Thursday, April 28, 2011

Engineering and Management Expertise Propel Cloud Computing Firm

By Eric Smalley

Brian Ippolito, SDM '98
For Brian Ippolito, SDM '98, the combination of engineering and management expertise isn't just a competitive advantage, it's a necessity.

Ippolito, CEO of Orbis Technologies, Inc., leads a company that helps organizations manage mind-boggling amounts of information. The ability to design cloud-scale systems that process petabytes of data and the ability to manage a fast-growing company are critical requirements of the job.

Orbis Technologies gives organizations the technological, architectural and engineering know-how to build private cloud computing and semantic Web platforms and applications. The company provides highly specialized software development, technology assessments, planning services and even technology forecasting.

The Orbis Technologies customer base includes Fortune 50 companies and businesses and agencies involved in national security. "All of our clients have near-Internet-scale data problems," said Ippolito. "Our clients expect that they are hiring highly skilled individuals."

Orbis Technologies is a small company with about 50 employees. It doubled in size last year and has the opportunity to do the same again this year, said Ippolito.

The company is steeped in the kind of systems thinking that defines MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM). Ippolito's SDM education has proved crucial to the success of his company. In particular, SDM prepared him for markets and market conditions that weren't even imaginable when he was in the program a decade ago, he said.

Ippolito cut his teeth in the technology business in the armed forces. As an Air Force acquisition manager, he oversaw contractors who developed large-scale mission-critical software systems for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The work was challenging. "Back in the '90s it was really hard to deliver software-intensive systems on schedule or within budget," he said.

That experience drove Ippolito to look beyond traditional options for graduate school. "I thought a purely technical master's degree was too narrow and an MBA was too broad. What I was looking for was something that balanced both," he said. He found it in the SDM program.

Technology companies have gotten better at delivering large-scale software systems since the '90s, but the challenges in today's market are greater than they were even two years ago. Tight credit, difficulty securing funding and market uncertainties compound the challenges of establishing a company in new, rapidly growing billion-dollar markets, said Ippolito.

In the current economic environment, running a technology company requires a management team that understands the details of system engineering, system architecture and the product development process, and also understands business operations and financials, said Ippolito.

The combination is necessary for grasping the relationship between company actions and shareholder value, he said. "The market is just flat out too unstable and moves too quickly. You need some formal education in order to prepare for this new economy," he said. "Without that foundation we would be out of business."

SDM alumni can provide insights, particularly because the current economic environment is likely to be with us for a while, said Ippolito. "The book hasn't been written on how to get through this economy," he said.

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