Sunday, October 23, 2011

Apple: Trouble Keeping Specialist Recruits?

Apple hired Kevin Timmons from Microsoft (where he was General Manager of Datacenter Cervices) in April, and may already have replaced him with Scott Noteboom of Yahoo (where he was Head of Global Data Center Infrastructure) following Timmons' departure for CyrusOne earlier this month.

Previously, Apple acquired chip design talent in its purchase of the chip designer PA Semi, but lost its top manager in less than a year. Promptly on the heels of that departure, Apple bought chip design firm Intrinsity – and all its engineering talent.

Is Apple having trouble keeping recruits, or is it getting what it needs in the form of high-intensity consulting on projects that run fine following the departure of the top folks it brings onboard? Are these personnel losses cut by Apple as cultural mismatches, or are they leaving because the Apple job turns out not to be what they expected?

Inquiring minds want to know.

With respect to the new Noteboom recruitment, the expertise of an industry insider with a decade-long positive track record while growing Yahoo's data center by an order of magnitude is likely to provide Apple a valuable resource. Given Microsoft's need to eat its own dogfood and Yahoo's flexibility in tool selection, I'd expect a Yahoo exec to be a better match than a MSFT careerist whose solution to every problem would have to be to buy a bunch of Microsoft solutions or risk running outside his sphere of competence. The indecipherable title accorded Noteboom – "distinguished gentleman" – may say more about Apple's secrecy than about a lack of authority assigned to Noteboom.

Watching Apple enter the data business will be interesting. I'd expected Apple to use Google for this, but Google and Apple have ended up competitors to such an extent that I foresee Apple opting to use non-Google solutions for everything it can. My question is simple: with Apple declining to push ads on users as Google does to fund its operations, how will Apple manage to make its data operations self-funding? If they are not, its data-based endeavors risk becoming a weight around the neck of high-margin hardware and software products. Those datcenters aren't cheap.

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