Here is the full transcript of the interview I conducted with Acronis CEO Serguei Beloussov on February 26, 2016. The full video interview of this interview is embedded immediately below, after which you'll see the full text of the interview, a link to my previous interview from late last year with Serguei and the full embedded video of Serguei's talk with students from the National University of Singapore.
Well hello and thank you for joining me for another iTWire video with top international executives, today I have with me Serguei Beloussov, he is the CEO and co-founder of the global leader in hybrid cloud data protection company, Acronis - welcome to the program!
SB: You’re welcome, thank you.
AZR: Now we last spoke late last year and you were happily answering some of my questions about your past and that video is available here for people to watch online with a complete transcript.
I was watching you just recently - I think only in the last couple of weeks, talking to the Singaporean students about the ‘Smart Nation’ and you were talking about the top 12 trends plus there was one or two other trends actually that were quite fascinating and about how some of them took you some time to fully grasp and one of the things you mentioned was that privacy was of great importance to you - but I was wondering if you could just briefly go through some of those twelve trends - I have them here but presumably they’re all in your brain.
SB: Well, yeah, sure I can try to…
AZR: And we have the whole video, I’m going to link to your talk so people can watch it.
NOTE: Here is Serguei's talk entitled Smart = Digital Fugure to students from the National University of Singapore.
SB: In no particular order, one of the trends was Internet of Things. Clearly it’s getting everywhere all of the things around us become connected and that also means they also become smart.
AZR: And you mentioned (in the video) that IoT started 20 years ago… It’s only now that…
SB: It’s a slow trend, but apparently in 5 years we’ll have 50 billion devices connected to the Internet which is dramatically more than today.
The other trend is for example wearables. Clearly wearables are growing very fast, last year the revenue was $11.5 billion driven by Apple Watch. Not so many people wear Apple Watch - there will be a lot of people wearing those things when you have some useful sensors. Today the sensors are relatively simple.
AZR: And you were saying (in the video to NUS students) how they would really take off when it helped you to improve your health and live a longer life.
SB: Well the reality is that there are two parameters which you need to track for every person which are very important. One of them is the person’s heart - you can of course just track a pulse and that would be already good but you can also track their your heart blood pressure, electro cardio.
Then the other thing is blood contents and both of those things can be done with very small sensors which can fit into very small devices which can require very little memory and very little power.
Then the other trend which is another slow trend that is getting everywhere is 3D printers. 3D printers are nothing new. The issue is what you can print with them and what is the price of the 3D printer. Clearly the 3D printer industry is already large - $5 billion in 3D printers sold in 2018 - that’s a prediction but there is much more that could be done and would be done with 3D printers.
AZR: And I think in the States were already seeing prices under $200 bucks which is..
SB: Then you have trends which are pretty straight forward, such as robots, such as drones, such as connected cars. Those are three sort-of related trends because effectively we are talking about autonomous cars, autonomous flying things and autonomous helpers.
Then we have well known trends such as big data and artificial intelligence. Again they are both related because AI is typically needed to deal with big data and analyse big data on the fly. Clearly this is very important.
AZR: Next-gen computing…
SB: There is a trend which - this is super trends I’m just thinking - high level trends I missed - super trends such as next-generating computing, such as privacy and security because the fact that the world is becoming digital makes it that it generates much more data, but also makes your data much more valuable, and in many cases makes it impossible to operate without data and so keeping this data private is very very important.
You can see that trend in that recent lawsuit which is making a lot of media stories where the FBI is trying to force Apple to give them backdoor (access). It’s kind of funny because I believe this is sort of NSA already has a backdoor, but now FBI wants to have a backdoor - and I guess they don’t give it to FBI but NSA has it.
But it’s definitely something which is a major issue and concern because in the physical world, everything is unique and so keeping privacy is relatively simple, you just have to hide away. But in the digital world you can have as many copies as possible, and so…
Then of course, all of these trends lead to the fact there is much more requirement for computing because if you think about computers, because if you think about computers, at the end of the day, computers deal with data, and if there is more data generated by the various devices and the various computing things, that means there is many more computing which is needed.
One of the major problems of computing today is the Moore’s Law which was forecasted, created by founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, in 1965, has sort of expired. He actually thought of it to be lasting 50 years.
