When IT sneezes, the business goes into a fever for many days. That underlines the harsh importance of cybersecurity in today’s world.
From fighting bad guys, boosting productivity, and scale-out architectures to India’s strong suit as well as frazzled holes—the emerging world of cyber-security, AI and Metaverse is full of many ‘God Bless You’ moments. Sanjay Poonen, CEO and President of Cohesity takes a visceral and candid gaze at the new world that is shaping up right now, at this very moment. He has been at the helm of biggies like VMWare and SAP in his previous stints and has been in the tech industry for 30 years (in various roles in the B2B Enterprise space at companies like Microsoft, Apple, Informatica, etc.). That reaffirms the unclogged insight, the gingerly feet-on-the-street view, and the honey-dipped optimism he brings to some hot topics. Dataquest Editor Sunil Rajguru takes a fun X-ray with him—of this new world. Edited excerpts from a podcast…
Let’s start talking about Gen AI. A lot has happened in areas like writing tools, movies, and even art. When is it going to take off in the land of enterprise IT?
There is some incredible work being done – especially when you look at what AWS, Microsoft, and Google are doing. Many companies are using enterprise B2B features for customer support. For example, one airline is using an AI capability where a user can type in a question, and the tool finds all the documents from the website that relate to that question- using Gen AI. Better customer support is the first frontier. Then there is work being done in predictive maintenance in manufacturing. One strong area is the use of AI as a centerpiece of security because of its detection capabilities. There are many parallels between healthcare and cybersecurity—fighting diseases and picking red flags. Just the way AI can help find a sequence in the genome, it can help to fight the bad guys. A lot of work that we are doing is in areas like analyzing large amounts of data, especially backup and secondary data. We have patented an idea called Retrieval Augmented Generation. We will ship that shortly. It’s one of the most groundbreaking innovations and I am super-excited about it.
Would AI completely take over humans in handling data?
I think it would be a combination of humans and AI. If you are a writer, spell-check and grammar-check are tools that have not made you redundant but, instead, more productive. People in Data Science and analytics will become more powerful with AI. But if all you do is slicing and dicing then it’s not the best use of your time. One thing we need to ask ourselves—how do we evolve? A self-driving car helps someone do parallel parking more easily. The age-old debate about whether technology is going to harm society is a little bit like the age-old debate about fire. Will it kill us or warm us? And our job, as technologists, is to first make sure that AI is harnessed the right way. We call that an AI framework of responsible AI—making sure it’s used in a way where it’s safeguarded. And I think every industry and all the big players, whether it’s Microsoft or Google or Amazon, or anybody else who’s at the core of this AI revolution, needs to make sure that they are also doing that with us. We are working very closely with such companies as our team partners.
One strong area is the use of AI as a centerpiece of security because of its detection capabilities. There are many parallels between healthcare and cybersecurity—fighting diseases and picking red flags.
You mentioned cybersecurity. There are so many attacks in Europe and the US, but that news doesn’t come out so much. Why? How serious is all of that?
It’s a matter of time. As I said, cybersecurity is a lot like fighting a disease. If someone told me that he or she would never get a cold, I would reply—please give me some of your DNA (smiles). Because how is that possible? The more relevant question is when you get a cold, how quickly do you recover? What’s your speed of cyber-recovery—that’s where we shine. What we have to do is constantly ask ourselves—how do we make security better? That’s where AI comes to the fore. Now remember the bad guys are also using AI to generate better threats. AI can pore over large amounts of data to detect a possible pattern and alert you. Our biggest partners see trillions of signals. They send us feeds of those signals. It’s like a global collaboration on being ready and aware of where the latest strand of a virus pops. India is a great example that wants to be at the forefront of this safe world. I love the fact that the US, India, Israel, and many of the European countries are working together on the cybersecurity problem. We have to work closely—especially if you have large amounts of data.
Can you also talk about hyper-converged infrastructure? It was in the buzz some time back but what’s the status today?
We invented hyper-converged software for secondary storage. Our founder built ground-breaking technology in that area ten years back. Today, it may not go by the term hyper-converged, but scale-out architectures are the same thing that brings compute close to storage and, as a result, one can scale out faster. They say imitation is the best form of flattery. I like it when other people emulate us, but we were the first to do it. Now we are the first and the best. And we’ve had a tech advantage over everybody in our space. Our mission is to create a multi-cloud scale-out architecture in one platform.
If you think about any part of your life that is stressful today, smart technology could make it more efficient. It will let you save stress so that you can sleep better. AI is going to transform everything we do.
Any thoughts on India’s mission to be a tech and economic superpower in a few years? Where do you think India stands? What are our strengths and weaknesses? Can you also talk about your roadmap in the India context?
Interesting. When I’ve talked to the government- when the Modi government and the representatives have come to the US, I’ve told them the same thing. I’m super proud of my home country. I feel like I’m a citizen of both countries. This country has one of the best exports not just of products, but people. Tens of millions of engineers are successful here. And today, CEOs of some of the best companies are of Indian origin. Not just in tech industries, but also in non-tech industries. Indra Nooyi is one of my heroes and one of my favorite people and mentor. So, I think first, I would encourage this country to continue the rigorous education that produces the best engineers. I remember when I went to the United States to study, I was better equipped because of the school system. At the same time, investment in infrastructure is also important—we have got to help make it faster for people to commute.
It’s a serious issue.
One of the challenges, often, for anyone thinking of investment in Bangalore is the infrastructure—it just takes so long to get to a place. It should not take people more than 45 minutes to come to work. If it’s taking two hours to come to work, they should just work from home. It’s not worth it. I also hope the country can build a backbone in manufacturing. It’s a huge opportunity. I know the Modi government is very focused on that area. It’s a good signal that big companies like Apple are interested in investing in India, but that requires essentials like water. We also need to emphasize collaboration, global trade, AI, and cybersecurity. I’m excited about the future of engineering and innovation. For us India is a lot of our future. My biggest team outside the US is going to be in India. I have been very involved in helping set up major India operations both at SAP and VMware. I am proud to be an Indian American.
Let’s circle back to where we begin—when will we get to AGI and where is the AI space moving?
There are some very tangible projects that the world is watching very closely—like the phenomenon of driverless cars and autonomous driving. Will there be driverless ships and driverless trucks soon? A lot of work is happening in writing tools, images, manufacturing predictive analytics, and safety. If you think about any part of your life that is stressful today, smart technology could make it more efficient. It will let you save stress so that you can sleep better. AI is going to transform everything we do. I also think that Metaverse would be fascinating. People would be able to stay connected to their families for years to come. I wish I could have a conversation with my grandfather, for instance. So I think the world of AI is what we dream of. It is going to affect our personal lives and our professional lives in profound ways.
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