10 tech people you should know

These power-brokers’ decisions could shape enterprise IT for years to come

These power-brokers’ decisions could shape IT in the enterprise for years to come.

It's a good time to be an innovator - or in a position to encourage, recognize and reward innovation. And it's a good time to pay attention to the technology agendas of such people. Your company's viability may ultimately be ensured by the innovation these 10 people are driving from the labs to the enterprise.

Flip through a slide show of vital stats for these 10 IT leaders.

John Chambers, CEO, Cisco

John ChambersIn a faltering economy, all eyes are on such tech bellwethers as Cisco, watching for signs of health or distress. In November, Chambers confirmed the fears of many industry watchers when he announced sales could fall as much as 10% in the company's current fiscal quarter, which closes at the end of this month. Then he sent the industry into a frenzy with his decision to shut down over the holidays to save money - a first-time move for the company.

The timing is lousy, because Cisco is set to move forward with its biggest product launch in years: the Nexus data-center switch platform, unveiled early in 2008. The company spent about $250 million developing Nexus, which has a unified switching fabric combining Ethernet, IP and storage capabilities. The platform is intended to cement a broader role for Cisco in the data center - but Chambers needs early adopters to step up this year.

On the positive side, Cisco means a lot more than switching. In its fiscal quarter that ended Oct. 25, the company showed solid growth in its advanced technologies unit, which includes application networking services (a 25% increase year over year), unified communications (+22%), video systems (+21%), wireless (+21%) and security (+19%).

Cisco also can draw from its experiences navigating economic slowdowns to get through the current one: "We did this in 1993, 1997, 2001, 2003, and in each scenario we gained both wallet share, and in my opinion, profit share," Chambers told investors in November. "As a result, we were better positioned coming out of these transitions vs. our peers."

Paul Maritz, CEO, VMware

Paul MaritzAs 2009 kicks off, Maritz is poised to move past the executive turmoil that scuttled VMware's upper ranks during the last several months. It began with Maritz's arrival in July and the ousting of then-CEO Diane Greene; those events were followed in September by the departures of co-founder (and Greene's husband) Mendel Rosenblum, who had been chief scientist, and Richard Sarwal, who led R&D. Then, in November VMware's senior director for security products, Nand Mulchandani, left the company for a start-up.

Amid the drama, VMware retooled its desktop virtualization technology and released a new hypervisor for mobile phones. Most significantly, Maritz unveiled plans for VMware's expansion in the data center via the Virtual Datacenter Operating System, which is designed to aggregate virtualized servers, storage and network resources into a single pool of computing resources. Components of VDC-OS, including vNetworks and vStorage for managing virtual pools of switches and storage equipment, are expected to ship throughout this year.

Looking ahead to the business agenda, Maritz needs to find a healthy tempo as the 10-year-old company completes its transition from a rock-star start-up to a mature vendor with more sustainable - albeit less meteoric - growth. Maritz also needs to fend off hypervisor newcomer Microsoft (his former employer) and increased pressure from Citrix Systems. It's a tall order, particularly in this tough economy, but VMware still enjoys prime market position and a reputation for innovation. (Read an interview with Maritz.)

Mike Neil, general manager of virtualization strategy, Microsoft

Mike NeilMicrosoft was undeniably late to the hypervisor game, but it has an ace up its sleeve: Nine out of 10 guest operating systems that run on rival VMware's virtualization platform are Windows servers. So, if an enterprise is running Windows already, why not use Microsoft's Hyper-V server virtualization technology?

Making Hyper-V available for free definitely helped generate a buzz when the hypervisor was launched last summer. Nevertheless, the real battle for server-virtualization dominance will be fought over the features that enterprises value most: management, security, availability and performance. (For in-depth virtualization analysis, see "The virtual spectrum," a special New Data Center issue.)

As Microsoft's virtualization strategist, Neil has been talking up the multiplatform management features of the newly available System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, which lets users configure and deploy virtual machines running on Hyper-V and VMware platforms. Virtualization also is a key part of Windows Server 2008 R2: When R2 ships in 2010, it will include a much-anticipated live migration feature that was pulled from the first release of Hyper-V. In addition, there's the desktop, where Microsoft is aiming its new App-V application-virtualization solution. In classic Microsoft form, the company isn't letting its late-entry status dampen its market ambitions. (Read an interview with Neil.)

Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of the Windows and Windows Live engineering group, Microsoft

Steve SinofskyA scarcity of details about Windows 7 has served only to heighten interest in the forthcoming client operating system that will succeed the less-than-celebrated Windows Vista. Leading the charge to get Windows 7 out the door is Sinofsky, who presided over the first public demonstration of the operating system in November and has pledged not to make promises the Windows 7 team can't deliver: "We, as a team, definitely learned some lessons about 'disclosure' and how we can all too easily get ahead of ourselves in talking about features before our understanding of them is solid," he blogged in August 2008. "Our intent with Windows 7 and the prerelease communication is to make sure that we have a reasonable degree of confidence in what we talk about when we do talk."

What is known is that Microsoft is building the operating system on the Windows Vista code base to avoid the sort of application-compatibility problems that plagued Vista early in its release. Among the expected features of Windows 7 are revamped application security, data security and deployment features; and Microsoft has dropped hints of a more modular operating system and performance boosts. (Click here for a story on seven Windows 7 developments you should know about.) There's no firm release date for Windows 7, but Microsoft has said it will arrive by January 2010. Sinofsky's hard-earned reputation for getting new versions of Microsoft Office out the door on a regular, 18-month schedule bodes well for an early arrival.

