you? Hands-on. I work very closely with customers but I'm always pursuing stretch goals for the technology, thinking about how to take it where it isn’t today, and the customer conversations are a critical part of that. They are the validation points, in a way. These are some of my favourite conversations, when I run a new idea by a customer. So much of the role of a CTO is promoting your ideas, but you have to make sure that you’re listening to criticism and considering corrections. That’s the only way to ensure you get better at what you do and produce a continually improved product.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Hydrogen fuels and fuel cells. Normally I focus on file storage, but that's the future for energy storage.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Containers. They're interesting, and valuable, but ultimately containers are just a more efficient way to stack and rack servers. They’re not revolutionary. The emphasis on containerisation of servers distracts people from what I see as a far more important trend: the rise of the programmable data centre. Containers are just an enabling tech for that.  

What is one unique initiative that you’ve employed over the last 12 months that you’re really proud of? That’s a difficult question, and I’m going to cheat a little and note two. The first is our File Accelerator, which I worked on with our Product Strategy leader, John Capello, and his team, along with representatives from our major accounts. Basically, we came up with ways to have our global file system adapt intelligently to how it’s being used and optimise its behaviour.

But I can’t talk about 2020 innovations without highlighting our file migration tool. Everyone is in such a hurry to get to the cloud right now and files are often the last piece to move. We developed a special tool that accelerates the migration of files to the cloud through a bulk loading process. Our Professional Services team runs the tool now, but we’re getting ready to make it customer-facing, so we can roll it out to more companies.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Nasuni is very much in the business of digital transformation. That’s what we do. By enabling customers to move their file workloads to the cloud, and manage everything through a true global file system, we unlock all kinds of new efficiencies. Accelerating global workflows is a big one, but we also free IT cycles for more strategic projects and transition companies away from storage-related capital expenditures into a leaner, more cost-effective OpEx model.  

What is the biggest issue that you’re helping customers with at the moment? That’s an easy one. The dramatic acceleration and lift and shift of anything on-prem in physical data centres to the cloud. Everyone wants to go to the cloud now. That transition can put a ton of strain on organisations, as they need to make sure they have all the capabilities in the cloud that they’ve grown accustomed to in the on-prem world. We’re helping some of the largest companies in the world do this for their files, and we’re doing it at a remarkable pace, without disrupting day-to-day business. The File Migrator I mentioned above is part of that, but there’s more to it, including our stellar Professional Services team.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? To be successful in technology you have to be curious, and you have to have spent a long time studying the technology. You sharpen your instincts for what is more or less important from that deep study. Most of the time you’re going to be right, too, but you still have to go out and confirm that your idea excites your customers or solves their immediate pain. If you tell them, and they’re excited, then you know you’ve got something. You have to be your own critic as well, though. As a technologist, when you come up with an idea, you need to come up with the three reasons it’s not a good idea, then validate or stress-test those against the customers. Good CTOs come up with good ideas, but the best ones are always coming up with those three reasons it’s not going to work.

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? If you’re working closely with your engineering and product management teams and having deep conversations with customers about what they need, and how your new ideas could impact them, then you’re going to have an easier time aligning these two strategies.

What makes an effective tech strategy? What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? This relates back to question #5. I'm a believer in working hard at those stretch goals for your technology, while constantly interfacing with customers and users to really understand what they need, and whether the tech you're developing is truly going to benefit them. 

What has been your greatest career achievement? Nasuni. We were ahead of the curve in inventing the first cloud-native global file system, but ever since the market caught up and large enterprises started to see the value in cloud, we have been on a tremendous run of success. Growing this company has been the hardest work of my career, but easily the most gratifying and exciting.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? We launched our cloud-native file system before most enterprises were comfortable storing data in the cloud. We were so early that I questioned - on occasion - whether we were doing the right thing. In hindsight, I wouldn't have entertained any doubt, and would have pushed harder on our initial, visionary idea, and had confidence that the market would catch up. As it has. 

What are you reading now? Middlemarch. It's amazing. I like to read four or five books at once, though. The other one I’m really enjoying is The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming.

Most people don't know that I… See question #4. Are there many former shepherds in the technology world?

In my spare time, I like to…I like to swim.

Ask me to do anything but… but make a PowerPoint presentation.