Wild Geese: Fidelma Russo, EMC, Massachusetts

Big data presents a massive opportunity

Fidelma Russo, senior vice president in the enterprise storage division at EMC

Fidelma Russo, senior vice president in the enterprise storage division at EMC


Big data could create major opportunities for Ireland, according to EMC senior vice-president Fidelma Russo. However, a lack of understanding of the subject is inhibiting its adoption here.

As well as helping counter cybercrime, Russo says big data analytics can lead to more jobs, by creating demand for advanced IT skills in the form of data scientists, who can map marketplace behaviour.

“I think there is a big opportunity with big data but people don’t fully understand it. How do you make it meaningful for people? It’s good to draw data from lots of different sources. For example, you can’t tell how many kids in the west of Ireland can code from one source.”

She says cybercrime incidents such as the Loyaltybuild data breach show the importance of being able to identify and stop threats quickly, something which can be done through security analytics and big data.

“We had a breach ourselves in 2011. It compromised a number of secure ID tokens, which are tokens that allow companies to log in remotely. The breach compromised us and companies that were clients. We know the pain that Loyaltybuild felt as we felt that pain.

“Company security budgets used to be based on preventing intrusions. Now you have to allocate money to detection/determining whether there is an intrusion and having a rapid response mechanism in place for closing it down.”

She says big data is intertwined with security analytics, as security analytics involves collecting reliable cyber security data and researching prospective cyber adversaries to better understand risk and learn about why and how attacks occur – before they occur.

Russo studied electrical engineering in UCC before going on to work for the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in Clonmel. “I found myself in the electrical engineering course because the course I had wanted to study – biochemical engineering – was cancelled a few weeks beforehand. Computers are very different now to when I started but the computer architecture is the same. The physics and maths behind everything is still the same.”

She got the opportunity to work in the US for six months and never came back. “I worked for Dave Cutler who ended up developing Windows NT.”

Cutler had worked for DEC before leaving to join Microsoft in October 1988. Digital closed down its facility when Russo was in the US and many of the people she worked with ended up at Microsoft.

“I got a visa to work for Digital in the US initially but then I got a Donnelly visa. I’d never won anything in my entire life. The Donnelly visa is still the only thing I’ve won.”

Russo returned to the east coast of the US and ran some large server projects before joining Data General.

“I came to EMC through an acquisition in 1999. They acquired Data General for over $1 billion. I had been running the server division at Data General. I left EMC after nine years as I had two small children.”

She re-entered the workforce a few years later working for Sun Microsystems, and then for a small start-up in Boston before, ultimately, returning to EMC.

“I missed working. I have the utmost respect for people who stay at home. It’s the toughest job going. I looked forward to going back to work.”

Russo says the last few years have seen the fastest transformation of IT in business, because operational inefficiencies tolerable during the boom quickly became intolerable.

“The company has transformed numerous times in the last 25 years as trends have come and gone. Sometimes it took a bet on the wrong things, but sometimes it got it really right. EMC is a very driven culture. Anybody can have an idea but you have to defend your ideas. We have a build, buy or partner strategy. With everything we look at, what’s the appropriate move.”

She says innovation and changing with the times is something that has always been important for the company, which employs more than 3,000 people in Ireland. As a result, the company is making the move toward virtual storage and cloud computing.

“We are building lots of virtual models for our storage. It enables people to have physical storage in one area and cloud storage in another and tie them together.”

She says an IT skills shortage has left many organisations without the necessary level of skills and knowledge to grow and maintain competitive advantage.

“There is a huge IT skills shortage. That said, it doesn’t mean IT is for everyone. Just because there’s a shortage, that doesn’t mean you should do it. You have to do something you like and are passionate about as you will be working for a very long time. There is a huge crossover now between liberal arts and IT. Apps need to be creative and artistic. It’s not all about function and technicality. If I was in secondary school now, I’d concentrate on science and arts.”

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