For many in IT, 2009 was a nuclear winter, with resources stripped away as companies struggled to survive. Yet many were tasked with using IT to increase the company's efficiency, enter the few new growth markets, or fix a fundamental problem that threatened the company's ability to stay in business.
Some technology leaders rose to the challenge, despite the lack of resources. That's a common situation for many of this year's InfoWorld CTO 25 Award winners. One even became CEO as a result.
Of course, not every company was in make-or-break mode, and several CTO 25 winners demonstrated the value of innovation in technology and management in any economy.
So, without further ado, here are the 2010 InfoWorld CTO 25 winners, in alphabetical order. You can read what each one did to merit the award on the pages that follow.
* Scott Baynes, CTO, Netgain: A virtualization change-out with several twists
* Brian Beck, IT director, Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation: Using desktop virtualization to give more students PC access
* Amy Bourne, vice president of technology development, Centro: Revitalizing a broken IT staff -- just in time for a make-or-break business launch
* Chris Brady, CIO, Dealer Services: Predictive technology avoids the recession's impact
* Aris Buinevicius, CTO, ChannelAdvisor: Making a BI consolidation happen in a live environment
* John Burke, CIO, Ambit Energy: Using smart meters to lower energy costs for credit-challenged users
* Chad Burney, assistant vice president for IT, COCC: Bringing SSDs into the core of the data center
* Tom Conophy, CIO, InterContinental Hotels Group: Driving a hotel group to financial and energy efficiency
* Phiroz P. Darukhanavala, CTO, BP: Immersive 3-D improves training and operations
* Scott Dillon, head of technology infrastructure services, Wells Fargo & Co.: Standardizing while making a major merger work
* Mark Friedgan, CIO, Enova Financial: Switching to open source for lower costs, increased flexibility
* Garth Gibson, CTO, Panasas: Parallelizing NFS file sharing
* Kris Herrin, CTO, Heartland Payment Systems: Restoring a company's faith in technology -- and in IT
* Dennis Hodges, CIO, Inteva Products: Just one year to put an IT infrastructure in place -- and cut costs in half
* Jason Huggins, co-founder, Sauce Labs: Improving automation testing
* Irfan Khan, CTO, Sybase: Listening to customers for real -- and reaping the rewards
* Amit Klein, CTO, Trusteer: Fixing security flaws in vendor applications and browsers
* Marc B. Manza, CTO, Passlogix: Solving the single sign-on challenge
* Ram Mohan, CTO, Afilias: Making the Internet more secure for everyone
* Paresh Nagda, CTO, Navman Wireless: Automating language localization to increase business reach
* Trent Parkhill, vice president of IT, Haley & Aldrich: Connecting staff to the information they need
* Michael Raneri, CEO, Zecco Holdings: Drastic cuts and just one shot to save the company made this CIO the CEO
* Ken Silva, CTO, VeriSign: An extreme data center reduction also leads to a new security approach
* Ajay Waghray, CIO, Verizon Wireless: Merging two companies -- and two IT teams
* Aris Zakinthinos, CTO, I Love Rewards: A new CTO revamps his infrastructure for growth in just months
A virtualization change-out with several twists
In the last 18 month as Netgain's CTO, Scott Baynes has faced several challenges stemming from the rapid growth of the company's private cloud computing clientele, which is composed largely of private medical groups. The firm's 300-server data center was quickly approaching N+1 capacity markers, threatening to require significant new investment in a physical plant. Baynes faced a classic technical and business case for server, network, and storage virtualization.
Within his small infrastructure team of four people, Baynes assembled a skunk-works team to vet industry-leading solutions and select a virtualization platform to support the team's goals of high availability, rapid deployment, centralized management, and financial scalability. Additionally, Baynes won admission into a relatively exclusive club of firms renting virtualization licensure, a novelty at the time, especially for companies of Netgain's size.
Baynes was able to reduce the physical space needed in its Minnesota data center facility -- even though the server count had nearly doubled. The unwelcome need for investment in physical plant was deferred indefinitely and perhaps even eliminated.
But there's more to the deployment than adopting server virtualization: Implementing server virtualization in a service provider environment was neither straightforward nor well-tested. Existing methodologies for physical-to-virtual migration centered primarily on either single-purpose servers or relied on extensive downtime. Additionally, although comparative performance metrics for virtualization products always trend aggressive, real-world results vary dramatically, as Netgain found in initial efforts.
