Get to Know – Pete Lilley, VP and General Manager, Instaclustr by NetApp

Get to Know – Pete Lilley, VP and General Manager, Instaclustr by NetApp

Pete Lilley started his career as a food tester. Here’s what he’s learned since he got a taste for tech.

Pete Lilley, VP and General Manager, Instaclustr by NetApp

How did you first get interested in a career in software, and what moved you from a focus on cybersecurity to data management?

My interest in software and software engineering came before my career in cybersecurity. I had the opportunity to work on a project that was delivering a government-grade cryptographic device; it was leading edge at the time, and integrated voice, fax and data into a single device. Back then – because of the high assurance requirements for government – we developed the application code in assembler.

This project ignited my passion for software engineering but also gave me the introduction to cybersecurity that would deliver the most amazing 20 years in my professional career.

I often get asked why I pivoted away from a successful cybersecurity career and my answer is always the same: you never really leave cybersecurity. What I do today in data management has a huge component of cybersecurity because of the trust and assurance needed to run critical applications workloads for customers. In fact, I would argue that these last 10 years at the front line of data management and operations have only deepened my experience in the cybersecurity industry and given me an even greater appreciation of the challenges that application owners face in delivering reliability at scale.

What has been your most memorable career achievement?

After more than 30 years in technology, there are many memorable achievements but one that certainly stands out is winning the Australian Business of the Year (with Stratsec) at the Telstra Business Awards in 2010. It was the culmination of years of hard work building an amazing team of cybersecurity experts in the Asia Pacific region. What we could not know at the time was that it would set the foundation for the acquisition of our business by BAE Systems. Without that, I would not have gone on to found Instaclustr with my friends and colleagues Doug Stuart, Ben Bromhead and Adam Zegelin – the rest is history.

How would you characterize your management philosophy at Instaclustr – now part of NetApp following a 2022 acquisition?

My management philosophy is one of trust. Trust in the team, earn trust with your customers and understand that trust is hard won and easily lost.

When you are building a business or a solution from the ground up, you need the expertise of dedicated people who will take the journey with you through all the ups and downs. You need to set the vision and goals and give those dedicated people your trust that they can do the job you’re asking them to do.

Build autonomy and accountability and ensure a sense of ownership in the outcome. In the same vein, you need to earn and retain the trust of your customers. How you build and deliver your solutions, the focus on customer relationships, your approach to cybersecurity and how you respond to their needs are all critical factors in gaining (and retaining) their trust.

You’re heavily involved in the open source software world and have been for some time – is there anything CIOs still misconstrue about open source technologies?

Yes. How do you get technology leaders to pay for something that’s free? The ‘open core’ trap. Even among CIOs and other leaders, there is still confusion – and then later on, surprise – around true open source technologies vis-à-vis open core alternatives. Built atop capable and flexible 100% open source projects, open core instead locks businesses in and makes it very difficult (and expensive) to move around freely.

CIOs are still Realizing that in fact, no, the ‘open source-based’ code now essential and ingrained within their business offerings isn’t portable at all. Many open core-based businesses even make certain that enterprise users do not own their own code. I could go on, but there’s certainly a big misconception between true open source and open core that warrants extra due diligence from CIOs.

What is a technology trend you’re paying close attention to right now, and why?

Platform engineering. CIOs will need to continue to move quickly on this trend. Introducing internal developer platforms (IDPs) that streamline

development and operational efficiency – while equipping teams to deliver highly scalable, reliable, secure and compliant applications – is increasingly critical. Open source is shaping up to a big part of this trend. The core goals of an IDP implementation include empowering developers with the self-service tooling they require to shift application delivery into high gear and significantly boost time-to-value. Open source technologies directly facilitate the pursuit of those goals (while keeping costs much lower).

What are a couple of other trends, perhaps under the radar, that you think CIOs need to keep their eye on?

One is certainly ‘operationalizing’ AI. Effective AIOps offers several big advantages for CIOs who can get ahead of the curve right now. Imagine readily available, ever-evolving datasets empowering AI to automate database management and proactively address issues.

Another is cloud portability. I think prioritizing cloud portability will be a game-changer for many CIOs. Getting this right means being able to much more easily choose the most effective cloud infrastructure – including powerful and cost-efficient open source options – for each specific task, rather than being beholden to any single cloud giant.

If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

I came late into cybersecurity after initially graduating as a biochemist with a BSc degree. I hadn’t really discovered that technology was where my passion would be, and I stumbled into a role as a food tester/researcher. It simply wasn’t for me, and, if I had my time over, I’d have changed that decision and would have sought to enter a software engineering career sooner!

Click below to share this article

Browse our latest issue

Intelligent CIO North America

View Magazine Archive