An Interview with Riccardo Di Blasio

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The first of a series of thought leadership interviews.?

Passion is contagious. When I was in high school, I watched the film A Room with a View. In that movie, there is a bucolic shot of an Italian field of poppies accompanied by Puccini playing in the background. The sound and imagery were so compelling I decided then and there that I would spend my junior abroad and study in Italy.

Fast forward a few decades, and here I am working with Cloud Academy, a technology and educational content company that offers best in class, platform-neutral cloud training. Cloud Academy employs people from all over the world. However, the staff in our Mendrisio, Switzerland office is mainly Italian, and I finally have the pleasure of practicing the language I learned so long ago.

One of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet here is their advisor Riccardo Di Blasio. Di Blasio’s educational and professional history are quite impressive. He studied computer science and completed several executive programs from the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. Before coming to the U.S., he was in the Italian Navy and served with NATO forces, was the Middle East and Africa Area Manager at Alfredo Porro and Enrico Cassina (a multi-national architecture and planning firm), and soon found himself in IT where he worked closely with Sun Microsystems in Rome. The year was 1997, and Sun Microsystems was the place to be. Though they didn’t call it cloud at the time, it was then and there that the cloud was invented.

In 2001 Di Blasio joined EMC where he worked up the ranks, from Account Manager covering Rome to VP EMEA Telecom Global Accounts based in London, to SVP of Sales and Alliances, Cloud Service Providers in Boston, and some positions and locations in between. In 2013, Di Blasio joined VMware and moved to Palo Alto, where he was responsible for starting up and growing VMware’s hybrid cloud platform worldwide through a direct and online model, as well as building a solid partner ecosystem.

Where Sun Microsystems is where the cloud was born, Di Blasio considers VMware the place where it came of age. VMware brought virtualization to market. Before this, enterprises needed to support all aspects of application support, from servers to data centers, to the space where all of this hardware lived. But in 1999 that all changed when VMware introduced virtual server systems, made SaaS a must have, and completely and beautifully disrupted tech. Virtualization of entire data centers made them agile, and this sea-change in information management was a profound secular shift.

Di Blasio goes on to explain to me that disruption is not black and white, or winner takes all. VMware did not go on to become one of the current major cloud platforms. Nonetheless, VMware is a significant player in the computing ecosystem. Computing is a modern market because it offers the ability for companies to use hybrid support services. Customers benefit when they have a choice and aren’t locked into one system. When you think about large enterprise, this flexibility in vendor choice is essential as companies grow, merge, and acquire new businesses. Many of the SaaS companies in cloud enhance the cloud platform experience. And, having been an independent part of the development of cloud computing since its inception made VMware an extremely attractive partner for AWS.

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Working at all of these influential and innovative organizations has given Di Blasio the experience and opportunity to hold a very informed view on current technology development, business planning, and investment know-how. While he can speak enthusiastically about the cloud, as he’s been doing professionally for 20+ years, his passion comes through in bold colors when he talks about new organizations, innovations, and technologies.

Di Blasio believes firmly that innovation is born of disruption and that a startup environment is the only place where this can happen.

This belief doesn’t necessarily mean that all startups produce serviceable products or that no established company can be competitive or innovative. In fact, it’s the companies that maintain a startup culture (and significant investment), like Amazon and Microsoft, that have brought some of the most valuable innovations to market. When he left VMware, he did so to join startup Cohesity, a project and undertaking like no other he’d managed, and an experience from which he learned a great deal.
Today, Di Blasio is an angel investor, board member, and advisor for several tech companies. Having been Cloud Academy’s advisor for the last few months, I asked Di Blasio about his impression of what we’re doing:

I believe Cloud Academy is precisely what is currently needed in the market, delivered in a pure SaaS modality, and that’s the main reason why the company is experiencing such exponential growth. There is a huge gap between the speed of evolution of today’s cloud platforms available in the market and the necessary skills available in IT organizations.

