On the Move: First Data

Well after a bit of time in stealth I am finally able to announce that I have taken the position of Chief Technology Officer at First Data. 

After being asked to join the Turn-Around team at AOL and driving some amazing results over the past four years, it was time for a change.  I absolutely loved my time there and the people were amazing.  Success has a quality all on its own and it was an incredibly personally rewarding experience for me to be a part of something that unique.

The move to First Data is an incredibly exciting move for me for many different reasons but one of the key drivers for me is that I feel that this industry is ripe for change.  It’s a move for me from running and building large scale Internet products and infrastructure to the Financial Services Industry.  

For those of you who may be be unaware of who First Data is, or what they do, its probably easiest to think of it this way – one out of every two credit card or debit card transactions across the world touches our infrastructure at some point in the transaction process. From a transactional scale perspective its very similar to what I have been used to companies likes AOL, Microsoft, and Disney.  The difference being of course that these transactions are a little more important than checking your favorite sports scores, or getting your e-mail. 

My challenge of course is to drive automation. To build a platform that makes infrastructure a decisive and differentiating platform to launch products and services.  To create a learning infrastructure and software eco-system that gets smarter over time.   In large part how do you blend the agility of the Internet with the maturity and complexity of the Financial Services Industry.   Sure it’s a complex technical problem space, but it has some very interesting business and regulatory challenges as well.   In many respects dealing with Safe Harbor, Regulatory and tax has been part of my job for many years.  The challenge now is to take that automation to the next level.  

To that end I have to say that First Data is assembling an amazingly formidable team to drive this change.  I will be reporting to the President of First Data, Guy Chiarello.  Guy is a universally respected Technology leader in the Financial Services industry with top posts at Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase.  Technology will be key to the success of the company and the leadership team is a unique blend of technology savvy leaders from across the world. 

The new adventure begins!

You can follow the link to the official press announcement.

Along with the initial pickup from the Wall Street Journal.

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Whiffs of Wisdom #6 – Managing People Managing Tough Decisions

I am getting a lot of encouragement to share more of my “Whiffs of Wisdom”.  Most are related to Managing Technical People, Technology situations and Managing Managers.  All of them have tongue firmly placed in cheek.  :)    Heres another one that came up recently:

Whiffs of Wisdom #6 

On Managing People who Have to Manage Tough Decisions

Never underestimate ones ability to avoid making a tough decision or having a tough conversation.  There is a nigh-limitless fountain of creativity in the work created, conference calls had, or meetings to attend –  to avoid having a tough conversation.  If only you could harness that creativity for good.  Vigiliance, personal support, and every once in a while a swift kick in the rear are the only known remedies.

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Whiffs of Wisdom #18 – Project Managers and Security People

I am not sure why but for some reason this topic has come up for me like 8 times this week.  Rather than continue to talk about it I figured I would just post one of my “Whiffs of Wisdom” some people call them “Manosisms”.  Apparently I am the worst person in the world at coming up with anecdotes but people get my drift so in my book that means success.

Whiffs of Wisdom #18

On Project Managers and Security People

Every Technology organization needs Project Managers and Security-focused Engineers.  There ACTUALLY IS a magic number of these individuals to have in your organization.  I don’t know what that number is, but I know when I have one too many of either.   These folks bring order to chaos (Engineers are notoriously terrible at project management) but the moment is starts becoming more about the process versus the END RESULTS I know we have gotten off track.  There is nothing more effective than a great project manager and nothing more destructive than an overbearing rule-nazi project manager.    You need to watch it closely because left to their own well-meaning devices these groups tend to create Bureaus of Business Prevention.

\Mm

 

 

Giving the Gift of Power: For The Gadgeteer that has everything…

RavPower

I hate to admit it but I am one of those “hard-to-shop for” gadget guys.  Its true.  I just cannot seem to wait until gift-giving season to get that special new piece of technology.  I usually go out and get it myself well in advance or people strugle because my tastes are so eclectic that it makes it impossible for someone to really figure out what I would really like.   Recently I got a got an incredibly useful piece of technology that would be great regardless of that special ‘geek’ in your life’s taste in electronics.     Give them the gift of power.  Pure unadulterated power.  You can insert and evil laugh here with ominous looking lightning in the background.   

