Bill Rowan was appointed vice president of the federal business at cloud computing and virtualization company VMware in November after nearly four years at the firm.
Rowan joined VMware in 2010 to lead its Defense Department business and the nearly 25-year veteran also held leadership roles at firms such as IBM, MicroStrategy and Storage Technology Corp.
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Rowan previews what he sees as the future of open source technologies in the federal market, collaborations between industry and government in data analytics and offers an outlook into network virtualization.
ExecutiveBiz: What are two main areas you have focused on since you started as U.S. federal lead?
Bill Rowan: I have focused on two things. The first is ensuring that we are doing an effective job of communicating who VMware is as a company today to our client base, as well to our partners and integrators. People’s initial perspective of VMware is all about the hypervisor, but we have changed dramatically over the past five years through both acquisition and organic growth. We are doing different things that allow our customers to have more flexibility, as well as to accomplish their mission goals.
The second is ensuring that we have the proper mix of people to deliver our solutions to the marketplace. Having the right talent in the areas of engineering and professional services is vital. In addition, our sales people are very in tune to what our clients are trying to accomplish from a mission-perspective. We are focused on communicating the right message relative to what the company is today and where we are going in the future.
ExecutiveBiz: What is the biggest evolution in GovCon that you have seen during your career?
Bill Rowan: I started my career at IBM during the mainframe era. We have seen the transition from PC to client server, and now the movement to a cloud-centric approach. The biggest transformation has less to do with computing ability, or the technical aspects of helping customers accomplish missions, and more to do with the necessary process changes within the agency to effectively utilize the tools. Twenty years ago we didn’t have telework.
Everybody essentially worked in an office, and we certainly didn’t have the mobility options that we have today. We’ve seen consolidations of organizations and agencies, we have a lot more compute power, storage capabilities and networking capabilities than we’ve ever had before. Everyone must keep pace with the growth by which this information is being generated.
As a result, we will always play catch-up as we focus on organizational and operational changes needed to harness and take advantage of those tools. This is one of the biggest changes, and we will continue to see this transformation in the foreseeable future.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some areas within big data analytics that you see further collaboration between industry and government?
Bill Rowan: It takes a different form based upon the agency. In the beginning of data analytics, we focused on the analysis of data warehousing, which allowed us to make decisions on our future direction. We see the advent of real-time data analytics, whether it is in a targeting application the Department of Defense might use or an application for the Transportation Security Administration to evaluate potential threats to travel, being a key component.
We continue to collaborate and make suggestions to government about the solutions that Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 companies are implementing. There may not be a perfect “one to one” match. However, we need to consider that government is concerned with its security posture, as well as the security accreditations needed before running applications.
We need to ensure that they maintain proper security over their networks and infrastructure. However, at the same time, things are happening so fast that government may at times miss the opportunity to take advantage of these technologies because they are worried about that part of the equation.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you see open source evolving within the federal arena?
Bill Rowan: Agencies are certainly utilizing open source in some respects. VMware is actually the fourth largest contributor to the OpenStack initiative. As such, we will continue to bring forth solutions that allow customers to utilize our vCloud Automation Center solution inside an OpenStack arena. OpenStack already has the integration into the underlying technology like ESX, VSAN and NSX, which allows customers to build off of their existing investments.
There is a great place for the OpenStack solutions, even though it may not be a fit for everybody. In my opinion, the item for greater consideration is that the government will need to acquire and retain talent who can help them with the programming aspects of OpenStack. But we will continue to contribute to the OpenStack initiatives as we have in the past and allow customers to leverage our solutions inside those OpenStack environments.
ExecutiveBiz: What will be industry’s role as agencies balance open access and security with cloud and how do you see that shaping out?
Bill Rowan: The government has done a good job with FedRAMP, creating processes and controls to help the U.S. government’s cybersecurity posture. However, when dealing with different levels of information in the Department of Defense, we need to go further to ensure that more sensitive data is protected, but it is helpful that FedRAMP provides a solid baseline.
When government and commercial enterprises let someone else manage and secure their data, they need a level of assurance and understanding that these processes will ensure the security of the information. On a regular basis, we have seen these breaches covered in the news. These things are happening everywhere — whether it is on the federal agency level, State Department, the U.S. Postal Service, or even the Target breach a number of months back.
I applaud government for developing a standard for everyone in this market to adhere to. I believe we will see more commercial entities adopting those same controls. Over time as we learn more about the threats, and we see consistency, we can hopefully develop our tactics, techniques and procedures to combat those threats. And we can build those back into our control models under FedRAMP.
ExecutiveBiz: What trend within the federal market are you most excited about?
Bill Rowan: The thing that excites me the most is around network virtualization. One can look at what has happened in the IT market overall and see the billions of dollars in savings and the agility that has been gained by virtualizing servers.
For example, corporations do not need to buy additional servers every time they spin up applications. If we can apply a fraction of those savings, and the agility that it has given us on the server side, and apply that to the network side, the outcomes will be tremendous. This is an area that will continue to grow at a very rapid pace over the next five to ten years.
One emerging area within network virtualization is micro-segmentation. There’s a white paper that talks about using virtualization in the network, but with an added layer of security. People who understand the power of virtualization have said we can use this not only as a tool to help save money and collapse infrastructure, but also to utilize the same methods for better protecting ourselves in the future.