Rolling Clouds – My Move into the Mobile Cloud

As many of you saw in my last note, I have officially left Digital Realty Trust to address some personal things.   While I get those things in order I am not sitting idling by.   I am extremely happy to announce that I have taken a role at Nokia as their VP of Service Operations.  In this role I will have global responsibility for the strategy, operation and run of infrastructure aspects for Nokia’s new cloud and mobile services platforms.

Its an incredibly exciting role especially when you think of the fact that the number of mobile hand-held’s around the world are increasingly becoming the interface by which people are consuming information.  Whether that be Navigation-based applications or other content related platforms your phone is becoming your gateway to the world. 

I am also very excited by the fact that there are some fierce competitors in this space as well.  Once again I will be donning my armor and doing battle with my friends at Google.   Their Droid platform is definitely interesting and it will be interesting to see how that develops.  I have a great amount of respect for Urs Hoelze and their cloud platform is something I am fairly familiar with .  I will also be doing battle with the folks from Apple (and interestingly my good friend Olivier Sanche).  Apple definitely has the high end hand-held market here in the US, but its experience in Cloud platforms and operations is not very sophisticated just yet.  On some levels I guess I am even competing against the infrastructure and facilities I built out at Microsoft at least as it relates to the mobile world.  Those are some meaty competitors and as you have seen before, I love a good fight.

In my opinion, Nokia has some very interesting characteristics that position it extremely well if not atop the fray in this space.   First there is no arguing about Nokia penetration of hand-held devices across the world.  Especially in markets like India, China, South America, and other emerging Internet-using populations.    Additionally these emerging economies are skipping past ground-based wired technologies to wireless connectivity.   As a result of that, Nokia has an incredible presence already in those markets.   Their OVI platform today already has a significant population of users (measured at least in the 10s of millions) and so scale at the outset is definitely there.    When I think about the challenge that Google has in getting device penetration out there, or Apples high-end (and mostly US) only approach you can see the opportunity.    I am extremely excited to get going.

Hope you will join me for an incredible ride!

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A Digital Adieu

Those who follow the news from Digital Realty Trust closely may have recently read that I have decided to leave the company to focus a bit more on some personal work/life balance issues.  With this move comes a new role that I will talk more of in the coming days and weeks.

I would like to take a moment and talk about my time and experience at Digital and what I believe to be some industry ground breaking work that is being done there.   The first thing that strikes me about the company is the quality and dedication of the people.  The staff within the organization are incredibly committed to both providing the best product  (in terms of engineering and construction) along with an obsessive regimen around Operations.  In my role running all aspects of design, construction, and operations, this passion showed through every single day.    It was a delight to work with such motivated people. 

From the outside it might be difficult to gauge just how significant this operation truly is.   As many of you know I have run some large programs before, but they all pale in comparison to the size, scope, and complexity of the work happening at DLR.  Its one thing to be building a couple of very large facilities and quite another to be building out tens upon tens of data center construction initiatives across the world.   There simply is no organization in the world that has to construct, manage and operate more data centers, period.   In addition to these “block and tackling” items there is also a healthy focus on modularization and evolving data center design and prototyping.   This focus is not just about driving additional efficiencies in power and cooling, but also in cost, and time to deploy.  A true intersection of business requirements.  On top of all this you add the Pod Architecture Services program and Build to Suit program which additionally extend Digitals capabilities to those looking to build “Do it Yourself” (DIY) Data Centers.   In short, it was a ton of fun with incredible opportunities for growth.

In my time at the company I have focused on driving additional streamlining efforts and operational rigor across the board and have helped set the engineering direction of the company.   This work has already begun to pay some significant dividends and I am sure will likely continue well into the future.   But let me be clear – The success of these initiatives will be delivered by a top rate team with few peers in the industry.  

In short, Digital was a great experience and I feel blessed in having made some life-long friends there as well.   So as I start a new chapter in my life, a bid fond adieu to a Data Center Juggernaut and look boldly forward to what is to come, for me and for Digital.

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Private Clouds – Not just a Cost and Technology issue, Its all about trust, the family jewels, corporate value, and identity

I recently read a post by my good friend James Hamilton at Amazon regarding Private Clouds.   James and I worked closely together at Microsoft and he was always a good source for out of the box thinking and challenging the status quo.    While James post found here, speaks to the Private Cloud initiative being what amounts to be an evolutionary dead end, I would have to respectfully disagree.