I recently got my hands on a RAVPower Element 10400mAh Portable Charger and Battery Pack.   That may be a mouthful to say but this thing has been a life saver for me numerous times.   I travel fairly extensively and my devices frequently run out of power as I use them.  This is especially true as I am flying cross country or on long flights.   Now that the FAA has loosened their restrictions on gadget usage in-flight, I find myself running out of ‘juice’ faster and faster.   Essentially the Element is a beefy battery pack of 10400mAh of stored power.  If you arent a techy, thats a good amount of power.  To put it into human terms I am generally able power my I-Phone 3 to four times fully from the fully charged element.   I have been able to fully recharge my IPAD, or in some cases charge multiple devices (in my case phones)  at the same time.   This is incredibly helpful as I have numerous phone platforms based on the fact that I run mobile development and I need to be able to switch between Android and Apple platforms for our Apps.  

It’s amazingly simple to use and comes with a variety of charging cables (although mine didnt come with an IPhone Charger, I just used the ones supplied with the phone).   It comes with the power bank itself, and two USB to Micro USB Charging Cables.    The indicators on the power bank tell you exactly how much power the device still has on it. The price is reasonable it has become one of indispensible ‘must have travel items’ in my bag.  

On the downside charging this thing takes a bit of time.  To be fair its a beefy amount of power to “fill up” but in general it takes a full night to charge up.   More than once I forgot to charge it up before heading to the airport and kicked myself for not remembering to plug it in the night before.  But if you have a gadgeteer in your family or someone who travels quite a bit this is a great gift and an indispensible tool to have!

 

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Industry Impact : Brothers from Different Mothers and Beyond…

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 12.19.43 PM

My reading material and video watching habits these past two weeks have brought me some incredible joy and happiness. Why?  Because Najam Ahmad of Facebook is finally getting some credit for the amazing work that he has done and been doing in the world of Software Defined Networking.  In my opinion Najam is a Force Majeure in the networking world.   He is passionate.  He is focused. He just gets things done.  Najam and I worked very closely at Microsoft as we built out and managed the company’s global infrastructure. So closely in fact that we were frequently referred to as brothers from different mothers.   Wherever Najam was-I was not far behind, and vice versa. We laughed. We cried.  We fought.  We had alot of fun while delivered some pretty serious stuff.  To find out that he is behind the incredible Open Compute Project advances in Networking is not surprising at all.   Always a forward thinking guy he has never been satisfied with the status quo.    
If you have missed any of that coverage you I strongly encourage you to have a read at the links below.   


This got me to thinking about the legacy of the Microsoft program on the Cloud and Infrastructure Industry at large.   Data Center Knowledge had an article covering the impact of some of the Yahoo Alumni a few years ago. Many of those folks are friends of mine and deserve great credit.  In fact, Tom Furlong now works side by side with Najam at Facebook.    The purpose of my thoughts are not to take away from their achievements and impacts on the industry but rather to really highlight the impact of some of the amazing people and alumni from the Microsoft program.  Its a long overdue acknowledgement of the legacy of that program and how it has been a real driving force in large scale infrastructure.   The list of folks below is by no means comprehensive and doesnt talk about the talented people Microsoft maintains in their deep stable that continue to drive the innovative boundaries of our industry.  

