Exclusive: Yahoo cloud chief quits. An exit interview

Todd Papaioannou, the VP and chief cloud architect at Yahoo,(s yhoo) has left the company for a role as entrepreneur in residence at Battery Ventures. At Yahoo, he drove the strategic directions for both the cloud computing and Hadoop teams, and he helped define the company’s overall IT strategy.

Papaioannou came to Yahoo in May 2010 after spending nearly five years in numerous architectural leadership positions at Teradata.(s tdc) Before that, he was an early employee at Greenplum, now part of EMC,(s emc) serving as the chief architect and director of engineering.

I spoke with Papaioannou on Thursday night to get the details on why he left Yahoo and what his new EIR role entails. Here’s an edited version of what he had to say:

GigaOM: So, why are you leaving Yahoo?

Papaioannou: I left Yahoo to pursue my personal predilections. My background has been in consumer and enterprise software, but Yahoo was my first gig in internal IT. It was a great experience, but I wanted to get back into shipping software and competing in the market against other products.

GigaOM: What does your EIR role with Battery Ventures entail?

Papaioannou:I’m focused on three things. One is working with the investment team and helping them identify disruptive technologies for the next three to five years, then developing an investment thesis around that. I also want to help existing Battery portfolio companies build the best scalable enterprise software. Lastly, I want to develop new ideas for investment, whether I’m personally involved or just helping some other founder types launch something. It’s less of a traditional EIR gig than most are used to, but I’m excited.

The last couple gigs I had prior to Yahoo, like with Teradata, were about helping map the technology vision, determine market competition, plan M&A strategies and those types of responsibilities. At Yahoo, it was forward-thinking, too, but just about where Yahoo needed to take its own infrastructure.

GigaOM: Was there no competitive aspect to your work at Yahoo?

Papaioannou: It has competition, but it’s along the lines of what Google (s goog) and Facebook are doing in terms of products. I worked with the cloud technology group doing IaaS, PaaS and other interesting things, but we were just serving the rest of the company.

GigaOM: What types of investment opportunities and technologies will you be focusing on?

Papaioannou: My background is centered around cloud and data. I think these are the megatrends in IT over the next decade. Delivering services via the web is all about cloud computing. Big data is one of the hottest things going on right now.

You can see opportunities looking up and down the stack. For example, lower-level guys like Calxeda are working on ARM-based servers in the data center, which I think is a very smart idea. If you look at cloud at a high level, it’s about abstraction, so efficient hardware can add a lot of value because it’s less integral to the application. Really, cloud is the natural evolution of virtualization in terms of how we think about the underlying infrastructure. Data is a level above that.

Mobile is another big trend, let’s not kid ourselves. I think the next decade will see this as the dominant platform for the consumption of cloud services. Whether it’s personal cloud or enterprise services, I look at the mobile trend as being linked to the cloud trend.

GigaOM: Is there anything interesting happening at the intersection of cloud and mobile right now?

Papaioannou: We’re at the cusp right now. ICloud,(s aapl) if executed correctly, could be a big decider in terms of whether and how consumers store data in the cloud.

Also, there are smart startups working on offline synchronization. If you’re on a plane, you want to be able to keep working on what you we’re doing in the airport. These are examples of what I call “continuous programming”; it’s like watching a Netflix movie on your TV, then continuing it on your laptop, then on your iPad.

Consumer services also are very interesting. Arguably, you could say that consumer services are better than enterprise services in some ways. That’s driving a sea change in how enterprise services are delivered. And with the proliferation of new devices, companies are letting employees buy whatever they want rather than issuing standard corporate devices. There’s a big opportunity around securing cloud services running on these devices, the edge of the cloud.

GigaOM: Was any part of your leaving because you viewed Yahoo as a sinking ship?

Papaioannou: I personally didn’t. I had a great time, and I thought the product team was doing a good job. The thing is, it takes time to transition a company. It took years to turn Apple around. I just wanted to get back into a position of selling software and helping Battery and its companies do better at that. Then, hopefully, launch a company.


Photo of Todd Papaioannou at Structure 2010 cocktail event at GigaOM offices. Photo by Om Malik