Jack Domme: HDS heads for the cloud in face of data flood

The Business Interview: The data explosion is causing headaches for companies that one chief executive can cure. Nick Clark meets him
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Apple has a way of creating a buzz, no matter what it is launching. This week, the electronics giant achieved the near impossible as it sparked genuine excitement among the population at large with the launch of a cloud computing service, dubbed iCloud.

Just days before Steve Jobs had the public in raptures in California, Jack Domme, the chief executive of Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), was extolling the virtues of cloud computing to a different set of customers at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.

Senior business managers from a range of industries came to the stadium to hear Mr Domme extolling the virtues of "the cloud" for slashing costs and making companies much more efficient. As the tidal wave of data increases, he believes, companies such as HDS will be crucial in keeping the clients from getting lost in the flood. He told The Independent: "Information is driving our world and we're providing the platforms to store it, integrate it and search it."

Cloud computing was a buzz phrase in the technology and services industry long before Apple came along, although companies have struggled to "sex up" the concept quite as well despite their best efforts. A quick click on the homepage of HDS's rival EMC shows it selling the cloud with a drawing of a man on a futuristic hoverboard under the heading "Backup to the Future".

The problem with cloud computing is its frustratingly abstract nature. One industry insider pointed to a report which offered 20 different definitions as part of what Mr Domme calls the "hyping of the industry". His own definition was providing "ubiquitous access to information".

Yet managing data has become a very real problem for everyone from governments and high-street supermarkets to universities and museums. Mr Domme said: "A lot of our current and prospective clients have this massive data growth. The question is how do they manage it? Even though disk and storage is getting cheaper, the management of it is very expensive." Companies including Marks & Spencer, Lloyds Banking Group and the Victoria & Albert Museum in the UK have turned to HDS for data support. In the US they manage information for the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq and Nasa.

At its core, HDS offers companies their own private cloud networks. It offers data storage and software to bring their information together, whether it is hospital records or trades, and offers access to the information through a browser. In some cases it also supports that data for its clients offsite. Mr Domme said: "It's about saving costs. We can save companies 20 to 25 per cent in how they manage their costs."

These companies can pay $1m for a 1 tonne data server, which can store a petabyte of data. That is the equivalent of 13 years of high definition video, one million times bigger than a gigabyte. Others may just look for a $10,000 single server or pay HDS by the megabyte for the data it manages offsite.

HDS was set up in 1989 after Hitachi teamed up with EDS to buy National Advanced Systems in a move to develop a computer mainframe business. Hitachi bought out EDS and HDS moved into data storage in the early 1990s competing with companies such as EMC. "It has evolved into storage, content, data and information, and providing meaning out of that," Mr Domme said.

Mr Domme trained in research and development, as well as accounting, joining Los Alamos National Laboratory out of college. He then moved to Hewlett Packard, where he stayed for the next 16 years. After a foray into tech start-ups, he joined HDS in the wake of the dot.com crash. He was brought in to change the company's focus.

"At the time, HDS was being written off as a company that did not know how to build software, that it couldn't compete in this industry," he said. Mr Domme spearheaded the overhaul, and HDS now makes half its revenues from software and services, up from 20 per cent a decade ago. He was appointed chief executive of the business in 2009.

HDS is now one of the top three storage vendors in the world, competing with companies such as HP and IBM. It has around 4,700 employees worldwide, based in more than 100 countries. Despite the recent downturn, 2010 was a record-breaking year in terms of revenue and customer growth. In the last quarter alone, the revenues rose to over $1bn.

Mr Domme said: "During the crisis the cloud was top of the list for chief technology officers. Obviously budgets were cut dramatically but data keeps growing, no matter the crisis." Yet questions have been raised over the cloud recently with the hacking of the Sony Playstation Network, exposing millions of users' personal details and credit card numbers. Mr Domme said: "The security issue is a big one around all data. It is one of the highest concerns of our customers."

Consumers are increasingly aware of the concept, not just through Apple, but anyone who has a Gmail account or puts pictures on Facebook are storing information in the cloud. "Data lives forever now. Managing it, with the scale of growth, is a big problem," Mr Domme said. "Governing data is critical. Not just for companies and governments but for consumers," he added. "We've got to do this at a scale unheard of before. We're talking petabytes and exabytes [one quintillion – or a billion billion – bytes] and it is doubling every year. How we manage this is becoming increasingly important."

Jack Domme CV

* Born and raised in New Mexico, trained in research and development: "I loved development and programming. It was at school that I learnt about data processing."

* Joined Los Alamos National Laboratory working on government security.

* Worked at HP for 16 years, where he led the information solutions and services division.

* Stints at the dot.com start-ups Mobilize and Storage Networks.

* Left Storage Networks to join HDS, and was appointed executive vice-president heading HDS's global solutions strategy and development in 2006. Promoted to the role of chief executive in 2009 after two years as chief operating officer.

* Interests include family activities, skiing, waterskiing and football.