IT Life: A Lifeline For City IT

Roger Keenan City Lifeline

Complexity and unpredictability are what worries Roger Keenan, managing director of London-based co-location company City Lifeline

Roger Keenan is the managing director of City Lifeline, the central London co-location data centre. Assuming that electronics count as IT these days – as everything has migrated into software – he reckons he has spent over 30 years of his career in IT, specialising in technology, marketing and management.

Making connections

What has been the favourite project in your work so far?
The most enjoyable moment in my career to date has to be managing the acquisition and takeover of Teletrac Inc in California, and becoming its first post-acquisition chief executive. Teletrac makes black boxes to go in vehicles and track their movements, initially using a proprietary paging-based system, but later using GPS when it became widely available. The company is now owned by a US private equity firm that bought Trafficmaster, its UK parent, and de-listed it.

Data centre, servers © Dario Lo Presti Shutterstock 2012What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Ten years ago I was involved in GPS, vehicle tracking, real-time mapping, radio cameras, low-power broadcasting and some crude, early attempts at Web on mobile phones using WAP – a technology that is now long gone.

What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
I expect to see super-high bandwidth communications that ensure that the whole world is always-on.

Who’s your tech hero? 
I would probably say my tech hero is Steve Jobs for his clarity of vision, persistence and attention to product design detail and for successfully commercialising it to make the most financially successful technology business the world has ever known.

Who’s your tech villain?
My villain, on the other hand, would be the IBM employee who gave Bill Gates a non-exclusive contract to develop Windows for the IBM PC on the basis that hardware mattered and software was of little importance for the future.

What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
Probably my iPhone – on both counts.

Budget outlook going forward? Flat? Growing?
Growing, without question. If we can do the things we want to do and get them right, then the budget will be growing at an incredible pace.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?
ARM, for having become the world’s largest – based on the number of chips that they designed and get paid licence fees on – chip-maker without anyone really noticing.

Cause and effect

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
Increasing complexity and uncontrollable and unpredictable interdependencies of things on-site and off-site. It is no longer possible to put boundaries around a situation, model it, control it and predict what will happen in various circumstances. The output of a process may well be dependent on a piece of software in another country, tightly coupled into what is happening on-site.

That remote software may have unknown bugs in it or update without notification in a way that changes its compatibility. Under such circumstances, saying “if a user does X, then Y will happen” is no longer possible. As those uncertainties layer and multiply, making management harder and harder.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?
It depends on the application. For general purpose office applications, in an area with good reliable high-speed connectivity, the public Cloud works well. For applications that have a lot of input and output or are time-critical, Cloud is less applicable. In London, we have good fast connections; if you run a business in a converted barn in the middle of nowhere connected by copper to a BT exchange in the nearest town, Cloud may not work at all.

And, of course, Cloud is not a technology, just a new marketing name for technology that’s been around for at least 20 years (or 50 years if you count time-sharing). If you buy a wireless keyboard, screen and mouse and sit in a different room to your PC, you’ve just made a private Cloud. Cloud is whatever you think it is, and its success depends on the match between the user’s real needs and the specific technology available to meet those needs – which is a statement anyone could have made about any technology in the last hundred years.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

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