So Baynes' team conducted significant load testing, conversion practice runs, and essentially developed a whole new test lab oriented around the long-term project requirements of large-scale conversion to a virtual environment. In practice, Netgain's use also required development of virtual hosts groups specific to phases of production, as Baynes' team discovered when moving systems into and out of test, preproduction, and live environments. This conversion activity also took place in a contractual environment in which SLA requirements for performance did not change, so processor, RAM, and other key server metrics had to remain stable (or show improvement) while Baynes worked to eke out economies of scale promised by the technology.
Using desktop virtualization to give more students PC access
IT Director, Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation
The Greater Educational Opportunities (GEO) Foundation has helped foster support for Indiana's current charter school law and now sponsors three charter schools in the state, as well in Colorado‚ totaling more than 1,300 students. As GEO grew larger, its computing infrastructure strained to keep up with demands. GEO was faced with supporting multiple schools and server farms, growing storage needs with expensive cooling requirements, and dealing with the issue of desktop backups becoming more difficult and expensive every year. In light of these costs and complexity, GEO decided to implement a new infrastructure and desktop replacement system.
Some of what Beck's team did was commonplace: getting the required storage and networking equipment and integrating it with current infrastructure, and virtualizing its current servers. But Beck's team also deployed desktop virtualization via Citrix's XenServer and XenDesktop software. The technology and the money saved through the more efficient infrastructure combined to let GEO provide a 1:1 computer-to-student ratio. Previously, it could afford only one computer for every four students.
Revitalizing a broken IT staff -- just in time for a make-or-break business launch
Vice President of Technology Development, Centro
When Amy Bourne took over as Centro's technology leader in March 2009, she inherited a software development team in disarray. Trust had eroded within the group, and the team's credibility within the organization had decayed. Bourne acted swiftly to address both organizational and personnel problems. In the course of 60 days, she restructured the team and filled major leadership roles -- even convincing software engineers who had previously quit in frustration to come back. She forced teams that had been unable to resolve differences to come to the table and address them.
Among other issues, the team had been struggling with productivity and consistency in their application of agile methodologies. Amy sent key team members to Scrum training and tasked them with internal Scrum training and rollout. She provided executive-level cover to enable the team to focus on the transition. She identified the need to bring in more experienced agile practitioners and recruited adept, talented individuals.
As a result of her efforts, the team's culture and productivity has been totally transformed -- and that change proved critical in late 2009, when Centro had a window of opportunity of just a few months to get into a new business. Bourne's team was charged with taking on an aggressive role in this plan.
Bourne told her team it needed to design and develop a commercial version of Transis, Centro's media-buying automation platform, to the advertising industry on March 1, 2010. Not only was this an ambitious timeline, but the team had also decided to redesign the internally oriented system for the commercial release. Under early leadership, the team took more than a year to deploy this system, but Bourne asked them to make it happen in three months. The launch of Transis was the defining moment for Centro, and Bourne's leadership enabled success in this endeavor.
Predictive technology avoids the recession's impact
CIO, Dealer Services
In the last 18 months, Dealer Services Corp. (DSC), an inventory finance provider for used automobiles and other products sold by independent and franchise dealers, deployed a predictive analytic technology to help in forecasting revenue and make real-time adjustments to the business, as part of an ERP consolidation effort led by CIO Chris Brady. She realized that the ERP consolidation provided the opportunity to do more with ERP than DCS had one previously, not just reduce costs and complexity.
One of the biggest benefits of implementing the new system was the competitive edge it gave DSC in the face of an economic downturn: Predictive analytics enabled the company to anticipate the automotive downturn well in advance, giving managers time to adjust financial reserves, tighten lending standards, and scrutinize each dealer's inventory -- minimizing risk both to itself and its customers. DSC is more profitable today because managers knew how much revenue they expected to generate.
Also, the ERP consolidation effort replaced the previous manually generated reports with documents that are automatically distributed to executives and branch office users and improve visibility into upcoming market trends, while eliminating hundreds of hours of weekly labor. The new standardized financial and operational reporting system replaced its traditional spreadsheet reporting with metrics dashboards that displayed key performance graphs, using WebFocus technology from Information Builders.
Making a BI consolidation happen in a live environment
In the last 18 months, CTO Aris Buinevicius spearheaded an effort to centralize transactional data from multiple disparate sources into an actionable business intelligence data warehouse at ChannelAdvisor, which helps retailers sell online through multiple channels such as online marketplaces, paid search, comparison shopping, and retailer Websites.
