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IT Life: Keeping Janet Turned On

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe’s Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Janet is one of the most important networks in the UK – we meet one of the key men helping keep her switched on, Peter Kent

Janet is not just a mundane feminine name, it’s also the name of one of the most important networks in the UK, possibly the world. It acts as the backbone for collaboration between the UK’s top universities, helping them share data on research projects securely, from medical tests, to scientific breakthroughs.

Whilst the researchers are often the ones who rightly steal the limelight, those running the network deserve plenty of praise too for their ingenuity. We caught up with one of the key men behind the smooth running of Janet, Peter Kent.

So, what do you do at Janet?
I’m the head of corporate infrastructure services for Janet, the UK’s research and education network provider. My team provides the internal ICT and facilities management services to the company, enabling staff to serve an 18 million end user community. I’ve been working at Janet for six years now, and I’ve become very adaptable to the broad range of services we deliver – delivering ICT services in a company where a lot of staff are highly technical can be quite a challenge, but there’s never a dull day!Peter Kent, Janet

Prior to Janet, I worked in various ICT roles since leaving university with a degree in financial services. I started off in applications development in a rail company, moving to systems support in an outsourcing company, and then into ICT management in the public sector.

What is the best project you’ve worked on? 
One of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on was shortly after I joined Janet. A new head office was being built with the move scheduled for just four months after I started. I became heavily involved in the project early on, managing the move of all internal ICT services, as well as the procurement and implementation of a new local area network and telephone system.

It caused quite a few sleepless nights, and isn’t something I’d rush to do again, but was a great way to quickly get to know my new team and learn about our infrastructure. The move was completed on time, and with no impact on business operations – a resounding success and personal achievement. It was a real eye-opener and great learning experience.

What technologies were you using ten years ago? 
I was working in a systems management role, doing a lot of work around SAP, document management, and intranets. Personally, I was an early adopter of new technologies…  I would have had one of the first colour screen mobile phones, the Sony Ericsson T68i, and a Palm Pilot that required me to learn the Palm version of the alphabet for handwriting recognition. I also remember taking the day off work to get an Xbox on the UK launch day, even though I’ve never really been a serious gamer.

What technologies do you expect to be using in ten years time? 
At Janet, we’re working on the next generation of our network that will deliver superfast speeds across the Janet core network beginning at 2 Terabit/s, and this will only improve over the decade.

I also expect fast mobile Internet access will be ubiquitous in the UK. I’m an email, Twitter, and information addict, and I think it’s a sign of the times that I get frustrated when I’m out and about and have no mobile data signal. I would love to see mobile telephony and data go the same way as other utilities, such as electricity and gas, whereby there’s one shared infrastructure and the consumer chooses the supplier and tariff most suited to their needs. I also think that we’ll see further convergence of technologies onto mobile devices, somewhere where we’ve seen great advances in the last decade.

I’d like to see more home automation technologies too, so that we can all make the most of the time when we’re not at work. The Tomorrows World predictions of personal home robots that I used to watch as a child sadly haven’t come true yet. Fingers crossed for 2022.

What’s your budget outlook going forward? 
In the public sector, budgets are always under pressure. However, one of the benefits of working in a technology company is that there’s a willingness to invest in technology. We also benefit from public sector discounts which can make a huge difference to our spend in some areas.

JanetWhat do you think is the greatest challenge for an IT department or company today? 
The greatest challenge for an IT department today is the consumerisation of technology. People expect to bring personal devices to work, connect them to corporate networks, and access corporate systems and data. It’s a real security and support challenge, and is blurring boundaries in many areas.

ICT teams are being called upon to provide a level of support for personal devices that they often have no experience of, or control over.  It’s an area where the ideal technologies to provide the service are still lacking.

To cloud or not to cloud? 
Definitely to cloud! Janet has set up a ‘brokerage’ service to allow customers in the research and education sectors to move services to the cloud in a simple and cost effective manner. My team is taking advantage of this service, and we’re in the process of moving various services to the cloud.

My expectation is that by allowing someone else to take care of activities such as maintaining hardware and patching, my team will have more time to focus on customer service activities and other projects which add real strategic value. I suspect over the next decade the industry will see the traditional ICT department to move away from deeply technical work, except for niche areas, as the core systems all move to the cloud.

Do you have a tech hero and a tech villain? 
My tech hero is Bill Gates. I know there’s a lot of anti-Microsoft feeling in the IT industry, and even as a big Microsoft advocate I have to admit they’ve delivered very few radical products in recent times. But, without Bill Gates’ drive and vision, the industry wouldn’t be where it is today, and a lot of people reading this wouldn’t have jobs. And for Bill Gates to turn his drive and vision away from Microsoft and towards charity, giving away billions of dollars in the process, is inspiring.

My tech villain would be the group of people who chose to stop Concorde flying. Concorde showed the world what Britain (and France) could do with engineering and technology, and whilst I’m sure there were strong commercial reasons for doing it, it’s such a backwards step for technology not to have a single one flying any more.

What’s your favourite technology ever made and what do you use the most? 
Right now, it has to be Twitter. Oxford has quite an active Twitter scene, and I’ve made more friends through Twitter than any other medium. I’ve organised Tweetups (Twitter meet-ups) around Oxford and even in Lanzarote, and it’s a great way to meet new people from all walks of life. Some technologies make life simpler or processes more efficient, but the technologies that impact on us at a personal human level are the ones that make a real difference.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire the most and why? 
I admire Apple – although I can’t say I’m a great fan of their products and walled garden approach to technology. However, their marketing machine is amazing. They manage to convince a huge number of people to part with their money at a time when the world is in one of its deepest economic crises, to a point where people scream and whoop when new products are launched and news outlets give them front-page coverage for free. Any company would love to be able to replicate their marketing success.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
My father worked in flight engineering on Concorde, Tornado, and Nimrod, and I definitely got the engineering and technology bug early on. I’ve always been drawn to technical jobs, and the first job I recall wanting to do was to drive JCBs, or to be a pilot. I’ve recently had a flying lesson, which was great fun, but I’ve yet to try my hand at driving a JCB.

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