James’ post starts out by correctly pointing out that at scale the large cloud players have the resources and incentive to achieve some pretty incredible cost savings.  From an infrastructure perspective he is dead on.  But I don’t necessarily agree that this innovation will never reach the little guy.  In my role at Digital Realty Trust I think I might have a pretty unique perspective on the infrastructure developments both at the “big” guys along with what most corporate enterprises have available to them from a leasing or commercial perspective.  

Companies like Digital Realty Trust,  Equinix, Terramark, Dupont Fabros, and a host of others in the commercial data center space are making huge advancements in this space as well.   The free market economy has now placed an importance on low PUE highly efficient buildings.   You are starting to see these firms commission buildings with Commission PUEs Sub 1.4.   Compared to most existing data center facilities this is a huge improvement.  Likewise these firms are incented to hire mechanical and electrical experts.  This means that this same expertise is available to the enterprise through leasing arrangements.  Where James is potentially correct is at that next layer of IT specific equipment.

This is an area where there is an amazing amount of innovation happening by Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.   But even here in this space there are firms stepping up to provide solutions to bring extensive virtualization and cloud-like capabilities to bear.    Companies like Hexagrid have software solutions offerings that are being marketed to typical co-location and hosting firms to do the same thing.  Hexagrid and others are focusing on the software and hardware combinations to deliver full service solutions for those companies in this space.    In fact (as some comments on James’ blog mention) there is a lack of standards and a fear of vendor lock-in by choosing one of the big firms.  Its an interesting thought to ponder if a software+hardware solution offered to the hundreds of co-location players and hosting firms might be more of a universal solution without fear of lockdown.  Time will tell.

But this brings up one of the key criticisms that this is not just about cost and technology.   I believe what is really at stake here is much more than that.   James makes great points on greater resource utilization of the big cloud players and how much more efficient they are at utilizing their infrastructure.   To which i will snarkly (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) say to that, “SO WHAT!”  :)   Do enterprises really care about this?  Do they really optimize for this?  I mean if you pull back that fine veneer of politically correct answers  and “green-suitable” responses is that what their behavior in REAL LIFE is indicative of?    NO.

This was a huge revelation for me when I moved into my role at Digital.  When I was at Microsoft, I optimized for all of the things that James mentions because it made sense to do when you owned the whole pie.   In my role at Digital I have visibility into tens of data centers, across hundreds of customers that span just about every industry.  There is not, nor has there been a massive move (or any move for that matter) to become more efficient in the utilization of their resources.   We have had years of people bantering about how wonderful, cool, and how revolutionary a lot of this stuff is, but world wide Data center utilization levels have remained abysmally low.   Some providers bank on this.  Over subscription of their facilities is part of their business plan.  They know companies will lease and take down what they think they need, and never take it down in REALITY.   

So if this technology issue is not a motivating factor what is?  Well cost is always part of the equation.   The big cloud providers will definitely deliver cost savings, but private clouds could also deliver cost savings as well.   More importantly however, Private clouds will allow companies to retain their identity and uniqueness, and keep what makes them competitively them –Them.

I don’t so much see it as a Private cloud or Public cloud kind of thing but more of a Private Cloud AND Public cloud kind of thing.   To me it looks more an exercise of data abstraction.   The Public offerings will clearly offer infrastructure benefits in terms of cost, but will undoubtedly lock a company into that single solution.  The IT world has been bit before by putting all their eggs in a single basket and the need for flexibility will remain more key.    Therefore you might begin to see Systems Integrators, Co-location and hosting firms, and others build their own platforms, or much more likely, build platforms that umbrella over the big cloud players to give enterprises the best of both worlds. 

Additionally we must keep in mind that  the biggest resistance to the adoption of the cloud is not technology or cost but RISK and TRUST.  Do you, Mr. CIO, trust Google to run all of your infrastructure? your applications?  Do you Mrs. CIO, Trust Microsoft or Amazon to do the same for you?    The answer is not a blind yes or no.   Its a complicated set of minor yes responses and no responses.   They might feel comfortable outsourcing mail operations, but not the data warehouse manifesting decades of customer information.     The Private cloud approach will allow you to spread your risk.   It will allow you to maintain those aspects of the business that are core to the company. 

