In March 2016, SearchCloudComputing formed an Advisory Board, consisting of cloud users and experts, to provide insight into the latest cloud computing trends and technologies. One Advisory Board members is Bill Wilder, CTO at Finomial, a Boston-based software as a service provider for the hedge fund industry. Wilder is also the founder of the Boston Azure Cloud User Group, a community-run group who meets regularly to discuss challenges and best practices associated with Microsoft’s public cloud platform. In addition to Azure, Wilder focuses on cloud security, architecture and platform as a service.
In the Q&A below, SearchCloudComputing spoke with Wilder about his career, top cloud market trends and the various challenges users face in cloud.
What drew you toward a career in cloud?
Bill Wilder: I think it was in 2008 [that] I was at a technical conference — Microsoft had an annual technical conference at the time called the Professional Developers Conference, or PDT. At that conference, Microsoft first publicly unveiled their Azure cloud platform and that was kind of a turning point for me, knowing Microsoft’s role in the technology community as being a very influential one and knowing the resources they have and their staying power, I pretty much decided that the cloud thing was getting real and decided to devote more of my time to it. Within a year, I had started Boston Azure, which is a community group, because I was looking for a vehicle to accelerate my own learning and that gave me a vehicle for bringing in speakers and experts.
In the early days of the public cloud, as that was, it became apparent that an open-minded or non-risk-averse… mind-set was needed to jump into the cloud. So, I left my day job to start consulting full-time, because it was just a more interesting endeavor for me.
So, Microsoft has this recognition program for experts in the community who share their knowledge, and I was sharing my knowledge through my user group and blogging, so they recognized me as what they call a Microsoft MVP for Azure, which was a new specialization at the time. So I was pretty much all in; all I was doing was cloud. I had a number of clients who I was helping — some of them were tiny startups, some of them were big enterprises — [to] either deliver [services] or work out a strategy. And one of my clients was Finomial, a born-in-the-cloud start-up that is addressing the hedge fund industry and eventually I ended joining them as CTO.
Is there one memorable project you’re especially proud of in your cloud career?
Wilder: There isn’t one particular project that sticks out, but the thing that really does stick out, thematically, is that the public cloud has done a lot to democratize access to the kinds of sophisticated resources that only big companies used to be able to afford. A number of my clients were start-ups and they probably couldn’t have done what they were doing in a pre-cloud world. So the idea that this stuff was available for anybody with short money, and you could rent it and you didn’t have to have a million dollars in [venture capital] funding to figure out what you’re doing — that sticks out to me as pretty cool.
What trends in the cloud market are you currently following?
Wilder: In the early days in the cloud, the services that were offered were sophisticated, but they weren’t terribly feature-rich. What we’ve been seeing in the past, increasingly over time… is that the services that you can get access to in the cloud are just so sophisticated, that it’s becoming decreasingly appealing to not use the cloud.
So, as a couple of examples, if you go to any of the big public cloud venders, say Microsoft Azure, there’s something like 25 regions in the world where they have data centers that you can access with a couple of mouse clicks or a little programming and you can deploy all over the planet. So if that’s, say, the backend to your mobile app… you couldn’t do that on your own. It’s part of the democratization. Or for enterprise customers, with a small amount effort… you can have a multi-region disaster recovery strategy, where the cloud vendor does all the heavy lifting.
And one of the things that allows us to do at a company like Finomial — and we’re an early-stage company trying to be efficient with our people — is that we don’t have to have people on staff who are experts in the things that we can buy as a service from the cloud. That is a huge [benefit] for us. So, over time, as the services become more sophisticated, it becomes more turnkey, and we can focus on our business and the software that differentiates us from competitors, and the software that our customers need to get their work done more efficiently, rather than on the infrastructure that a couple years ago or a couple months ago, in some cases, would have been necessary for us to pay a lot of time and attention to.
What are the top challenges organizations face with cloud?
Wilder: One of the most consistent challenges I see is conceptually understanding what the cloud can do… because for a lot of companies, the cloud is different enough that they might misunderstand the best way to use it. A good example of this is a lot of companies are best off by what’s called lifts and shifts, which [involves taking] existing workloads and [moving] them on to virtual machines in cloud to kind of get their feet wet, which is great. But… one of the big challenges is that the way you might organize your teams to be fully productive in the cloud is probably different than how you organize your teams in your enterprise. The DevOps movement has a very strong cloud affinity, so if you’re not doing that, your efficiencies in cloud will be lower, and if your architecture isn’t modern, your efficiencies in the cloud will be lower.
When not working with the cloud, what do you enjoy doing?
Wilder: My wife and I are Patriots season ticket holders, so we are sports fans, for sure. And we like to hang out with our four sons.