Christian Belady of Microsoft – Here we go, first person mentioned and I already blow my own rule.   I know Christian is still there at Microsoft but its hard not to mention him as he is the public face of the program today.  He was an innovative thinker before he joined the program at Microsoft and was a driving thought leader and thought provoker while I was there.  While his industry level engagements have been greatly sidelined as he steers the program into the future – he continues to be someone willing to throw everything we know and accept today into the wind to explore new directions.
Najam Ahmad of Facbook - You thought  I was done talking about this incredible guy?  Not in the least, few people have solved network infrastructure problems at scale like Najam has.   With his recent work on the OCP front finally coming to the fore, he continues to drive the capabilities of what is possible forward.  I remember long meetings with Network vendors where Najam tried to influence capabilities and features with the box manufacturers within the paradigm of the time, and his work at Facebook is likely to end him up in a position where he is both loved and revilved by the Industry at large.  If that doesn’t say your an industry heavy weight…nothing does.
James Hamilton of Amazon - There is no question that James continues to drive deep thinking in our industry. I remain an avid reader of his blog and follower of his talks.    Back in my Microsoft days we would sit  and argue philosophical issues around the approach to our growth, towards compute, towards just about everything.   Those conversations either changed or strengthed my positions as the program evolved.   His work in the industry while at Microsoft and beyond has continued to shape thinking around data centers, power, compute, networking and more.
Dan Costello of Google - Dan Costello now works at Google, but his impacts on the Generation 3 and Generation 4 data center approaches and the modular DC industry direction overall  will be felt for a very long time to come whether Google goes that route or not.   Incredibly well balanced in his approach between technology and business his ideas and talks continue to shape infrastructre at scale.  I will spare people the story of how I hired him away from his previous employer but if you ever catch me at a conference, its a pretty funny story. Not to mention the fact that he is the second best break dancer in the Data Center Industry.
Nic Bustamonte of Google – Nic is another guy who has had some serious impact on the industry as it relates to innovating the running and operating of large scale facilities.   His focus on the various aspects of the operating environments of large scale data centers, monioring, and internal technology has shifted the industry and really set the infancy for DCIM in motion.   Yes, BMS systems have been around forever, and DCIM is the next interation and blending of that data, but his early work here has continued to influence thinking around the industry.
Arne Josefsberg of ServiceNow - Today Arne is the CTO of Service Now, and focusing on infrastructure and management for enterprises to the big players alike and if their overall success is any measure, he continues to impact the industry through results.  He is *THE* guy who had the foresight of building an organiation to adapt to this growing change of building and operating at scale.   He the is the architect of building an amazing team that would eventually change the industry.
Joel Stone of Savvis/CenturyLink – Previously the guy who ran global operations for Microsoft, he has continued to drive excellence in Operations at Global Switch and now at Savvis.   An early adopter and implmenter of blending facilities and IT organizations he mastered issues a decade ago that most companies are still struggling with today.
Sean Farney of Ubiquity – Truly the first Data center professional who ever had to productize and operationalize data center containers at scale.   Sean has recently taken on the challenge of diversifying data center site selection and placement at Ubquity repurposing old neighorbood retail spaces (Sears, etc) in the industry.   Given the general challenges of finding places with a confluence of large scale power and network, this approach may prove to be quite interesting as markets continue to drive demand.   
Chris Brown of Opscode – One of the chief automation architects at my time at Microsoft, he has moved on to become the CTO of Opscode.  Everyone on the planet who is adopting and embracing a DevOps has heard of, and is probably using, Chef.  In fact if you are doing any kind of automation at large scale you are likely using his code.
None of these people would be comfortable with the attention but I do feel credit should be given to these amazing individuals who are changing our industry every day.    I am so very proud to have worked the trenches with these people. Life is always better when you are surrounded by those who challenge and support you and in my opinion these folks have taken it to the next level.
\Mm

And the winner is …. The Results of my Linux Laptop Search

76-5

 

After I posted my about my personal exploration into purchasing a pre-built, no-assembly required Linux laptop I have to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed at the response to the post.  In fact I have been inundated with emails, private messages, direct messages, and just about every communication method you could think of to post the results of my search and reveal which laptop I ended up going with.

