CTO Sessions: Chris Sharp, Digital Realty
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CTO Sessions: Chris Sharp, Digital Realty

Name: Chris Sharp

Company: Digital Realty

Job title: CTO

Date started current role: August 2015

Location: Colorado, USA

Chris Sharp is the current CTO of Digital Realty. Before his time there, Sharp was responsible for cloud innovation at Equinix where he led the development of innovative cloud services solutions. One of his most recent accomplishments at Digital Realty has been the expansion of the company's IX platform to new data centre facilities in Ashburn, Virginia, and Chicago, Illinois.


What was your first job? I started off as a lifeguard, which evolved into a job in tech support for a construction firm. The main reason for this big jump is because I saw first-hand that firms weren't leveraging tech at the time. I saw the need for technology in, what was then, a non-technical environment.

Did you always want to work in IT? Technology was a natural and logical progression for me; my core passions lie in technology! Tech is constantly evolving and that's what's kept me in the data centre industry - we get exposure to everything! On a personal level, my basement in my house is full of server racks, and I'm part of various technical groups - that just shows how dedicated I am to technology in both my work and private life!

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? Yes, I do hold many certifications, but the thing with education is that it becomes stale very quickly. I've found that you have to become self-taught and to continue to bolster your own education. The internet is a beautiful thing if you can cut through the noise; the most important certification you can have is to be self-taught to keep yourself relevant in the space.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. A while back, I worked in India with Reliance, and I helped to develop Reliance Globalcom the first Ethernet Service around the globe. I got to experience the world through a very different lens, and I'm grateful for the exposure I had to a culture that has made tremendous progress with very limited infrastructure. Therefore, I definitely wouldn't call it a detour, rather, a rewarding experience that has helped to shape me in my career today.

What type of CTO are you? A passionate one! In short, I love to bridge the gap between customer needs and how technology can help them. I love to listen and learn about our customer needs and how technology can assist with helping them reach their goals and digital ambitions.

Which emerging technology are you most excited about the prospect of? Artificial intelligence (AI), without a doubt. Whilst it's still in its early stages, the impact it will have on every industry and vertical will be as big as the internet. However, despite the inevitable growth, companies' infrastructure is still not ready for it. We recently conducted some research into financial service data infrastructure and it was found that in the UK, 36% of firms in the industry admitted they aren't ready to adopt the technology that AI brings. This is a trend seen not just in the UK but also in the likes of Ireland, Germany, and the Netherlands. The only saving grace is that AI won't be implemented overnight.

Are there any technologies which you think are overhyped? Why? Cryptocurrency. There was huge noise around bitcoin back in the day, but in my opinion, that was over hyped. I am a firm believer in Crypto over time but the underlying technology blockchain/share ledger is remarkable. Blockchain is an excellent technology that will be able to harness shared processing power. The market is changing and so is the community, and it might be time to leverage that investment and be a part of the technology.

What is one unique initiative that you've employed over the last 12 months that you're really proud of? Continued customer calibration, where we have co-design meetings with customers to demonstrate our capabilities to support their digital ambitions today and going forward. For example, the partnership with Megaport has opened a new ecosystem for Digital Realty around Enterprise to Cloud and having interconnection products and bulk access to data is top of mind. Recently, one of the larger ride-sharing companies were looking at autonomous vehicles and how we can evolve to power their designs. So far, there are early indications that it's been successful.

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? Yes - Quote to Report. It is a company-wide project that leverages efficiencies and improves customer experience. It will allow us to continue to unify product platforms from scale and colocation whilst providing greater visibility into interconnection. The transformation of iteratively evolving systems means that customers are given greater visibility of the infrastructure and how it ultimately supports their needs.

What is the biggest issue that you're helping customers with at the moment? Finding a more efficient alternative and nurturing an environment that supports colocation efficiently. Going into an open environment to support customer needs is critical to us and is the heart of our decisions. One of the biggest issues that we're helping customers by leveraging our products that are fit for purpose. If you're a larger enterprise, you'll want to leverage interconnected scale and we provide tailored products to match their needs.

How do you align your technology use to meet business goals? Tech for tech's sake is meaningless! It must be built around the business and demonstrate a direct return as well as leverage efficiencies and customer enablement. You should start with the gaps and customer needs and make your tech fit to that model. Utilisation of tech is taking off, but there is a lot of wasted infrastructure being deployed that provides no purpose or meaning for the true audience - your customers!

Do you have any trouble matching product/service strategy with tech strategy? I think it's critical to take a step back and to look holistically at your overall company strategy and have it defined. The next step is balancing all elements against available resources, both human and traditional capital. The products and services that are offered are the end results of your underlying technology; matching your product and service strategy with your tech strategy is more of an art than a science. The problem that many companies face is the lack of an overall company strategy which then sets them up for failure.

What makes an effective tech strategy? An effective tech strategy to me is bridging the gap in terms of supporting the current market dynamic whilst facilitating the evolution in our ability to be efficiently aligned to future growth opportunities. Products can become obsolete quickly. An excellent example is interconnected scale - it is a unique value proposition, but when you buy scale, you aren't getting all the interconnection benefits you would get from colocation. However, if you leverage your scale portfolio and apply interconnection colocation capabilities to existing offerings, you add value and you automatically become more attractive to the customer.

What predictions do you have for the role of the CTO in the future? There will be an increased need for balance; the future CTO will need to strike the right balance between being customer-facing and taking on board the customer perspective, whilst satisfying internal stakeholder interests. Overall, the future CTO will need to understand more deeply how to apply newer technological advances to the problem at hand.

What has been your greatest career achievement? My biggest achievement is being able to see a gap in capabilities in the overall market, particularly cloud consumption. I had the opportunity to work with the board at Equinix, and create the Cloud Acceleration team, and the insights I've gathered from working there I've carried over to Digital Realty. Currently, I'm helping to build an Enterprise Cloud Consumption Model to support the evolving need and demand, and the partnership with Megaport is built around this opportunity. The cloud unleashes a whole new segment within data centres and I'm proud to be driving that forward.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have joined Digital Realty sooner and made the shift to scale sooner! Customers were out-growing the colocation model, and that's why a product that's fit for purpose is imperative to support the customer demand cycle. We could have done more sooner if we had access to larger scale and foundational elements as it's easier to go from scale to colocation, so the market would have benefitted from an earlier introduction to the interconnected scale product offering.

What are you reading now? The Big Nine. The book is about how the Tech Titans are leveraging speaking machines like AI, and how their machines can warp humanity. This book speaks to me because it teaches us that it is critical to align to how our top customers are evolving their product line and how our infrastructure needs to meet those emerging requirements. As I've mentioned, AI is the last arms race for top Tech Titans, not just the cloud. They will deploy their products in an immersive way, driven by AI, into all our lives, but in order to do so, they need to have a solid infrastructure that third party providers like data centres can provide.

Most people don't know that I… sew! You can probably classify myself as a very experienced tailor. In high school, I did not have enough money to fix the interiors of the cars that I was rebuilding, so I bought a sewing machine and did the car interiors myself.

In my spare time, I like to…rebuild old cars, that is, when I'm not spending time with my family! I have a 32 Chevy and a 67 Camaro.

Ask me to do anything but… sit through a sales pitch! I dislike being sold to. Whilst I appreciate speaking to people who are passionate about technology, I do not meet with vendors. I feel so strongly about this that I filter this ethos to my staff - I emphasise the need for value-based conversations with customers in order to understand their core needs and how we can efficiently help them, rather than having a conversation purely based on selling.

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