IT Life: Flying High

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Citrix’s Christian Reilly tells us about his IT Life, including why he’s happiest when in the air

Tell us about your current role, how long have you been in IT and what are your areas of expertise?

I am currently vice president for the workspace services business unit at Citrix, responsible for technology strategy and platform engineering. The workspace services business unit is the largest within Citrix by revenue and comprises many of Citrix core products and technologies, including XenApp, XenDesktop, XenMobile, XenServer and Workspace Cloud.

I started my career back in the early nineties at ICL in the UK, where I worked in the Systems Engineering practice for a number of large customer accounts. Following that, I spent eighteen years with Bechtel, the largest privately owned engineering and construction company in the world, where I managed IT delivery for some of the most amazing construction projects across the globe. My main background is in infrastructure and systems architecture, but I’ve had a wide variety of roles over the years, including managing software development teams and working with business leaders on transformation projects – all with IT front and centre, of course!

What motivates you right now?

Christian_Reilly_CitrixI am 100 percent motivated to create technology that helps our customers to change the world. The sheer speed at which new technologies appear and are maturing into game-changing solutions is mind-blowing. I believe that we are on the cusp of a new dawn of business-enabling technology and I can’t think of anything more motivating than striving to be at the forefront of that. Every time I hear of how Citrix customers use our technology to help with more efficient and effective patient care in hospitals or to bring education to remote cities in faraway countries, it brings a sense of pride and humility. Nothing can beat that feeling. That’s what motivates me.

What has been your favourite project so far?

That’s a tough one as I’ve been involved in so many great initiatives and projects over the years. I’ll go back to 2003 and say that being the IT Director for Bechtel’s New Doha International Airport Project in Qatar was incredibly fulfilling. It was an amazing experience to be involved in the construction of the world’s largest greenfield airport from day one. As IT Director, you spend a couple of years “in the field” dealing with the daily challenges of providing a complex IT environment that is absolutely critical to the success of the project. Being a huge aviation geek, it was a dream project for me to work on and several years later, being able to watch the first Airbus A380 land there was simply a great moment. Just knowing you’ve had a small hand in something so audacious and so complicated is very satisfying professionally.

What technologies were you involved with ten years ago?

Ten years ago, in 2005, I was leading the infrastructure engineering team that helped develop what, a couple of years later, was widely acknowledged as the first example of a true “private cloud” deployment within a large enterprise. Back then, before “cloud” became as commonly used as it is today, my team was busy ripping apart a global network that was based on Frame Relay technologies and replacing it with the first commercially available Global and Metro Ethernet services. We consolidated thirty operational datacenters into three co-located facilities. We began virtualisation of a huge physical server estate using Xen and used Citrix Presentation Server to achieve new ways of delivering applications to tens of thousands of users. It was around that time that I really got deeply involved with Citrix as many of the pieces we had used had been acquired and were coming together to enable the early “Virtual Workplace”. The rest, as they say, is history!

Who is your tech hero and who is your tech villain?

My tech hero would have to be Adrian Cockcroft. For those who are not familiar with the name, Adrian was a distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems and eventually found himself as the Chief Architect for Netflix. Anyone who is anyone in “cloud” will know that it was Adrian who led the incredible technical team at Netflix and was instrumental in driving how Amazon Web Services became the platform for Netflix to deliver the incredibly disruptive business model that effectively became the death knell for Blockbuster. Brilliant yet humble, Adrian typifies everything that is good about technology. He is always willing to share his thoughts and experiences with a welcome dose of British humour. One of the true heroes of modern technology.

My tech villains would have to be anyone involved in organised crime or industrial espionage related to hacking. There’s not a day goes by without reading about yet another breach or compromise and those responsible are wrecking livelihoods and reputations for illicit gain. This is a massive and growing problem and really shows no sign of slowing down. Identity theft is my personal bug-bear. It’s almost impossible to educate the man-in-the-street about these kinds of threats; what to protect and how to protect it. It’s the modern day equivalent of highway robbery and we as an industry need to tackle this head on.

What’s your favourite device ever made and what do you use the most?

My favourite ever device is my Garmin Nuvi satellite navigation box. In fact, I would probably go as far as to say that these devices paved the way for how a whole generation uses technology to get from A to B. It’s another great example of how, over a relatively short time, a consumer-focused technology can get assimilated into daily life and replace a traditional way of thinking. I can’t remember the last time I looked at a paper map, and, given that satellite navigation is now pretty much a standard in any new vehicle – either integrated or as a box that can be plugged in – it’s incredible to sit back for a moment and contemplate just how much technology is packed in to it. The real beauty of all of this is simplicity. To get widespread adoption, you have to keep things simple. Satellite navigation is a classic proof-point for that theory.

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?

Apart from the obvious 1000-pound gorilla that is security? I think it’s got to be integration. As the consumer-driven demand-pull from departments and their business-savvy users continue to accelerate, IT departments are constantly being squeezed to provide faster, better and cheaper solutions, including mobile applications, Software as a Service (SaaS) and enablement of bring your own device (BYOD).

The rate at which new services enter the workplace is outstripping the rate at which legacy systems exit, by an order of magnitude. Add to that the fact that standards are slow to emerge and be widely adopted, that these new services are provided in non-traditional ways from a variety of clouds and vendors, all with different technology stacks and different philosophies around integrations. This is a huge challenge for traditional IT shops and if I look into my crystal ball, I see this as perhaps the biggest challenge but also the biggest opportunity space.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire the most and why?

Rolls-Royce. First, the company was founded in my home town of Manchester. That aside, the modern Rolls-Royce is an incredible example of how an organisation with a rich and enviable history has continued to evolve and re-invent itself to remain relevant and competitive in its core markets. A key to this has been their understanding in how to combine and balance the requirements of their customers with a continued focus on innovation and investment in technology. The best example of this is with their aero engine business – the appreciation of the need for their ultimate customers to be more cost-effective leads to the creation of more efficient engines with better performance, quality and more uptime. The analogies to being a software company in today’s business world are plentiful. Another great thing about Rolls-Royce is its youth apprenticeship programme, recognising the value of jointly offering higher education with the practical learning of a skilled trade. I believe that the wider technology industry could learn a thing or two from this approach, too.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

Something to do with aviation! I never truly wanted to be a pilot, but I was, and still am, fascinated by aeroplanes and the whole infrastructure around them. From a young age, I have taught myself a huge amount about how aeroplanes fly, what kinds of technology they employ and why, and I guess I’ve been lucky to have been in and around airports both in a professional and a recreational context for a very long time. I still have the child-like fascination and whenever I am in California, I spend time flying with my friend in his Cirrus SR22. I am just as excited listening to the ATC conversations on United Airlines Channel 9 than sitting in the right hand seat of the Cirrus. There’s just something about aviation that is magical and I hope that feeling never goes away.

Christian Reilly is VP for the workspace services business unit at Citrix

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