Buinevicius pushed ChannelAdvisor's BI team through an aggressive cycle to build the data warehouse in-house, given that resources for external systems and developers were few and far between during the recession. He also required the team to migrate multiple channels and retailers (while retailers were continuing to sell online), pull in various data sources, and unify all those sources and processes. Coordinating this was an incredible challenge, considering the nuances of each data source; for example, every data source had its own style of representing a transaction.
The result is that where before it was difficult for ChannelAdvisor's online retailer customers to look at the full scope of their online campaigns, now they can slice and dice the data and run different modeling to see where products are weak or strong. For example, a retailer can now quickly view channel trends on a seasonal basis. Thus, if iPods are selling out on eBay around the holidays but not moving at all on PriceGrabber, the retailer can transfer more funds and resources over to eBay around the holidays to sell more iPods. ChannelAdvisor as a company can also aggregate the data across multiple customers and verticals to view industry trends and better educate the e-commerce industry.
Using smart meters to lower energy costs for credit-challenged users
CIO, Ambit Energy
When digital smart meters were installed in residential homes in Texas, CIO John Burke and Ambit Energy's leadership team saw an opportunity to revolutionize an industry that has seen little change in the last century. Traditional postpaid billing for electricity often requires a large deposit for customers who have poor credit scores or no credit history. For a prepaid option, consumers are charged high rates to offset the high risk of exceeding their prepayment. The new smart meters send retail electric providers meter reads in 15-minute intervals once a day rather than the traditional 30-day intervals.
Therein, Burke saw an opportunity in January 2010 to build and deploy a prepaid electricity billing and messaging system that offers consumers a lower cost than traditional prepaid electricity plans. Three months later, the new prepaid system became the first of its kind to market in Texas.
While building a new system is daunting for many companies, Burke previously constructed Ambit Energy's billing systems from the ground up, making them smart-meter-ready before smart meters were distributed. In addition to supporting the prepaid business, the system was developed to process gigabits of usage data while simultaneously linking all customer information. This enables customers to manage their electricity over the Internet quickly and easily. The client-facing Web platform offers call center support screens and a SMS system with real-time notification of usage balances; it also integrates with real-time processing for cash payment centers to better assist with prepaid client needs.
Bringing SSDs into the core of the data center
Assistant Vice President for IT, COCC
Chad Burney spearheaded a project to implement SSD (solid-state disk) technology in the production data center at COCC, a financial processing firm. This project had the potential to greatly improve COCC's performance, but it could also damage the company's reputation if SSD's earlier performance issues were not addressed. Cost was also a factor: SSD continues to be regarded as too expensive to implement in the data center.
Burney proved the reliability of the SSD installation in the face of industry skepticism and developed a cost/performance model that predicted a positive return on investment in just three months. The key to Burney's innovation was his ability to see how SSD technology could eliminate the need for new computer hardware and the accompanying enterprise database software fees.
Before the SSD installation, COCC had limited its storage to 25 databases per production server in order to maintain service-level agreements. Due to record customer growth, COCC's SLA model would have required an additional server and more storage to be purchased at a cost of $106,800, plus $150,000 in enterprise database licensing fees. Burney recognized that the enormous increase in processing speed from installing SSD technology would eliminate the need to purchase the extra server and storage. The savings of $256,800 more than offset the $212,000 that he proposed spending for SSD.
In August 2009, Burney's team migrated 80 percent of its production databases from Tier 1 Fibre Channel storage arrays to the new RamSan 620 SSD technology produced by Texas Memory Systems. The SSD technology not only generated the savings as predicted, it also reduced power consumption and footprint requirements by 80 percent, processed nightly production 85 percent faster, and accelerated transaction processing speed by 90 percent. The improvements enabled COCC to eliminate plans for additional hardware and software license purchases for the next two years.
Driving a hotel group to financial and energy efficiency
CIO, InterContinental Hotels Group
Since becoming CIO of IHG in 2006, which manages more than 4,800 hotels in 100 countries, Tom Conophy has replaced many of the costly, legacy systems using more leading-edge approaches. For example, Conophy made a considerable investment to upgrade IHG's Call Center technology to make use of cloud computing globally to support "any agent, any call" routing.
Today, Conophy is leading an effort called Green Engage, which assist hotels in learning about their energy consumption and implementing best practices to reduce energy usage and IHG's carbon footprint. Green Engage had a successful pilot implementation and is now being rolled out across the organization.