The cloud is an interesting place, today.  It is dominated by technologists.  Extremely smart engineering people who like to optimize and solve for technological challenges.  The actual business adoption of this technology set has yet to be fully explored.   Just wait until the “Business” side of the companies get their hooks into this technology set and start placing other artificial constraints, or optimizations around other factors.  There are thousands of different motivators out in the world.  Once they starts to happen earnest.  I think what you will find is a solution that looks more like a hybrid solution than the pure plays we dream about today.

Even if you think my ideas and thoughts on this topic is complete BS, I would remind you of something that I have told my teams for a very long time.  “There is no such thing as a temporary data center.”  This same mantra will hold true for the cloud.  If you believe that the Private Cloud will be a passing and temporary thing, just keep in mind that there will be systems and solutions build to this technology approach thus imbuing it with a very very long life.  

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Lessons from Dad

Last week my father retired from the Chicago Police Department.   After 38 years on the force (34 of which he spent as a Homicide Detective in the worst areas of Chicago) he finally called it quits.   Its an event I truly thought I would never see.  My dad has had quite a colorful and storied career, not just with the Police Department but with his various other jobs he held over the years as well. It includes everything from security jobs, to being a member of the US Marshalls Fugitive Apprehension Unit to being a regular Bodyguard to Frank Sinatra.  Even retired he has started his own security and investigations company.  Some things never change I guess.

His dedication to providing for his family was an inspiration and he instilled inside each of his children a great work ethic and desire to be more.  He was a great example of not just doing what you do, but do what you do well.  

On his last full day, a few of the guys he worked with decided to give him a going away bash at the ‘cop bar’ my dad has gone to ever since I can remember.   My brother and I were lucky enough to be there as well.   The event started just after the first shift guys got out, and word soon spread around the Police force of this impromptu gathering.   As the day and night dragged on hundreds of police officers strolled through that door.  Officers past and present almost to midnight came through those doors.   It also goes to prove an old Chicago adage that every cop knows every other cop in Chicago.  He will have a formal retirement party but this event was interesting in its own right in many regards.

My dad always preached to us that you should take care of the people you work with and those that work for you.  Here before us over the course of hours and hours were countless officers who eagerly told me that they would take a bullet for my father any day.   They regaled me with stories (Oh the stories!) of his actions on the police force (most of which my father would never talk about himself)  and how he led his teams.  They talked about tough choices he had to make (life and death in many cases) and sometimes taking the hard road.  But here before us was a lifetime of living like he preached.  It was humbling on so many levels.

I know this post is a big departure from my normal Operations or Data Center topics but I believe it has relevance.  Being a manager you have to make tough choices.   Whether your building teams or just blocking and tackling, you sometimes feel alone and that challenges are too hard to overcome.   The key in these situations is to be more than a manager.  The mechanics of your job can always be done and can likely be done by any other.  Where you truly distinguish yourself is in your ability to lead.   Can you inspire in others a sense of accomplishing the task at hand?  You get so much more out of people when they feel that you are vested in them and their success.   I am not talking about some faux – put on – trickery.  I am talking about investing in the people you work with.   Investing yourself in them and the task at hand.

I hope in my life I am a quarter as successful as my father was in investing in his peers and reports and ultimately his friends.  Its the true definition of success.   You will never remember whether you successfully hit a budget target one year to another, but you will remember those times that you and your teams pulled off the impossible.  Like all human interactions – its that personal connection that ultimately counts. 

My Hero. My Dad.

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CIO Magazine Data Center Roundtable

On Wednesday January 13th, I will be co-hosting a Roundtable Dinner with Chicago area CIOs on the topic of data centers and the data center industry at large.   The event is sponsored by CIO Magazine and is likely to be a wide ranging conversation given the mix of executives slated to come.  The group will be made up of technology leadership from a diverse set of industries including Universities, Manufacturing, Financial Institutions, and Hospitality.  

I am betting the topics will range from data center legislation, impact of the cloud, technologies, and key trends.

I am looking forward to some good mid-western steak, great conversation, and walking away from the meeting with more important perspectives on what we are facing as an industry. 

I will try and post a summary of topics discussed later this week. 

 

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