While I purchased the machine weeks ago  I did not want to just simply answer the question with a slight note or addendum saying I ended up buying Brand X. I think every one would agree that the experience does not really end at the purchase.  I wanted to make sure I had some quality time on the machine and give some perspective after some real-world heavy duty use.  

So without a further ado, after some considerable analysis I ended up purchasing the System 76 Gazelle Professional.   The specs on my specific purchase are listed here below:

System 76 Gazelle

  • Base System
  • Ubuntu 13.04
  • 15.6” 1080p Full High Definition ColorPro IPS Display with a Matte Surface
  • Intel High Definition Graphics 4600
  • 4th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-4900MQ Processor ( 2.8 GHz 8MB L3 Cache – 4 Cores plus Hyperthreading )
  • 16 GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz – 2 X 8 GB
  • 960 GB Crucial M500 Series Solid State Drive
  • 8X DVD±R/RW/4X +DL Super-Multi Drive
  • Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 – 802.11A/B/G/N Wireless LAN + Bluetooth
  • US Keyboard

Please keep in mind that the reason for the purchase was to have an every day Linux machine that I could use for a mix of work, pleasure, and hobby.   I was not aiming to build the greatest development machine, or a gaming machine, or anything of the like.   Although I would argue after considerable use that this machine could be used in any of those configurations and perform exceptionally. But I am getting ahead of myself.

 

The Ordering Process

I ordered my machine through the website which was a pretty standard click-through configurator.  At the end of the process and submitted all my payment information in, I got the confirmation from System 76 pretty quickly.   I was also told that due to unavailability of some of the parts it would not ship for at least two weeks.   The instant satisfaction guy in me was disappointed, but having been around this industry long enough I know this happens a lot.   To my surprise I did not have to wait very long.  I got a note from them letting me know that my machine actually shipped out sooner than expected.   THAT is something does not usually happen.  

I should probably break away to let you know that the Customer Service Experience during the order process was exceptional (in my opinion).  Upon ordering the machine, you get a link to your order that constantly updates your status.  It tracks when you created your configuration, When you ordered it, When the teams at System76 start building it, and even features a ‘chat’ mechanism in case you have any questions.  Its not really live chat, but you can send questions, comments, or converse with them as part of the order process and they actually respond back to you fairly quickly.  All communication is tracked whether by System 76 “standard messages” like your system has started being assembled, to your order is shipped or any interactions you may have had with a Customer Service person.   The order interface also keeps track of all Serial numbers associated with your machine for ease of use later.

 

image

The Arrival

My machine arrived at the home in quick order and I was very happy to see quality of the shipping and related protection.  To be honest this was a bit of a concern as I had never ordered from these folks before, and I have had issues with shipping quality when order “clones” or “non-name brands” before.   But System76 did an outstanding job, rivaling if not hands-down beating the “bigger guys” in this department.  It may seem like a weird thing to comment on, but when you spend that kind of money on a machine it’s a terrible feeling if you cannot play with it immediately.

Regardless of how incredible the shipping material was, it was no match for my fingers as I tore into the box and removed all of it to get at the goodies inside. Please keep in mind that what you don’t see in the pictures below, is the box that the box the laptop actually came in!

76-176-276-376-4

 

Once free from its plastic and cardboard prison, the machine booted right up quickly and quietly (I love the SSD!).  Now that it was operational I got to work ensuring that the machine was well acquainted to its new home.   Which basically involves getting connected to my home networks, creating SSH keys, getting access to the servers and services in my home, (I have my own mini-data center in my house), mounting all of my cloud-base storage locations, downloading/installing the software that I use most often and getting connectivity to the variety of household peripherals scattered about the place.

The configurations were pretty straight forward and everything configured with ease. Everything of course except my scanner.   I am not sure why scanners have always been trouble for me, but even in the Windows world they are a pain in the….  I could probably do another whole post on getting my darn scanner to work. 

Anyway it all ended up well and it has become my main machine ever since.