To manage the many initiatives and ensure they deliver on efficiency and innovation goals, Conophy set up a cross-functional team charged with ensuring IHG has a defined plan for building enterprise-level modular, reusable software services that support numerous consumers, functions, and best practices. This team makes the hard technology decisions that set up IHG for long-term technical, business, and financial success.
Immersive 3-D improves training and operations
Phiroz P. Darukhanavala
Phiroz "Daru" Darukhanavala heads a team at energy firm BP whose mission is to introduce external technology innovation to solve business problems that defy traditional IT solutions. Daru engages in at least one "game changing" technology introduction each year in which value is expected to exceed $50 million. In the past year, the game-changer focus has been 3-D virtual environments, used for training, collaboration, events, marketing, and operations.
An example of the technology's use is 3-D immersive training developed and deployed to 1,200 Arco AM/PM minimarket sites; research showed that trainees learned safety practices, food-handling standards, and baking steps with significantly less training time, greater retention of material, and improved consistency in baking products versus a control group. Likewise, another effort used 3-D technology to create a more efficient and effective way to plan and conduct corrosion inspections in Alaska operations.
When deciding to pursue the 3-D initiative, Darukhanavala recognized the significance of three converging developments. First, he saw that technology advances had made high-end computer graphics available on ordinary desktops and that the bandwidth necessary for the rich media was plentiful. Second, he realized that existing 3-D data from CAD, laser scanning, and photogrammetry tools could be used. Third, he saw that new suppliers and products had sprung up, creating many new 3-D business applications and an extensive ecosystem of suppliers and knowledge experts in 3-D immersive technologies.
Standardizing while making a major merger work
Head of Technology Infrastructure Services, Wells Fargo & Co.
The 2009 merger between Wells Fargo and Wachovia -- one of the largest in financial services history -- presented significant challenges in integrating the legacy infrastructures. Scott Dillon took on that effort, and the resulting infrastructure encompasses more than 60 petabytes of storage, includes more than 1 million square feet of data center space, and exceeds 200 MIPS in production. At the same time, it minimizes risk to production environments, maintains high availability and security for customers, and provides quicker time to market and increased efficiencies in the data centers.
To drive efficiencies, Dillon applied the approach of stabilize, standardize, and optimize. His team has successfully used standardized service offerings and all three kinds of virtualization (in server, storage and network), with more than 10,000 virtual devices currently in place. Doing so saved as much as $250 million by negating the need to create a new data center alone, while increasing computing power and reducing energy consumption. Under Dillon's leadership, Wells Fargo is headed to a common infrastructure with common technologies in place.
One of the early challenges Dillon faced in the integration was simply trying to ensure that infrastructure was recognized as a key contributor to a successful merger. Many times in mergers, companies neglect conducting thorough evaluations of the newly combined companies' individual backbones. Some companies might opt for a patchwork approach, which can drive up cost and degrade overall performance. Instead, Dillon kept infrastructure an integral part of the merger, ensuring it stays 6 to 12 months ahead of expected growth, while constantly re-evaluating what is needed for upcoming integration activities.
He guided his team to evaluate, transition, and leverage the best technologies from both companies, which has resulted in a well-integrated infrastructure, ready to support future growth. At the management level, Dillon has assembled a leadership team that is an exact 50/50 split between the legacy companies, to create a unified technology group in the aftermath of the merger.
Switching to open source for lower costs, increased flexibility
CIO, Enova Financial
Over the past 18 months Enova Financial CIO Mark Friedgan has moved much of the company's technology from proprietary systems to open source ones. For example, he replaced a call center platform without significantly changing the user experience, so the company didn't have to retrain the call center staff. The switch in workstations from Windows to Linux also let Friedgan reuse his existing PC hardware, deploying a single boot image despite the use of several types of PCs. Furthermore, the switch to Linux lets Friedgan's team update and change workstations in real time over the network, only rarely requiring a reboot.
Enova now also uses an open source software PBX, which eliminates per-seat licensing fees. Plus, Enova can now use features such as least-cost routing, voicemail, and statistical tracking that would cost extra on a traditional PBX. And because of the PBX's open source nature, Enova has been able to write its own applications to interface with it and provide new functionality such as call recording and automated dialing.
The key to this project was choosing technologies that both satisfied the business needs of the users and prevented vendor dependence while keeping maintenance and deployment easy.
Parallelizing NFS file sharing
Garth Gibson has been instrumental to the instigation, incubation, and adoption of Parallel NFS (pNFS) into version 4.1 of NFS, an IETF industry standard for file sharing. NFS v4.1 was offered to the IETF by the Network File System Working Group in late 2008, then approved and published as RFC 5661-5664 in January 2010.