He was very precise about his predictions and he also predicted that it would be 50 years and we need new computing which is much more power efficient, because modern computing is extremely power inefficient.
AZR: As you were explaining in the video…
SB: I don’t have the trends in front of me, so…
AZR: Well, you were talking about chaos, about neural computing…
SB: That all comes into artificial computing.
Plenty more below, please read on!
AZR: I think you made an interesting point in the conference about the fact you can have infinite digital copies of your data, suddenly…
SB: That’s a consequence of all of this, the world is becoming much more digital than it is sort-of real. I think people talk a lot about the singularity. From my standpoint, the singularity is when the digital world becomes larger than the physical world.
If you think about it, the digital world is new. It’s very real. In the digital world people make money, people live, people get married, people meet, people talk, people do a variety of different things and it becomes a part of our professional life for a while and it’s becoming part of our personal lives since probably about 10 years ago with social networks and so on, and at some point this digital world becomes more important and larger in its complexity than the physical world.
At that point we have a singularity. But one thing which is means for somebody like us (Acronis), is that there is a lot of digital data which needs to be protected, which needs to be stored, which needs to be managed. And that’s the focus of Acronis. It’s to create a platform for the digital world, a platform for data which is a product of the digital world of the future.
AZR: And so do you have any of the companies you’re investing in separately to Acronis that are really focusing this privacy area?
SB: There are a lot companies that are working on security. Privacy and security are different topics. I am very personally unconvinced that privacy is a part of basic human needs.
AZR: It’s a fundamental right. It should be.
SB: Fundamental right and basic human need. And the world which has no privacy - and we’re are moving rapidly to this world because if everything becomes digital and there is no significant enhancement in privacy of digital world, then we become completely ‘unprivate.’
Everything about what we do, everything about where we go, everything about us to the extent of wearable devices - even our thoughts can be read.
Y’know, one of the other trends which I mentioned in this is is financial revolution. Where in the past the banks would be the places were you would keep the money, but today the money are all digital and with the invention of things like blockchain you can even have the money without banks.
You can even have transactions without a central authority and yeah so with that again you have a need for privacy because all of your financial transactions can be tracked.
AZR: I mean, with banks now offering negative interest rates where you have to pay the banks, some of them in some countries anyway to hold your money for you, the fintech revolution can’t come soon enough, and the need for blockchain and privacy is… (more important than ever before).
SB: Well the reality is that the banks have a lot of information, and the question is always how will they benefit from this information without infringing in the privacy of their users too much. And it’s a huge opportunity. The banks are regulated, and so in many areas they are limited in what they can do. Also They are 600 years old tradition type institutions and so there’s a lot of new players such as peer to peer lending, such as small business lending, such as new generation mobile banks which don’t have anything to do with things like bitcoin but they disrupt the finacial industry.
AZR: Well, at 600 years old it sounds like it’s an industry ripe for disruption and it’s all happening around us.
SB: Some industries even though they are many thousands of years old they are not really disrupted that much…
AZR: Well, maybe they are not disrupted yet, but their time will come…
SB: I guess, I guess.
AZR: Now, I notice in Acronis True Image Cloud, there’s a little tick box where you can choose to encrypt your data or not. Given your desire for privacy, will there come a time when it’s just automatically encrypted?
SB: Definitely, but of course modern privacy - privacy is very fundamental. One of things which are written in the bible is about humans who actually broken the privacy - they more of less decided to be private. If you read their very deep religious books, you will see the belief of their scholars is that there are angels and God who are very powerful but they have to follow the rules and there are humans who have this fundamental right of free choice.
The reason why humans are actually sort-of expelled from heaven is because they decided to change eternal life and happiness for the free choice. So the free choice is as important as life.
And, y’know, without privacy, there is no free choice. And so it’s a huge topic which - y’know, I went off the topic - but the fact of the matter you can definitely encrypt everything but at that point it’s very difficult to deal with data if you want to search it and so on.
AZR: Hmm that’s true.
SB: But yeah, it might be that at some point in the near future we will encrypt everything. At the end of the day, it’s very important that the person has to choose himself if he wants to encrypt or not encrypt, which way he wants to encrypt and how private he wants to stay.