Some of the more astute of those reading this post may have noticed that I bought this machine when the standard Operating System was Ubuntu 13.04.  I had completed all of the above configurations and had been using the machine heavily for some time before I had a slight panic moment after Saucy Salamander (Ubuntu 13.10) went general availability. So I set aside another weekend thinking that all of my hard work would have to be re-done when I did the upgrade.   In a very “Windows-like” notification I was given the option to automatically upgrade.  Intrigued, I clicked through to proceed and was pleasantly surprised that my machine upgraded with NO ADDITIONAL configurations from me.  It just worked.   It saved my weekend (or at least my Saturday).

I have been banging away on the machine solidly for over a month, and I have to say that I am extremely satisfied.  My only real complaint is that I wish it had a better keyboard.  Not that the keyboard itself is bad.  Its pretty standard actually.   I just think the industry as a whole could learn a few things from Lenovo about building a really great laptop keyboard.  

It’s definitely a powerful little workhorse of a machine!

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[This post is a follow up to my initial post looking for a pre-built Linux Laptop]

Bippity Boppity Boom! The Impact of Enchanted Objects on Development, Infrastructure and the Cloud

I have been spending a bunch of my time recently thinking through the impact on what David Rose of Ditto Labs and MIT Media Lab romantically calls ‘Enchanted Objects’.  What are enchanted objects?   Enchanted Objects are devices, appliances, tools, dishware, anything that is ultimately connected to the Internet (or any connected network) and become to some degree aware of the world around them.   Imagine an Umbrella that has a light on its hilt that lights up if it may rain today, reminding you that you might want to bring it along on your travels.   Imagine your pantry and refrigerator communicating with your grocery cart at the store while you shop, letting you know the things you are running low on or even bypasses the part where you have to shop, and automatically just orders it to your home.  This approach is going to fundamentally change everything you know in life from credit cards to having a barbeque with friends. These things and their capabilities are going to change our world in ways that we cannot even fathom today.   Our Technology Industry calls this emerging field, the Internet of Things.   Ugh!  How absolutely boring. Our industry has this way of sucking all the fun out of things don’t we?   I personally feel that ‘Enchanted Objects’ is a far more compelling classification, as it speaks to the possibilities, wonderment and possibly terror that lies in store for us.  If we must make it sound ‘technical’ maybe we can call it the Enchantosphere.

While I may someday do a post about all of the interesting things I have found out there already, or the ideas that I have come up with for this new enchanted world,  I wanted to to reflect a bit on what it means for the things that I normally write about.  You know, things like The cloud, big infrastructure, and scaled software development.   So go grab your walking staff of traffic conditions and come on an interesting journey into the not-so-distant world of Cloud powered magic…

The first thing you need to understand is, if you work in this industry, you are not an idle player in this magical realm.  You are, for lack of a better term, a wizard or an enchanter.   Your role will be pivotal in creating magic items, maintaining the magic around us, or ensuring that the magic used by everyone stays strong. While the Dungeons and Dragons and fantasy book references are almost limitless for this conversation I am going to try and bring it back to the world we know today.  I promise.  I am really just trying to tease out a glimpse of the world to come and the importance of the cloud, data center infrastructure, and the significant impacts on software development and how software based services may have to evolve. 

The Magical Weaves Surround Us

Every device and enchanted item will be connected.  Whether via through WIFI in your work and home, over mobile networks, or all of the above and more, these Enchanted Objects will be connected to the magical weaves all around us.  If you happen to be a network engineer you know that I am talking to you.  All of these objects are going to have to connect to something.   If you are one of those folks who are stuck in IPv4, you better upgrade yourself. There just isn’t enough address space there to connect everything in our magical world of the future.  IPv6 will be a must. In fact, these devices could just be that ‘killer app’ that drives global adoption of the standard even faster.   But its not just about address space, these kind of connected objects are going to open up and challenge whole new areas in security, spectrum management, routing, and a host of other areas.   I am personally thinking through some very interesting source-based routing applications in the Enchantosphere as well.   The short of it is, this new magical world is going to stress the limits of how things are connected today and Network Engineers will be charged with keeping our magical weaves flowing to allow our charmed existences to continue.  You are the Keepers of the Magical Weave and I am not talking about a tricked out hairpiece either.