NFS 4.1 introduces into the NFS standard mechanisms for parallel access, enabling a cluster of servers (exporting either file, object or block services) to satisfy client data requests in parallel without store-and-forward copying through an NFS metadata server. Known as Parallel NFS, or pNFS, parallel access enables an NFS service to scale single-system performance to meet the needs of large collections of high-performance clients.
Gibson has been a driving force behind the idea and adoption of pNFS, born in 2003, out of a conversation between Garth Gibson, Gary Grider of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Lee Ward of Sandia National Laboratory. As a grad student at the University of California at Berkeley in 1988, Gibson did the groundwork research and cowrote the seminal paper on RAID.
With pNFS now incorporated into the NFS standard, Gibson is focused on gaining widespread adoption, which depends on the availability of client code in popular client operating systems, and Gibson and his Panasas team continue to lead in the development of a reference Linux implementation and its adoption into the Linux core. pNFS is expected to be deployed in Linux distributions and offered by multiple vendors by 2011. Getting pNFS in the NFS standard has required a lengthy process involving a community of storage technology leaders, including Panasas, IBM, EMC, Network Appliance, Sun Microsystems, and University of Michigan's Center for Information Technology Integration (CITI).
Restoring a company's faith in technology -- and in IT
CTO, Heartland Payment Systems
CTO Kris Herrin began transforming IT at Heartland Payment Systems from a startup-style company to a mature ITIL-oriented service organization during his tenure as CSO when he drove the response to the criminal intrusion of Heartland's card processing environment.
When Herrin took over as CTO in August 2009, he laid out three core principles for the IT service delivery and operations teams: security, reliability, and excellent service delivery. As fate would have it, within two weeks of Herrin's taking on the CTO role, Heartland experienced a core network switch hardware failure that cascaded into the main data center and brought the major revenue-generating systems offline.
Herrin set out a bold goal for his teams to rally behind: He announced that in November, he would personally pull the plug on a core switch to simulate the catastrophic failure. The project aimed to ensure the security and reliability of company's revenue-generating processing platforms and validate the ability of IT to deliver excellent information technology services. On November 17, two months after announcing the mission, Herrin did as promised and pulled the plug on the key switch.
This time, there was no disaster because the IT team executed on the efforts that Herrin set up just three months prior: analysis, design, and implementation of a new active/passive real-time processing environment, from the network layer through the many critical applications, that was designed to ensure card processing availability would meet the stringent needs of the business. The dramatic procedure helped restore morale of the IT service teams, who were demoralized by years of unmanaged growth, a major security breach in March 2009, and the switch failure in August 2009. It also illustrated to both the IT teams and the corporation the importance of the work the IT teams do every day to plan and execute initiatives that are essential to the ongoing operations of the company.
Just one year to put an IT infrastructure in place -- and cut costs in half
CIO, Inteva Products
The challenge for Dennis Hodges, CIO of Inteva Products, began when automotive supplier Inteva was spun out from Delphi as an independent company in 2008 and Hodges had to figure out how to structure its information systems and data management to support 17 facilities in six countries across three continents. Hodges was faced with leading a complete overhaul of the company's IT environment and its many different systems.
To complicate matters, the transition negotiated when Inteva was spun off from Delphi gave the new company just 12 months to migrate its entire infrastructure and application environment away from the former parent. And the company needed to reduce IT costs dramatically: from 2 percent of revenue to less than 1 percent.
One part of that effort involved implementing a single ERP system (Plex) across the company that provides a unified view of enterprise resources and financials. Hodges' team also launched a new quality management system that drives continuous improvement by emphasizing defect prevention and the reduction of variation and waste throughout the supply chain. The company has improved inventory management, streamlined purchase orders, improved product control and logistics functionality, and automated tool tracking.
The project will have paid for itself within five years, and Hodges cut IT expenses more than what management requested.
Improving automation testing
Co-founder, Sauce Labs
Jason Huggins is the original creator of Selenium, an open source tool with 2.6 million users that provides platform-independent automation testing. In the last 18 months, Huggins has been providing a great deal of support for the release of Selenium 2.0. The new primary feature is the integration of the WebDriver API into Selenium RC. This will address a number of Selenium 1.0 limitations, along with providing an alternative programming interface.
A main challenge Huggins is constantly facing is that Selenium can be slow, and functional tests are always slower than unit tests. Until the browsers can launch faster, there are always going to be speed issues. Parallel testing can solve some of these issues, so Huggins is actively investigating this area to improve Selenium further.
