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A Conversation with Scott Dietzen, rPath Board Member

Scott Dietzen, former VP of Applications at Yahoo, has left the company.  His group was responsible for key products such as Yahoo! Mail, Messenger, Flickr, Answers, Groups, and Zimbra.  Now, we find out that Dietzen will be joining the board of directors of rPath.  The company recently posted the following Q&A with him on their Web site

Question: You recently left Yahoo! What's next?

Answer: Actually, I’m currently on an open-ended sabbatical. I came to Yahoo! two years ago via the acquisition of Zimbra. I had the good fortune at Yahoo! to take on some broader responsibilities in helping look after the Communications (Mail, Messenger, Zimbra) and Communities (Flickr, Groups, Answers) properties. I thereby got to work with some very talented folks and learned a great deal about what it takes to have success delivering very large-scale websites.

But what I haven’t been very good at historically is leading a balanced life. I have a 2½ year old at home whom I deeply want to spend more time with before he gets loaded up with school and activities. In the past, I’ve used this concept of an open-ended sabbatical (one with no plans on the other side) to create free time. Having no plan for what’s next I’ve found to be the best way for me to disconnect sufficiently to recharge the batteries and regain perspective; otherwise I mentally start digging into the next thing too early.

So the plan is for a bit of a walkabout with the family. But at the same time, I am very excited about having more time to dabble in technologies that interest me. Having been helping to look after a large organization the last couple of years, it is particularly fun to reengage with start-ups such as rPath and to get more hands-on with technology.

Question: As a technologist, what attracted to you to rPath?

Answer: In my career, successful start-ups depend upon three things: (1) very talented teams; (2) building deeply innovative technologies; that (3) address a large and compelling need in the marketplace. I see each of those ingredients in rPath, which is why I am so excited to have been invited to join the board.

I met the rPath team when Zimbra was trying to sort out how to deliver a virtualized server appliance that you could simply drop onto VMware or the "raw iron" of an unconfigured server. The Zimbra server requires a fairly complicated build—there are maybe 40 open source projects in addition to the Zimbra original IP, each of which is changing independently. rPath not only helped us make Zimbra a better fit for virtualized deployment, but it also helped us improve our build processes by better capturing underlying dependencies.

As I generalize from that Zimbra experience, I see broader challenges that cater to rPath's strengths. Software is increasingly crafted by assembling ever more independent projects (open source is contributing handily here) that are then deployed on distributed servers leveraging virtualization and cloud technologies. So individual software components are changing more quickly to meet business needs, and there are more of them, all changing independently. And the underlying hardware topology is changing too. How do we deliver robustness in the face of all this change?

I believe rPath to be uniquely well-positioned to help: rPath affords a deeper understanding of software dependencies that enables the delivery of a richer system model and more robust software deployment automation.

Question: From your perspective, how does this change things for IT operations?

Answer: The value that we at rPath aspire to deliver to our customers and community is robust software deployment in the face of this ever-increasing pace of change. The state of the practice in IT today is unfortunately still too dependent on ad hoc processes and scripts that tend to be a bit too fragile and are ill equipped to deal with the inherent growing complexity and interdependencies of software.

IT needs to be able to quickly and easily rollout new code with the confidence that it will be deployed correctly, but still can be quickly rolled back to a consistent state if there are any unforeseen problems. This can help IT to spend less time "fire fighting" and more time focusing on the future desires of the business they support.

Question: Having led very successful startups, what do you see as differences between those that become the next WebLogic or Zimbra and those that ... don't?

Answer: First, you start with the big three—assemble a great team to deliver innovative products that attack a big market need. But both WebLogic and Zimbra also hugely benefited from dislocators—tidal shifts in technology that tend to disadvantage the slower moving incumbents. For WebLogic, it was the emergence of the Web and Java. For Zimbra, it was Web 2.0/Ajax, open source, and software as a service (SaaS). Without those technology dislocators, neither WebLogic nor Zimbra would have been the successes they proved to be. Sometimes you get those dislocators right from the outset—when we first looked at Java, we were more excited about it as a server-side language than one for web UI. Other times, you can be surprised—to my shame, I was hugely skeptical of Zimbra building a full-on MVC (model view controller)-programmed UI in Javascript, but that was essential to our success. So I would also say there’s a bit of luck, especially around timing the market opportunity.

rPath has the big three in place. I see the dislocators being the increased pace of change of hosted software—large sites can make 10s, 100s, and even 1000s of production changes per day; as well as the target deployment environment of the virtualized, cloud-enabled data center. And I think rPath's work in virtualized appliance packaging and deployment gives us uniquely deep technology to attack the challenge of better managing software deployment at scale.

Question: What role do you expect to play on the rPath board?

Answer: I am looking forward to collaborating with the technical leaders and the management team to provide what insights I can to help hone the product roadmap and go-to-market plan. Hopefully, some of my prior experience, both in big companies and start-ups, will prove helpful to rPath. But from my own selfish perspective, I’m more interested in digging into something new—I suspect I’m going to learn more from working with the rPath team than they are going to get out of working with me.

Published Wednesday, October 21, 2009 6:20 AM by David Marshall
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