The Google triumvirate: Eric Schmidt, CEO; Larry Page, president of products; Sergey Brin, president of technology

Sergey BrinLarry PageEric Schmidt

With success comes confidence, and the trio at Google's helm has no lack of either. The company entered new markets in 2008 with the release of its first Web browser - Google Chrome - and it celebrated the arrival of G1, the first mobile phone based on the open source Android platform.

For enterprises, Google beefed up its Google Apps platform's service guarantees, and it released a beta version of the Google App Engine, which offers a full-stack platform for building and hosting Web applications on Google servers. For the world at large, the company laid out a $4.4 trillion energy plan to help the United States kick its dependence on fossil fuels.

Not every corporate swing connected - Google shuttered its 6-month-old virtual world, Lively, at the end of December and scuttled its plans for an advertising deal with Yahoo in anticipation of antitrust obstacles - but the company's "do no harm" triumvirate made it clear there's not much it won't try. Except perhaps high office: Schmidt said he would not serve as technology czar in President-elect Barack Obama's administration if he were asked.

John Lilly, CEO, Mozilla

John LillyEveryone loves an underdog story, and Mozilla's hasn't disappointed. The Firefox browser started stealing away Internet Explorer users in 2004; today it has an estimated 20% share of the browser market, due largely to its latest release. Mozilla hit a home run with Firefox 3, which ran up 8 million downloads in the first 24 hours it was available. Meanwhile Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which held a rock-solid 95% market share in 2004, has about 71% today, according to Web-metrics company Net Applications.

The challenge for Lilly, who took on the CEO role just one year ago, is keeping the Mozilla community innovating and advancing the features that enterprises want to see in such products as Firefox, the Thunderbird e-mail client and Firefox Mobile, which is expected to be released to the public this year.

On the business side, Lilly needs to fend off competition from Chrome, another fledgling browser, while maintaining a healthy relationship with Chrome's owner, Google - which, through a 3-year-old search partnership (renewed through 2011), drives the bulk of Mozilla's revenue.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

Sheryl SandbergCan Facebook make the transition from dorm room to boardroom? That's the central challenge for COO Sandberg, who once served as chief of staff for the U.S. Treasury Department and most recently spent six years at Google, where she headed online sales and operations until March 2008.

Sandberg's charter at Facebook is to help scale its operations and expand its presence globally (seven months after Sandberg's arrival, Facebook established an international headquarters in Dublin). Her vision for Facebook includes adding enterprise applications to the social-networking site; she recently helped promote a new partnership with Salesforce.com that encourages developers to design business-oriented applications that appear natively on Facebook but are built using Salesforce.com's platform and hosted on the application vendor's servers.

Still, Facebook's enviable stats -more than 120 million active users and the fourth most-trafficked Web site in the world - don't guarantee a welcome reception from enterprise IT teams, which will have to weigh security, privacy and productivity concerns before sanctioning Facebook for business use.

Joshua Corman, principal security strategist, IBM Internet Security Systems division

Johsua CormanCorman doesn't resort to the fear, uncertainty and doubt that so many IT security vendors use to scare up interest in their products. Instead he speaks candidly about the trouble enterprise security teams are in: "Enterprises should have cried 'uncle' a long time ago. It's impossible to be experts on every nuance, every new regulatory control, every new hacker threat," he said in a November interview with Network World.

He's also candid about the need for greater transparency in exposing threats: "We've seen the gap getting bigger and bigger between the threats and our countermeasures. Who are we helping by keeping these things to ourselves?"

Far from acting like someone whose start-up mind-set has atrophied while working for a big vendor like IBM, Corman is energized by the opportunity to strategize about security with his Big Blue peers who are shaping such key enterprise technologies as x86 server virtualization and cloud computing. Looking ahead, he hopes to see a renewed focus on risk management and less dependence on regulatory compliance as a security crutch.

Amit Jasuja, vice president of product development for identity management, Oracle

Amit JasujaOracle aims to be the undisputed leader in identity and access management, and Jasuja is driving the charge. Coordinating the campaign is no small feat, however, given the complexity of IAM and all its components: user account provisioning, password management, role management, single sign-on, authentication services, federated access management, entitlement management and more.

In 2008 Oracle released key products in its push to deliver services-based identity capabilities that can be tapped by multiple sources rather than being hard-coded into enterprise applications. Its Entitlements Server, for example, lets users centrally manage security and regulatory policies for enterprise applications and Web services, rather than embedding those policies into the code of individual applications. Another highlight is the release of Oracle Adaptive Access Manager, which uses such real-time factors as a user's geographic location and device attributes to render context-based authentication.

"There's a reason why Oracle is both the leader and the leading innovator in identity management today, and products like OAAM (and people like Jasuja) are the proof," says Dave Kearns, author of Network World's twice-weekly Identity Management Alert newsletter.

Kenneth Brill, executive director, Uptime Institute

Kenneth BrillData centers' energy consumption is unreasonably high - and headed toward unsustainably so. In a survey conducted by Brill's data-center research and advisory organization Uptime Institute, 65% of respondents said their centers would run out of power capacity in two to five years. Cooling capacity likewise is in short supply.

Nonetheless, the answer isn't building bigger data centers with greater capacity, Brill says. Fortunately for budget-constrained buyers, something as simple as smarter shopping could go a long way toward alleviating the problem.

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