Huggins' realization of the chasm of adoption between beginner and advanced users (and thus between the Selenium IDE and Selenium RC versions) led him to develop a cloud service called Sauce OnDemand to bridge that gap for cross-browser testing.
Listening to customers for real -- and reaping the rewards
All C-level officers like to say they listen to their customers. But Irfan Khan, CTO of Sybase -- just acquired by enterprise software giant SAP -- makes an occupation of it.
A 15-year veteran of the company, Khan oversees all technology development for Sybase, including the mobile technology the company has become known for. But his most impressive recent achievements have centered on his work with a select group of 15 customers who regularly convene as the Sybase Financial Advisory Client Team, also known as the FACT Committee.
It's an elite group. While conventional wisdom says that Oracle owns the enterprise database market, a sizable chunk of Wall Street has stuck with Sybase, thanks mainly to continued technology development that specifically targets the high-end needs of financial services. And in the wake of the financial meltdown, Khan has been a busy man, because the demands of that market have grown exponentially.
"There is a humongous amount of change taking place, be it in the risk management space or even in the core infrastructure side," says Khan. Two areas where Khan has been intimately involved have been complex event processing and the evolution of extreme transactional platforms, where a sliver of time is money and the drive toward zero latency never ceases.
The FACT Committee is "our principal vehicle for driving feedback into our core engineering and R&D efforts," says Khan. "Some of the longer-term bets that we place are given a razor-sharp vision through the experience of these financial services customers." And you can be reasonably certain that close relations with top-end customers was a key part of Sybase's appeal to SAP.
Fixing security flaws in vendor applications and browsers
Amit Klein and his research team at secure browsing service provider Trusteer have made several groundbreaking security discoveries in the past 18 months, including the identification and deconstruction of in-session phishing attacks. This attack method bypasses strong authentication systems to steal users' login credentials after they have signed on to an online banking application or other secure Website.
Klein has worked with affected software vendors so that they could develop fixes for vulnerabilities before making the information public. In one instance, following the release by Klein's research team of a report on Adobe security flaws, Adobe changed its patching policy and mechanism to address security vulnerabilities in a timely fashion rather than waiting to include them in routine product update patches.
This development, which was the direct result of Klein's research, has tremendously benefited the industry. He and his team also work with the financial services industry to track and help shut down criminal Websites used to commit online fraud and perpetuate identity theft.
As part of that effort, Klein has developed a browser security plug-in plus service that is used by more than 50 banks, financial institutions, and other organizations to protect their customers and employees when they conduct business online. It also provides Klein and his research team with invaluable data about zero-day attacks, new malware variants and how they behave, and surgical strikes against specific financial institutions.
Solving the single sign-on challenge
Marc B. Manza
As Passlogix CTO, Manza has been the chief architect and implementer of the major design approaches to solve the single sign-on problem from Windows desktops to Windows, Web, Java, and mainframe applications. Manza was able to integrate C++, .Net, and Java across multiple generations of Windows to develop single sign-on technology, as well as provide an architecture for feature extension, ensure security of stored passwords, and use an infrastructure that minimizes deployment costs.
Manza has led the technical organization at Passlogix from having one application to today having seven applications, three of which came to market in the last 18 months.
Making the Internet more secure for everyone
In 2008, the "Kaminsky bug" was highly publicized as a critical flaw (the largest security vulnerability) to the Internet's Domain Name System. Also know as cache poisoning, it allows malicious third parties to get control of the DNS communication channel between users and the Websites they are trying to reach, allowing them to redirect Web traffic to wherever they choose. Only one technology can solve the Kaminsky bug: Domain Name Security Extensions (DNSSec), which attaches cryptographic signatures to each DNS query and response. Although DNSSec is an Internet standard developed more than 15 years ago, its implementation was stalled until Public Interest Registry, a large domain registry, requested to sign the top-level .org domain it manages via DNSSec.
Ram Mohan, CTO of Afilias (PIR's technical services provider), set the strategy and architected the deployment of DNSSec at PIR allowing for all 7.5 million .org domain names to be accessed without being hijacked on the Internet. Mohan has also established a technology strategy to support the rollout of DNSSec for the other top-level domains in 10 countries, and for the global top-level domain registries that Afilias supports, which together account for more than 15 million domains. This has set a standard for DNSSec deployment worldwide. As a result, the root zone will be signed this year, and the .com and .net registries will be signed in 2011.