That’s his data and y’know, it works both ways, I mean, one way it works is that he may choose to be completely private, but the other way it works, he may choose to be completely public - both have some advantages. The privacy itself and free choice here is related to the ability of the person to choose - am I public or am I private.
AZR: And obviously all the different shades of grey.
AZR: It’s like sharing part of your calendar publicly, or sharing it but not disclosing what it is you’re doing (with some sections simply marked as busy rather than divulging all the details)
SB: So. Yeah, exactly.
AZR: Now I was interested to see that you had categorised all those trends in three different areas. People should watch the NUS video - it’s embedded in the article - but you talked about how - in the first category was things like productivity - IoT, robots, drones.
The second was making money - fintech and big data.
The third was primary instincts - the things that are value to human existence, the wearable tech, VR, AI, safety and security, next-gen computing, and how this was something that the students could use to evaluate what they’re going to study, what start-up they’re going to start, what start-up they’re going to join…
SB: It is not as much - y’know there is a lot things - humans - most of human think that they can think and that they actually make thoughtful decisions but that’s not exactly right.
That’s why you have people who will come up with new ideas which will be unique to some extent at some point and that it will make them very successful, especially in the technology world and so some of such ideas which will be social networks in the past, of different kinds, for example.
And the fact of the matter when such ideas come to play, it’s very difficult to judge if they will be $100 billion ideas, $10 billion dollar ideas, $1 billion dollar ideas.
And one of the ways to judge is that the companies which are productivity type companies which improve the world in a sort of more productive fashion, those are multi-billion dollar ideas. Companies which make money on money, or are allowed to make money - an example of the modern world companies which are allowed to make money is companies like from the shared economy. That’s where you get to tens of billions of dollars very rapidly and you get companies like Uber or Airbnb because it’s the ability to make money in some completely new way.
So it’s a completely new business model of making money on existing assets and extracting money form sort of thin air. But there are ideas which are much more powerful and those are the ideas which deal with basic human instincts. In some ways, basic personal computers, at the time when Steve Jobs participated in the creation of this industry were part of it because personal computer - y’know there was a lot of discussion at that point, ‘why do people need it?’.
But there is a basic human instinct, people want to be creative and they enjoy being more creative and enjoy being able to do more and that’s what’s driven the evolution of humans over the past say million years and especially the last 50,000 years.
And so computers are very useful in that extent. They enhance… and if you move to the further times, this is ideas like social networks, again there is a basic human instinct of sharing, there is a basic human instinct of speaking publicly and there is a basic human instinct of making collections like it is with Pinterest. Those are hundred billion ideas.
AZR: And you were talking about - you were mentioning Pinterest as one of those ideas that someone was looking at. But I was just actually - what I was going to say I’ve forgotten (laughter) - it was in my mind but it’s gone.
Doesn’t matter. Now you were talking about (in the video) how you wanted to make Acronis the first company in Singapore to be a $100 billion dollar company and to be the leader - and you have aggressive goals to be a leader in data and you have other companies like EMC, Netapp, Western Digital and Seagate - they’re all in storage but there’s no sort of clear leader.
SB: There is no clear leader. The companies which you just named, they’re all very good and great companies and they are respected in their own way but they are not their legacy. They’re hardware.
AZR: So what’s your strategy to become the clear leader, without giving your secrets away…
SB: Well we have a lot of different parts of our strategy and sometimes it’s not good to talk about strategy in public and of course our strategy is to make the best products and to satisfy the needs of our partners and customers in the best possible way but the fact of the matter is that in order to make a $100 billion company, the first thing you need is you need to have a large enough market opportunity. We have it, you need to have relatively weak competition - we have it - and you need to have a strong status in play and finances and the team and we have it. So there is opportunity.
Now of course you cannot really be guaranteed to make a company of that size. I remember at some point I met guy who was a founder of some, well I won’t name the company, but who was the founder of some security company, and he told me I want to make a $100 billion dollars.
At that point his company was about $10 million in revenue, and today it’s about $70 million, which is a great result, and this was I would think 10 years ago. And I said how are you going to do that? And he said, very easy! Google people did it, so I can do it.
AZR: (Laughter) Belief, he had belief :-)
SB: So.. but yeah, unfortunately, he wasn’t in the right industry, and so even though he was a very good guy and he is a very good guy, there was very little chance for him to accomplish his goal.
