Data Visionaries Federal

Meet the Data Visionary: Q&A with Microsoft CTO of National Intelligence Division

Editorial Team
Written by Editorial Team

Each month, the editorial team at GovDataDownload looks at the people behind the technology. The people who collaborate, innovate, and help pubic sector customers find the right solution to meet the mission. This month, we went beyond the walls at NetApp in an effort to showcase a partner that exemplifies being a data visionary.

Microsoft’s CTO of the National Intelligence Division, Robert Shelton, helps organizations adopt new technology from cloud to beyond. He is always looking into the future and helping customers with a technical vision for what lies ahead. He sat down with us to talk through the NetApp partnership, how Microsoft and NetApp together help customers achieve cloud efficiencies, and what the future of the cloud looks like.

Here is what he had to say:

GovDataDownload (GDD) Editors:  Thank you for joining us. Can you tell us about the NetApp/Microsoft partnership and why it matters?


Robert Shelton, Microsoft’s CTO of the National Intelligence Division

Robert Shelton: For the past few years Microsoft has become known as a “Cloud First, Mobile First” company and as such, Microsoft is working with customers to help them realize how to achieve their modernization and digital transformation goals using a “Cloud First” approach. Partnering with other industry leaders, such as NetApp, is instrumental in being able to help our customers use the Microsoft cloud in a way that they can be comfortable with. Within my customer base in particular, NetApp is recognized as one of the top data management providers. By partnering with NetApp, we give the customer the confidence that moving to Microsoft doesn’t mean throwing away current investments in storage and technical expertise.

In fact, many customers moving to the Microsoft cloud currently have NetApp infrastructure, which optimizes storage management and enables rapid response, creating a strong foundation for cloud.

GDD Editors: How do you help customers move to the cloud?

Shelton: A well-known statement at Microsoft is, “We like to meet a customer where they are.” This means we try to avoid massive IT transformation from one technology to another. In this case, it’s moving to the cloud. Rather than making them change their entire infrastructure and security model, we create an environment where we meet the customer where they are and work with what they already have in place.

With NetApp, for example, many of our customers are already trained on NetApp solutions and have been using their technology for years. The last thing we want them to do is throw away decades of knowledge and expertise.  To “meet them where they are,” we create the infrastructure and environment in the cloud to look very similar to what they have on-premises, so they can make that transformation without having to rebuild everything from the ground up. This effort takes away the barrier of trying to learn something from scratch and eliminates the trepidation that they may feel.

We understand that there is generally a high failure rate if you have to change out parts from on-premises to cloud and we want our customers to avoid this headache.

GDD Editors: What should customers consider when choosing a cloud provider/cloud solution?

Shelton: In general, customers who are looking to the cloud in 2019 and beyond should be looking for providers that offer solutions beyond virtualized machines and storage. Essentially, that is just moving your data center from your basement to their basement (or in this case the cloud).  If you just migrate your virtualization platform from on-premises to a cloud like Azure, AWS, or Google Cloud, you are essentially just moving the problems to another data center.

Going forward, customers should look for cloud providers that offer a level-above infrastructure-as-a-service and start using platform and software-as-a-service. This approach leads to true digital transformations and allows our customers to focus their IT resources (people) and investments (money) towards their higher-valued mission and not just on patching and maintenance.

GDD Editors: What does the future of cloud technology look like?

Shelton: Cloud years are like dog years. Three to five years in real years, is like 50 years in cloud years, so I expect that there will be many changes. But I expect in the near-term, we’ll see a lot more customers who will use PaaS and SaaS services as opposed to building things from the ground-up in IaaS. This will allow them to move their traditional storage solution to the cloud, for example, and then build on top of that.

About the author

Editorial Team

Editorial Team

The GovDataDownload editorial team consists of Shany Seawright, Chelsea Barone, and Margaret Brown. You can reach the team at