During the .org deployment, Mohan faced several technical hurdles. One of these has been the use of NextSecure (NSec) parameters. NSec proves nonexistence of a valid signature by responding with listings of the surrounding records. This technique allowed a privacy leak, which could have sunk the implementation of DNSSec. A revision, NSec3, avoids this by using hashes to affirm that a record does not exist, but this requires computational overhead.
Still, more than a year of internal and external testing revealed that NSec3 is a better option for top-level domain registries, where the entire zone of domains is not already publicly accessible and thus queried less frequently than the root zone. Under Mohan's leadership, Afilias rewrote technical protocols to enable the switch from the less secure NSec to the very secure NSec3 system. When Afilias signed .org, it became the first large zone to ever be signed using this technology.
Automating language localization to increase business reach
CTO, Navman Wireless
Until 2009, Navman Wireless's OnlineAVL2 fleet tracking system was sold on three continents but only in English-speaking countries. None of the major competitors had a truly global presence, and Navman Wireless executives wanted to beat them to overseas markets with localized versions. To do that, CTO Paresh Nagda led an initiative to build a translation framework that would chop the time required to produce each localized edition from the typical four months to just two or three weeks.
By early 2010, thanks to the company's new rapid localization capabilities, 10 percent of the installed base for the company's technology was in non-English-speaking markets such as Chile, Denmark, Italy, Mexico, Taiwan, and Thailand. Key to the faster localization is that the translation framework eliminates the need to submit translation work to a development team for the build, QA for quality control, and IT staff for deployment. Instead, all these steps are automated with no need for development or IT staff involvement.
Now, translators use a Web-based tool that allows them to see all elements that need to be translated on one side and enter translated text on the other; the automation system takes it from there, creating a new build of the OnlineAVL2 software and automatically deploying it on a target test environment. The primary technical challenge was to automate the build and deployment processes.
In less than two years at Navman Wireless, Nagda has initiated and managed a number of major IT projects that have been instrumental in driving new business. In addition to the new translation system, those projects have included building tools to enable remote provisioning and troubleshooting of the in-vehicle GPS tracking device that feeds data to the Navman Wireless application.
Also, Nagda's team improved the GPS data that helps drive the company's software application; it's now possible to switch the underlying geographic information service (GIS) system depending on customer location, thus taking advantage of the strengths of various systems in assorted geographies. In the process, Nagda's team made scaling more efficient and extended the market to large enterprise customers.
Connecting staff to the information they need
Vice president of IT, Haley & Aldrich
In consulting organizations such as the engineering consultancy Haley & Aldrich, time is money. If consultants can't find what they are looking for or can't locate expertise within the firm, business comes to an (expensive) halt. The consultants then must re-create work they know has been previously created. IT vice president Trent Parkhill knew that problem all too well: He had been an engineering consultant at H&A before heading IT, so was intimately aware of their barriers to accessing knowledge and information.
H&A had 15TB of information, growing at a rate of 70 percent each year, with half of it scattered across 21 offices. Information across the firm was contained in multiple formats; email archives contained valuable information but were inaccessible. To give the consulting staff timely access to all this information, Parkhill worked with Coveo to combine the structured and unstructured data from its enterprise systems, into a central, unified index -- without moving any data. That replaced the previous search system whose lists of results overwhelmed users.
The new system's use of an indexing layer that sits above all enterprise systems also let Parkhill provide information services configured to search department's specific needs. For example, H&A now has dashboards focused on various business departments and processes that contain just-in-time analytics and multisource information about a customer. Parkhill credits the new approach to information access for helping H&A increase profits by 11 percent, largely due to the savings in consultants' time.
Drastic cuts and just one shot to save the company made this CIO the CEO
CEO, Zecco Holdings
Under the leadership of then CIO (and now CEO) Michael Raneri, online financial services company Zecco recently launched a complete rearchitecture of its Website and trading platform meant to provide greater scalability, stability, and extensibility for Zecco's rapidly expanding customer base. A lengthy site outage in 2008 had demonstrated the business simply could not continue as is.
Then the recession hit, starving Zecco of income just at the time it had to reinvent its core technology. Raneri laid off 70 percent of the engineering team to save money, while company management resisted further technology investments. Raneri convinced management to let him shift most core development functions to China, to lower costs dramatically, as well as adopted agile development methods to speed the time to market. Investors agreed with the plan and provided the necessary funding in January 2009.