In storage, there will be one or two or three $100 billion dollar companies created in the next ten years and so it’s a huge opportunity. We will definitely try to be the leader and we have a lot of things we’re doing to be the leader but there is no way you can guarantee to be a leader before you actually complete your task.
AZR: Now, one of the things that puts you in a leadership space right now is the offer of unlimited storage with True Image Cloud and probably you’re well aware that Microsoft reneged on their offer of unlimited storage with their Office 365 offering. They said they had people uploading 75 terabytes of personal DVR collections and so they shut it down, they’re only offering a terabyte…
SB: I have to tell you that, y’know that sounds good, but we are also thinking about things like that because y’know, data is funny thing, and the funny thing about that is that if you think about any species like cockroaches or like bacterias, or like human beings can multiply…
SB: At very fast but not that fast, y’know… There is a limit. Where there’s data you can copy it, and so expanding data to an unreasonable size, it’s very very cheap. And so you can easily create exabytes of data. If you want, you can create exabytes of data yourself.
And so that’s a kind of one of the features of the digital world, is that you can expand the data to an unlimited extend. So, I think over time, almost every player will have limitations to their unlimited offers.
AZR: Sure. But not yet with Acronis? It’s still unlimited, yeah?
SB: Not yet.
AZR: I was then also going to ask you - you told the students that Singapore is a vastly more advanced place than it was when you first arrived over a couple of decades ago, and that they, these students of this university, could make it in Singapore. They don’t have to leave, to make it somewhere else as may have once been the case.
So I was going to ask, could you say the same for students of most other Western or technologically advanced societies in the US, Europe and Australia, OR is the Asia Pacific’s continued growth and the so-called Asia-Pacific Century a clarion call to the world’s youth to come to Asia to make their ideas into next-gen realities (here, as we’re in Singapore) or do you think that, you know, someone in Australia can do it just as easily there?
SB: I have started my speech and I would love to have your listeners and viewers to look at my speech and give me comments. From saying that I’m not a futurologist, I’m not a politician, I’m not an economist. What I can say is that there is a general tendency of people when they judge a place, like y’know just before this interview I was talking to a potential candidate to be one of the leaders of our research and development centre. They judge about the place in static and so they chat about how the place is right now, at this point of time, and that’s just wrong, because people don’t ever live in this moment, they live over the next 20 years.
And 10 years, 5 years in a place. Singapore is good right now and it’s rapidly improving, if you look at the universities, if you look at the venture community, if you look at technology companies - is it much behind, for example, Israel?
Of course it is. Today it is much behind. Is it moving at a very rapid speed forward? Yes, it’s moving much faster ahead from the standpoint of relative progress than almost any place.
So Singapore is a good place, but Singapore is very unique, so you cannot just compare it to any country in the world. And good or bad, it’s very unique, and so in general, I don’t think it works for every country - Western or Asia Pacific. There are some countries which are somewhat similar, but not really like Singapore.
AZR: I was reading in a web site called ‘Futureistech’ about what looked like a 20c or 50c coin - sort of a larger coin - but it was a piece of glass and they called it a 5D nano structured glass that could hold 360TB of data last for billions of years and it was created by the University of Southhampton.
SB: Yeah, I know the professor, I’ve actually just spoken to him yesterday
AZR: Wow, well there you go!
SB: To that particular professor, Mr Kazanski, he’s originally from Russia
AZR: Ok! (laughter.)
SB: We are contemplating for him to show it to the semi-conductor industry.
AZR: Well, given we have these advancements, and they were talking about how it’s a 360TB disc, thermal stability up to 1000 degrees, virtually unlimited lifetime at room temperature, 13.8 billion years at 190 degrees - pretty impressive stuff.
So, clearly you’ve heard of it, but what other kinds of future storage devices do you foresee solving humanity’s ever growing storage needs - I know we spoke of things like holographic storage in our previous interview, but what else have you heard of besides this amazing advance…?
SB: Well, there is a lot of things. I mean, at the end of the day you should think of how to put say… I don’t know, 1000 exabytes of data into one cubic centimetre and keep it for one billion years - or maybe ten billion years, it’s the lifetime of the universe and send it to one hundred million light years away.
