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5 Minutes with Jim Thompson

By Patrick Pilcher, Mon 22 Jun 2015
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Its not every day that you get to pick a genius’s brains, but the other day I got to do just that in a brief conversation with Unisys’s Jim Thompson, their chief engineer and global vice president of engineering and supply chain. Jim has a vast amount of IT industry experience and has been with Unisys for almost 30 years. He also holds a stack of technology patents covering operating systems, storage and banking. In our all too brief conversation we discussed the cloud and its potential to transform New Zealand fledgling IT sector.

PP: What would the benefits be to NZ’s economy, tech sector etc in developing and marketing a cloud based offering to offshore customers?

JT: I think that bandwidth (and associated latency and redundancy) in and out of NZ to where the large consumer populations exist creates a constraint for adoption of cloud-based platforms for the mass market. There are however opportunities for niche systems with “moderate” uptake, or capabilities that leverage off of New Zealand’s innovative tech sector as well as early uptake of technologies and systems to be consumed from NZ almost in an incubator-style model. I think it would be in NZ’s best interest to build and maintain an infrastructure for itself onshore, in geographically diverse sites with an eye towards protecting NZ business interests whilst maintaining sovereignty and security without the dependency on an outside nation… once the infrastructure piece is addressed there might be opportunities.

PP: How would you envisage such an offering working?

JT: I could easily see a national utility offering to secure businesses of all sizes as well as consumers.

PP: What sort of things could be delivered using this approach?

JT: Off-premise computing and storage, “cloud” services for disaster recovery as well as day-to-day operations… imagine if the businesses in Christchurch had access to hot, ready computing and storage assets that they were already using to store backup copies of their programs and data… how would that have changed the post-earthquake landscape?

PP: What advantages does NZ have that would make a cloud-based infrastructure viable in the NZ context (and attractive to global customers)?

JT: NZ is a trusted nation – ie not known for large cybercriminal gangs or political unrest – a safe place for data to reside

NZ has a history of IT innovation and incubation

NZ is near Asia and Australia

PP: What about disadvantages?

JT: Bandwidth on and off the island


PP: OK so can any of these disadvantages be fixed?

JT: Bandwidth is an infrastructure improvement thing, and investment in NZ that must happen… sovereignty is a trust issue… look at the impact of the US Patriot Act on data storage and transit through the US. NZ is a trusted nation, but might need to supply assurances that would allow some degree of protection.

PP: So what specifically are some of the legal, technical and political issues that may hamper such an offering?

JT: Data sovereignty – ie just as the NZ govt has set guidelines for housing govt data onshore, other countries – including Australia and China - have similar restrictions…

PP: What would need to be done in terms of infrastructure, investment, law changes etc. for a cloud-based offering to be viable?

JT: It’s all about bandwidth.

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