How plans to stay high in the clouds co-founder Parker Harris discusses key product growth areas for the company, the challenges of innovating, and the future of development

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I think it's a tough business to compete in, to try to own. Microsoft succeeded for years because they owned the operating system. Apple is very successful in a way. Look at the breadth of their mobile platform and the walled garden. But even there people are building a lot of cross-platform. We're building stuff -- I never thought I'd say this -- in C++ as cross-platform code, especially in our analytics library so that it will run across Android, iOS. Even though there's a proprietary nature to these platforms, I'm very bullish about open source for the future.

Back to solutions, what are you solving? For us, we're solving CRM and a platform to support that, even Heroku, which some people are using as a generic platform. Coca-Cola is using it to build consumer-facing apps for their distributors, their retailers, their drivers, all different apps on this platform but connected to our integrated Service Cloud. When the distributor is doing something it's great to have that app connected to who the customers are. Now the customer has their app. Well, those are the same back-end so that information about the customer can be augmented and you get that 360-degree view.

I talked about three or four months ago with Charles Phillips, CEO of Infor and he described you guys as essentially a Version 1 cloud company because you're running your own infrastructure and that's yesterday's news. What do you say to that? Is there a point at which you don't need to run your own infrastructure?

Harris: There might be.

Is there any disadvantage to being in that part of the business still?

Harris: I don't see our competitive advantage as we have to run infrastructure or not run infrastructure. To date, our customers have strongly wanted us to run the service for them. We do a lot of work around security and some of our top customers want to walk through our data centers, for example. On public cloud right now that's not really possible. You don't walk into an Amazon data center. You don't walk into an Azure data center.

We follow our customers. Again, the customer is saying: 'We want to trust you right now.' We started the company before Amazon and all those other companies, so I'll agree with Chuck Phillips a little bit in that we started before these things even existed. We didn't have a choice. So we built an infrastructure that is amazing. It scales, it works great. But we're exploring opportunities. We have services running on public cloud. Heroku is on public cloud, RelateIQ is on public cloud, is on public cloud.

We actually have a very hybrid view of the world. The leader running all our data centers and our strategy worldwide came out of Microsoft and Azure. For me, it's all about automation. Some services will be appropriate for public cloud and we'll have that flexibility and we'll see where the industry goes. We'll see where pricing goes frankly.

Which I think was his point, that there's going to be such a battle in platform that Infor will benefit from price reductions.

Harris: I think that could be true, but I hear that Dropbox or Box, one of those two, is feeling like costs are skyrocketing. I need to figure out how to get off of public cloud so I can save money. People will argue religiously if it is less expensive or more expensive. I'm agnostic to it. We'll see.

And we'll see where our customers want to be because we're not competing in that layer. I really don't care. I'll use whatever our customers want us to use and we'll solve the higher level problems.

What is the secret of running infrastructure at scale? What are the key things?

Harris: It's really hard. There are a few things. I do believe that the shift to software-driven data centers is really important. Charlie Bell from Amazon years ago, a good friend of mine, was saying: 'At Amazon we hired software engineers to essentially run the data centers because someone who is a traditional hardware person who understands how to plug a computer in, they're going to think differently.' He's absolutely right. The magic of running a data center at scale is automation.

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