Accelerated focus on cloud computing post Covid-19: Supria Dhanda, Western Digital

Accelerated focus on cloud computing post Covid-19: Supria Dhanda, Western Digital
Supria Dhanda, vice president and country manager at Western Digital India
2 Oct, 2020

San Jose, California-headquartered data storage solutions firm Western Digital has lately been on a data localisation drive. The company recently concluded the second edition of its Data Innovation Bazaar where it funds and mentors technology driven startups.

In an interview with TechCircle, Supria Dhanda, vice president and country manager at Western Digital India, spoke about accelerated cloud adoption in the country due to the pandemic and data storage.

Dhanda has been in the current role for the last four years. She was previously with General Electric, Alcatel-Lucent and SanDisk.

Edited excerpts:

How exactly has increased screen time during the pandemic contributed to the data and cloud businesses?

There is this entire IT infrastructure, which used to be the backbone and that has today proved its resilience, it's been stress tested. There is a huge impact on the education, health sectors. But I think if there is one common theme, it is the impact on the technology sector.

You and I can communicate because there is a certain technology at use. So, I think the IT and the cloud infrastructure has been tested a lot. The entire cloud computing resources have come in a lot more demand focus, sharper and accelerated focus for sure.

If you look at cloud service providers, what is their life? They are all stress testing their systems, they are making sure there is a resilience built in. If I take a step back and talk about all of us who lead large businesses, technology businesses or automotive, all of us are looking at business continuity plans. And what has been a business continuity plan? The entire premise of a business continuity plan has been a distributed infrastructure. And, I think that is where cloud absolutely comes in… scalable, flexible kind of reduced costs. And of course, it comes with its necessary other areas like security, which is a constant work.

However, I would say business continuity, disaster recovery, and cloud and a distributed infrastructure that it offers, they all have been going hand in hand and there hasn't been a better time for it to be tested, prove its mettle, and even accelerate the adoption, if anybody was thinking of not doing it.

What is your view of the current cloud landscape in India? Are there any major challenges in business adoption of the cloud?

Before I get to cloud in India, let me talk about what the data infrastructure looks like for India. This is new to us. We've had MNCs and large business houses already operating and they've got their own data service and everything right. The setup is there. We've got new age businesses and new unicorns... Like Flipkart, they've got their entire data centre and this architecture built for scalability.

So, I would say the scope is new for India but, we have lots to learn from what the world has gone through. I think they were waiting to see a lot more broad proliferation of large cloud service providers. There are a few but I think this entire scene has yet to scale the way perhaps it has scaled in the West.

I don't think there are challenges. I think there is a lot of focus on infrastructure. There is a fundamental network connection that you need and all of us when we get on calls, what are we saying? Can you hear me? Is it clear? I think that is the backbone. Once that network kind of infrastructure gets built, then we can talk about cloud and its usage. So I don't think cloud is the challenge. It is our fundamental network IT infrastructure as a country that we need to invest on.

I am glad that we are moving away from the transport, the railway, the airport, that kind of infrastructure, to now talking data infrastructure… as much as I would say that remote infrastructure is going to be one area that we need to look at the fundamental network, the bandwidth and all of that.

I think what is also going to be important for companies is going to be to figure out data strategy. Nobody is saying go all cloud or go all remote. Or go all you know, your core. I think the choice is what kind of data do you need? What kind of data needs to flow? What kind of data needs easy access? And therefore, what is the combination of this hybrid cloud that you need?

We've seen a lot of new data centres come up lately. Do you see the investment refresh cycle getting pushed out? Both internal and cloud?

If you look at the use of data, there is data that needs to flow and there is an accelerated use of data. We are sitting in an age where we are talking about perhaps 1.7 megabytes per second being generated by each individual. Where is all that going to get stored? We are talking about big data analytics.

The whole point is that you and I can analyse data when it is stored, when there is some access. So I think the data infrastructure, all of that is set to grow. The data centre is nothing but a physical entity that is there and the cloud is nothing but a remote location where you need to access and send data. All of this needs a physical interface. And the kind of speed of data that's coming in, with the kind of accelerated mass experiment that perhaps unnatural forces have missed… in times of pandemic, we will need a much shorter refresh cycle in the future.

I don't think it's going to be a question of how much. It's just going to be to say what applications are you running? What kind of data again? So I'll go back again to the data strategy that is core to your business. If you're running endpoint stuff, and you have a lot of endpoint applications, you may need to update your IT infrastructure accordingly. And that needs to refresh. And, if today we are living in a pandemic and we do not know what is tomorrow, we need to have an absolute updated, scalable, cost reducing in a way so innovation needs to happen.

How is Western Digital promoting data driven solutions in India?

We launched Data Innovation Bazaar for startups in 2018 in collaboration with Startup India and Invest India, the two arms of the government. And we wanted to do social transformation and our areas of focus were -- national problems of significance like transportation, urban mobility, affordable healthcare, accessible education. We wanted to go ahead with that and see how we can use the power of data.

Therefore, we use Data Innovation Bazaar to catalyse the startups and ask them to come forward and give us solutions that can be then further funded or explored or co-collaborated, or if nothing, we can just mentor them, give award money.

Come 2020, we launched our second edition and we have seen almost 85% increase in our applications over 2018. So I think that's a big plus. We are able to see that we want to reach the deeper recesses of India and not only restrict to tier one cities. We have seen over 65% of our 963 applications come from beyond the tier one eight cities. We want to promote women in technology. And we have seen our first winner -- Aarogya AI run by women entrepreneurs.

So I think this is our way of looking at startups irrespective of the stage they are in from ideation to proof of concept to scale. Only 2% startups are at scale, and a good 44% are at ideation stage.

Do you have specific preferences for the kind of startups you choose?

So what we do is we open up the challenge to everyone and anyone who can participate. We reach out to the Startup India database because we partner with them. And this year, we partnered with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). What we do is reach out and then shortlist the number of applications. Like I said, we received this year 963 applications, which is much higher than the average that is received in the challenge. What we do is then shortlist top 40 applications, get them to VCs, give them exposure to a panel of judges from academia and government minister, Western Digital internal leadership so that they go through all the 40 startups. Then we select the top 10 and then the top five get the award prize money.

We also do a Data Innovation Bootcamp, which is going to be our third leg, where we invite and we host a three day very immersive education session.

How different is this programme from other accelerators?

It's got a touch of our own innovation to it… Typically, there are multiple models companies can follow and we studied a lot of them. India has about 150 plus now corporates who come forward with the model. A lot of companies go ahead with clear interest in technologies and their centres of alignment to their strategy. That's how they want to do it. For us that is not a limitation. We are sector agnostic. For us it does not matter if the solution is using any of our technology, we would like to invest anyway.

So our intent is, I think we do it at a much broader scale. We are far more inclusive and we are far more broad based in terms of just using data. For us what is key is, we are all about data. So I think for us, that's a very common ground that India is contributing a huge contributor to growth of data.