While just briefly mentioned above – Security Engineers are going to have to evolve significantly as well.   It will lead into whole new areas and fields of privacy protection hard to even conceive at this point.  Even things like Health and Safety will need to be considered.  Imagine a stove that starts pre-heating itself based on where you are on your commute home and the dinner menu you have planned.  While some of those controls will need to be programmed into the software itself, there is no doubt that those capabilities will need to be well guarded.  Why, I can almost see the Wards and Glyphs of Protection you will have to create.

The Wizard’s Tower

imageAs cool as all these enchanted objects could be, they would all be worthless IP-enabled husks without the advent of the construct that we now call The Cloud.  When I talk about ‘The Cloud’ I am talking about more than just virtualized server instances and marketing-laden terminology.  I am talking about Data Centers.  I am talking about automation.  I am talking about ubiquitous compute capabilities all around the world.  The actual physical places where the magical services live! The Data Centers which include the technologies of both IT and facilities infrastructure and automation, The proverbial Wizards Tower!  This is where our enchanted objects will come to discover who they, how they work, what they should do, and retrieve any new capabilities they may yet magically receive.  This new world is going to drive the need for more compute centers across the globe.  This growth will not just be driven by demand, although the demand will admittedly be huge, but by other more mundane ‘muggle’ matters such as regulatory requirements, privacy enforcement, taxation and revenue.  I bet you were figuring  that with all this new found magical power flying around we would be able to finally rid ourselves of lawyers, legislators, government hacks, and the like.   Alas, it is after all still the real world.  Cloud Computing capacity will continue to grow, the demand for services increasing, and the development of an entire eco-system of software and services that sit atop the various cloud providers will be birthed.

I don’t know if many of you have read Robert Jordan’s fantasy series called ‘The Wheel of Time’, but in that series he has a a classification of enchanted objects called the Terangreal.  These are single purpose or limited power artifacts that anyone can use.   Like my example of the umbrella that lights up if its going to rain after it checks with Weatherbug for weather conditions in your area, or a ring that lights up to let you know that there is a new Loosebolts post available to read, or a garden gnome whose hat lights up when it detects evidence of plant eating bugs in your garden.  These are devices that require no technical knowledge to use, configure, but give some value to its owner.   They do their function and that is it.   By the way, I am an engineer not a marketing guy, if you don’t like my examples of special purpose enchanted objects you can tweet me better ones at @mjmanos. 

These devices will reach out, download their software, learn their capabilities, and just work as advertised.   Software in this model may seem very similar to todays software development techniques and environments but I believe we will begin to see fundamental changes in how software works and is distributed.   Software will be portable. Services will be portable.   Allowing for truly amazing “Multi-purpose” enchanted objects.  The ability to download “apps” to these objects can become common place.   Even something as a common place as a credit card could evolve to a piece of software or code that could be transported around in various devices.  Simply wave that RFID enabled stick (ok, wand) that contains your credit card app at the register and as long as you are wearing your necklace which stores your digital ID the transaction goes through.  Two factor authentication in the real world.  Or instead of a wand, maybe its just your wallet.  When thinking about this app enabled platform it gives a whole new meaning to the Capital One catchphrase Whats in your wallet?  The bottom line here is that a whole host of software, services, and other capabilities will become incredibly portable, and allow for some very interesting enchanted objects indeed.

The bottom line here is that we are just beginning to see into a new world of the Internet of Things… of Enchanted Objects.   The simpler things become the more complex they truly are.   Those of us who deal with large scale infrastructure, software and service development, and cloud based technologies have a heck of a ride ahead of us.  We are the keepers of the complex, Masters of the Arcane, and needers of a good bath.

\Mm