Today there’s no technology which is even close. Now it is very important because the best way to transfer things and the best way to compress things is to compress them in digital data.
You know, it’s a philosophical (?) question wether the world is fundamentally digitisable. It does look like it’s not because there is some quantum qualities of the world but there is also quantum storage which is more interesting where you can store quantum states and that potentially means that anything can be stored. If you can store anything for a long enough time, then that really changes everything in the world.
AZR: You can store yourself and then maybe bring yourself back in the future…?
SB: Maybe… ‘You can store yourself’ would require an understanding of what is yourself, and at the moment, there is no such understanding. But to store your copy, yes, so we can store you, it will talk exactly the same way and behave the same way, but it wouldn’t be you. Rather it will think it’s you, but you will not really know it’s you in the future. Complicated…
AZR: (Laughter) Because in theory you’ll be six feet under except you’ll be there as your digital copy thinking it’s you.
Any hints you can tell us about the upcoming versions of Acronis for this year or is it all still top secret?
SB: We have a lot of different things which are coming up this year, we are actually about to release new product which we call a launchpad or step towards our new products. Over the next 12 months, we will completely replace all of our product with new architecture which is designed for much different scalability, safety, privacy, dealing with million times more data than our prior products.
And we were developing this over the past three years, so lots of products and there is not any specific product which I would want to highlight today because that would be part of our launches over the next twelve months.
AZR: Sure. Now two questions which are sort of interesting. One is - is there anything else you’d like to tell us before any final comments that I haven’t asked you about and that the audience should know about, and secondly, y’know, what’s the most interesting question that you’ve ever been asked that has sort of stuck with you that you’ve thought ‘wow’ that was such an insightful question
SB: Sure, I’m not sure about the most interesting question, I think most interesting question which humans have to ask themselves and we are coming very rapidly to this state, is what is human creativity? And what is free choice?
And it’s interesting that there is no creativity without free choice. And you know this relationship between different features of humans. Y’know we grow to believe that they are unimportant, right. So we grow to believe in first in the past, in 1000 years ago people believed that religion is important, that God is important.
Over the past 100 years they slowly move towards science, around material things [tapping on desk] and there are some stupid human things like emotions and creativity and free choice. And apparently those things are actually very real. And the fact of the matter today there is not really any understanding of how to digitise them, so the only non-digitisable or the most non-digitisable is what are related to humans, and that’s the most interesting question as how the humans are organised. And, but about the most interesting question, I’m not sure from the audience if that’s a question.
AZR: And do you have any final messages that you’d like to leave with the viewers today about life, the universe, Acronis and everything?
SB: No, I think, it’s interesting but people don’t realise how much of their life is digital today. And people behave in regards to their life very much driven by how schools are teaching them, and how their parents behave and how their grandparents behave and how their great-grandparents behave, but in reality behaviour of their parents is not very relevant - people who are 30 to 50 years old right now, their parents were born before the digital world.
AZR: Mmm. (yes)
SB: And so they, even those guys, slightly older, they are digitised a lot but ahead it’s a fundamental head it’s come from the world which is not digital so they keep physical artefacts as part of their memories but reality is that today, everything about your life, everything about you is as digits, bytes and bits. And thinking about safety of those bits, security of those bits and privacy is becoming very important, and yes, there is very few people in the world who are experiencing real problems with it.
There is more and more, every day, and you haven’t yet, but and there is many more people who are experiencing problems with their teeth, and so they take care of their teeth and go to a dentist all the time because they know that if they don’t, it is painful and it’s not productive, but they don’t think this way about data.
Over the next 10 to 30 years, data will become much more important than even human teeth and so thinking about your life in terms of your data kinds of makes sense for people and definitely makes sense for businesses.
AZR: I’m not sure I’ll ever have digital dentures but… (laughter)
SB: We might (laughter)
AZR: We might (laughter) but you never know. I very much look forward to the new products from Acronis this year and your future speeches. I recommend everybody watch the one I have embedded with this video from the National University of Singapore, and thank you very much!
SB: You’re welcome!
Alex travelled to Singapore courtesy of CA Technologies, after which I spent two more days in Singapore to visit Acronis and interview Serguei Beloussov, courtesy of Acronis.