Up in the clouds
Dec 13, 2012
Beedie School of Business alumnus Howie Wu on remote network storage shaping business innovation.
It’s no secret that cloud computing is fast becoming an increasingly important part of our everyday lives. From local data storage which backs up smartphone photos to virtual assistants such as Apple’s voice-activated iPhone app Siri, cloud computing has integrated itself almost seamlessly into the public’s conscience.
Yet the benefits offered by cloud computing to businesses are just as numerous. According to Beedie School of Business alumnus Howie Wu, cloud computing will redefine the way businesses operate. Although still in its infancy as a technology, Wu says that we are already seeing the impact cloud computing is having in business.
“There is a huge change happening out there in the web – storage is shifting,” says Wu. “Cloud computing turns fixed costs into variable. Three years ago, businesses had to run their own IT infrastructure and a new business would have to estimate what they needed in terms of servers and IT costs. If they overestimated they were stuck with big bills they couldn’t afford. If they underestimated, they missed out on potential business because their infrastructure couldn’t handle demand. Cloud computing solves this problem for business.”
A graduate of the Beedie School of Business’ EMBA program, along with his co-founder Trevor Orsztynowicz, Wu launched his own cloud computing company, Layerboom, in 2009 while mid-way through the two-year program. Before he had even graduated from the EMBA, Layerboom had been bought by tech giant, Joyent. His experience allows him to predict that cloud computing will change the way businesses operate in the future.
“In the last 30 years, tech companies told businesses they had to run their own IT,” says Wu. “Cloud computing is reversing that trend. Instead of running IT, businesses will consume it. A lot of businesses currently supplying IT support will go under in the future – their customers will no longer need what they are currently supplying because cloud computing will allow them to remotely manage their IT themselves.”
Wu grew up in Silicon Valley, and gained his undergraduate degree in Political Science and Asian Studies at Furman University. So how did he make the jump to a career in technology? “Tech has always been my passion. In Silicon Valley, everyone talks tech – you are completely immersed in it,” he explains. “Back when I was at school, if you wanted to play a video game, you had to write it yourself. I’m a firm believer in doing something in life that you are passionate about, and that brought me to the tech industry.”
Envisioning the opportunities that cloud computing would bring, Wu began looking for an employer with which to work on the technology. Upon realizing that none existed in Vancouver, he took matters into his own hands. “Since I was in my early 20s I have been searching for what my generation’s thing would be,” says Wu. “In 2009, when the financial crisis was in full swing, I knew an opportunity was there. There were massive savings for companies to make in cloud computing.”
Layerboom became a client of SFU Venture Connection, a service providing support for student ventures from initial idea to business validation. After the merger with Joyent, Layerboom became the first of Venture Connection’s protégés to be acquired.
As part of Venture Connection’s Mentor-in-Residence program, Wu was paired with entrepreneur and angel investor Jim Derbyshire. “Jim is fantastic as a human being and as a business executive,” says Wu. “He was instrumental in the design of our product and got me to think about what the customer would want it to look like. I still meet with him for advice today.”
As well as the support from Venture Connection, Wu took advantage of the knowledge and experience available to him. “I credit a lot of the success I have had to SFU,” he says. “Whenever I had a question I didn’t need to hire expensive consultants for advice, I could ask specialists at the Beedie School of Business who were more than willing to help. I had some of the brightest business minds in Canada helping me make business decisions. The advice was invaluable – you can’t put a price on that. “
Since merging with Joyent, Wu’s role has evolved into his current position as the company’s President of Greater China, a role which frequently sees him travel to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to develop new partnerships and promote cloud computing. Just recently he found himself meeting with the President of Taiwan to explain what the technology was and how it will dictate the future of business.
“The merger with Joyent was a fantastic opportunity for myself and for Layerboom,” says Wu. “We now operate under a much larger brand, with access to more funding and resources, and with a presence in Silicon Valley. Dr. Jason Hoffman (co-founder of Joyent) deserves special thanks for recognizing our potential. He understands technology and business like no one else I have met.”
Asked to sum up the potential for cloud computing, Wu smiles. “That’s the million dollar question,” he laughs. “It’s not just multi-national companies that benefit from this technology – anyone looking to save a buck or two can use it. If you own a bakery, you want to concentrate on making the best bread around. You don’t want to have to worry about your website, your IT support and your servers. Small businesses like this shouldn’t have an IT structure, yet right now they are forced to. Cloud computing will let them concentrate on what they do best.”