CIOs of modern data centers must invest in their people training and development to make them more “cloud savvy” so they can generate efficiency and savings when moving workloads into the public cloud.

Continuous advancements in cloud technologies and services make keeping those skills up to date a challenge. While AWS “is the cloud” for now, both Microsoft and Google Cloud Platform are gaining ground, and new tools and applications like containers will encourage even more changes.

As Di Blasio writes in, Containers And Cloud Computing: The “Airbnb” Of Modern Datacenters, Linux containers—Docker, and Kubernetes, and Mesosphere—are set to undermine the powerful lock-in that AWS and other cloud players enjoy today. In fact, Di Blasio believes that containers will have an impact on IT similar to Airbnb’s impact on the hotel industry. Just as Airbnb makes it easier for travelers to move from one place to another, “containers allow you to move your workloads wherever you want.”

Beyond the cloud

While he isn’t investing, advising, or raconteuring, Di Blasio is spending time thinking about space; as in beyond the clouds.
If you are a baby boomer reading this article, you no doubt have memories of the pinnacle accomplishments of mid-century space programs, especially the moon landing of 1969 and the Apollo missions of 1970-75. If you are part of Generation X, as I am, you may have witnessed the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion of 1986, as I did with my classmates. If you are a millennial and you think about space, you may very well think of office space or open space, but rarely outer space or space travel, or in a tangible and shared cultural experience.

Though the American interest in space travel and exploration is currently taken for granted by most of our populous, Di Blasio contends that the technologies and programs we develop for this industry will ultimately serve everyone, one way or another. Investment and development of space programs will make it the next significant technological disruptor and will produce the most valuable innovation.

Space industry investment and growth is the next path, and it gives Di Blasio hope. He believes that much of the funding for investment in space projects will need to come from the private sector and venture capital.

Though this type of investment is a sea change from nationally funded organizations, like NASA, the two (investors and organizations such as NASA) will not be mutually exclusive in their pursuits. With the right leadership, the former will likely influence and finance the latter. Think of Elon Musk’s SpaceX or Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Di Blasio is fervent when explaining that innovation and development in the space industry need a new driver, a new spark. He firmly believes that this spark is going to come from the private sector, and specifically from the technology sector. The bridge between high tech, high finance, and very high flying will prevail because space programs and projects will be funded by the same people that fund technology startups, and those startups will support projects and programs that not only benefit the pursuit of knowledge but humankind as well.

Di Blasio is emphatic that a manned mission to Mars is in our future (I happen to concur). Whatever technological innovation goes into making this event happen will be scalable to more everyday use experience, here on earth. At this point, we don’t know if we’ll see breakthroughs in travel, biological science, climate control issues, or data gathering and analytic models. What Di Blasio holds true is that everyone will gain from our continued desire to explore the great unknown beyond the cloud.
Di Blasio’s passion for space innovation and investment is not a hobby; he is actively taking part in driving a dialogue, meeting and connecting people, and learning as much as he can. Earlier this year he outlined his manifesto in Save Planet Earth…By Getting To Mars! Why Space Colonization Is The Most Important Milestone Of Our Future. And, next month, he will speak at the Space Foundation’s 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He will present an initiative called NASA iTech, which is a startup incubator/accelerator within NASA and is led by visionary NASA Program Executive Kira Blackwell. The initiative’s purpose is to discover and help break-through technologies become integral and instrumental to space colonization, but not for space alone. The central goal of the initiative is that all of the innovation will benefit colonization as well as life here and yield research methodology that we can apply to science, life science, healthcare, transportation, water sanitation, and alternative energy sources.

Now that cloud has been around for some time, and more and more companies are migrating from on-premise to it, what new technologies might arise and disrupt? Who are the next disruptors and innovators? Maybe you? If you, or someone you know, is creating a career in the cloud and want to achieve success similar to Di Blasio’s but aren’t sure if you have the skills or if your organization is ready for an enterprise on-premise to cloud migration, be in touch with us for a free trial.

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