From there, Raneri's team was able to spend 2009 building the new Website and laying the groundwork for the new trading platform. The new, stable Website launched in January 2010, and the trading platform should go live this summer. Raneri's team made all these changes while maintaining and updating all its previous site infrastructure -- in effect changing wheels while the bus was in motion. Raneri also led the launch of new research tools to improve the customer trading experience. Internally, Raneri led the rollout and integration of a new CRM system, which had to be integrated with a number of disparate information systems coming from both internal data sources and external partners.
As a result, Raneri was named CEO in January 2010.
An extreme data center reduction also leads to a new security approach
Ken Silva's primary goal over the past year has been to reduce the overall number of computers and applications it takes to run VeriSign's services through data center consolidation: from 17 to 4.
Before Silva's initiative, hundreds of services on both the corporate and product fronts were running simultaneously, using a good deal of energy and requiring a significant level of employee attention. As Silva went through the consolidation process, he took inventory of necessary services and applications and found ways of consolidating the corporate and production services. Although the number of production services didn't change in the consolidation process, the number of internal services dramatically decreased. That's because Silva discovered his teams had multiple applications and systems in place to perform the same tasks, such as several code-tracking systems and patch management tools.
The key challenge Silva faced when reducing VeriSign's server infrastructure was to keep services up during the move. Not only do internal services need to remain running, but the products that VeriSign offers to customers and their 1 million Web servers must be available at all times. To do so, Silva's team built a redundant set of equipment that provided a great opportunity to enhance disaster recovery and business continuity processes. It also used virtualization to simply migrate the services virtually from one data center to another.
So far, Silva has reduced the data center count to 5, one above his goal, though he expects to ultimately achieve the goal of 4.
Silva also was forced to rethink the way VeriSign runs firewalls and other security mechanisms. Traditionally, a firewall simply manages IP addresses and ports, which are either allowed or not allowed through. As Silva started migrating services, he looked at newer application-aware technology that analyzes the packets as they come through to ensure they are what they claim to be. This makes it much more difficult for a worm, a virus, or a rootkit to communicate back home because they're trying to transmit information over a protocol that isn't what the firewall thinks should be running.
Merging two companies -- and two IT teams
CIO, Verizon Wireless
In January 2009, Verizon Wireless completed its purchase of Alltel. CIO Ajay Waghray and his team were tasked with finding the savings promised by Verizon executives to justify the purchase. Over the next nine months, the IT team successfully executed the largest and most complex billing conversion in the company's history, integrating a record 11 million subscribers from the former Alltel Wireless into Verizon Wireless' single billing system. To address both teams' unfamiliarity with the two companies' systems, Waghray directed the teams' leads to work closely with each other, to learn and determine the best plan of action, while he forged a unified IT team from what had been two different cultures.
In parallel, the team retrofitted and rebranded more than 300 retail stores and integrated 11 call centers, providing store and customer care reps across the country access to the same tools and enablers nationwide. Most important, the team was able to accomplish all of this while maintaining IT's high level of service for the rest of Verizon. By October 2009, Waghray and his team successfully reduced the cost of operations and positioned Verizon Wireless to move forward as a single, unified company.
A new CTO revamps his infrastructure for growth in just months
CTO, I Love Rewards
Ariz Zakinthinos joined I Love Rewards as CTO in June 2009 and was immediately faced with a critical issue: The rebate-processing firm's old order processing system could not handle the Christmas rush -- the busiest time at I Love Rewards because of the enormous redemption volume. Zakinthinos led the creation of a new back-end order processing system in two months, with the ability to integrate third-party shippers and suppliers. He also moved his developers from Java, which couldn't scale to I Love Rewards' needs, and to PHP.
It also resolved a vexing issue around performance monitoring, both of the rewards points (which are worth hard dollars to I Love Rewards) and of employee performance for customer service. The old system's monitoring and reporting were unreliable, and they took long times to run. Zakinthinos' team reworked the reporting system to be bug-free and automatic so that HR managers can track problem resolutions in near real time. As a result, customer referrals climbed, accounting for more than half of new business.
As part of the back-end ordering system project, Zakinthinos led the effort to integrate the order processing system with NetSuite, which I Love Rewards uses as its the back-end financial system to manage accounting and product inventory. NetSuite told Zakinthinos that the effort was the fastest integration of this complexity it had ever participated in.
This article, "The best CTOs of 2010," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the latest technology news and insights from the InfoWorld Daily newsletter, and discover the best products and technology leaders at InfoWorld's awards section.
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