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.

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Industry Impact : Brothers from Different Mothers and Beyond…

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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.
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Google Purchase of Deep Earth Mining Equipment in Support of ‘Project Rabbit Ears’ and Worldwide WIFI availability…

(10/31/2013 – Mountain View, California) – Close examination of Google’s data center construction related purchases has revealed the procurement of large scale deep earth mining equipment.   While the actual need for the deep mining gear is unclear, many speculate that it has to do with a secretive internal project that has come to light known only as Project: Rabbit Ears. 

According to sources not at all familiar with Google technology infrastructure strategy, Project Rabbit ears is the natural outgrowth of Google’ desire to provide ubiquitous infrastructure world wide.   On the surface, these efforts seem consistent with other incorrectly speculated projects such as Project Loon, Google’s attempt to provide Internet services to residents in the upper atmosphere through the use of high altitude balloons, and a project that has only recently become visible and the source of much public debate – known as ‘Project Floating Herring’, where apparently a significantly sized floating barge with modular container-based data centers sitting in the San Francisco Bay has been spied. 

“You will notice there is no power or network infrastructure going to any of those data center shipping containers,” said John Knownothing, chief Engineer at Dubious Lee Technical Engineering Credibility Corp.  “That’s because they have mastered wireless electrical transfer at the large multi-megawatt scale.” 

Real Estate rates in the Bay Area have increased almost exponentially over the last ten years making the construction of large scale data center facilities an expensive endeavor.  During the same period, The Port of San Francisco has unfortunately seen a steady decline of its import export trade.  After a deep analysis it was discovered that docking fees in the Port of San Francisco are considerably undervalued and will provide Google with an incredibly cheap real estate option in one of the most expensive markets in the world. 

It will also allow them to expand their use of renewable energy through the use of tidal power generation built directly into the barges hull.   “They may be able to collect as much as 30 kilowatts of power sitting on the top of the water like that”, continues Knownothing, “and while none of that technology is actually visible, possible, or exists, we are certain that Google has it.”

While the technical intricacies of the project fascinate many, the initiative does have its critics like Compass Data Center CEO, Chris Crosby, who laments the potential social aspects of this approach, “Life at sea can be lonely, and no one wants to think about what might happen when a bunch of drunken data center engineers hit port.”  Additionally, Crosby mentions the potential for a backslide of human rights violations, “I think we can all agree that the prospect of being flogged or keel hauled really narrows down the possibility for those outage causing human errors. Of course, this sterner level of discipline does open up the possibility of mutiny.”

However, the public launch of Project Floating Herring will certainly need to await the delivery of the more shrouded Project Rabbit Ears for various reasons.  Most specifically the primary reason for the development of this technology is so that Google can ultimately drive the floating facility out past twelve miles into International waters where it can then dodge all national, regional, and local taxation, the safe harbor and privacy legislation of any country or national entity on the planet that would use its services.   In order to realize that vision, in the current network paradigm, Google would need exceedingly long network cables  to attach to Network Access Points and Carrier Connection points as the facilities drive through international waters.

This is where Project Rabbit Ears becomes critical to the Google Strategy.   Making use of the deep earth mining equipment, Google will be able to drill deep into the Earths crust, into the mantle, and ultimately build a large Network Access Point near the Earth’s core.  This Planetary WIFI solution will be centrally located to cover the entire earth without the use of regional WIFI repeaters.  Google’s floating facilities could then gain access to unlimited bandwidth and provide yet another consumer based monetization strategy for the company. 

Knownothing also speculates that such a move would allow Google to make use of enormous amounts of free geo-thermic power and almost singlehandedly become the greenest power user on the planet.   Speculation also abounds that Google could then sell that power through its as yet un-invented large scale multi-megawatt wireless power transfer technology as unseen on its floating data centers.

Much of the discussion around this kind of technology innovation driven by Google has been given credible amounts of veracity and discussed by many seemingly intelligent technology based news outlets and industry organizations who should intellectually know better, but prefer not to acknowledge the inconvenient lack of evidence.

 

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Editors Note: I have many close friends in the Google Infrastructure organization and firmly believe that they are doing some amazing, incredible work in moving the industry along especially solving problems at scale.   What I find simply amazing is in the search for innovation how often our industry creates things that may or may not be there and convince ourselves so firmly that it exists. 

Headed to #TCDisrupt this week, Looks like an amazing line up

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This week I am headed to the Tech Crunch Disrupt Conference in San Francisco.   It’s going to be hard trying to split time digging into the Startups in Startup Alley and a fantastic array of speakers this year.  My Twitter feed will likely play host to my thoughts throughout each day and I will likely post my thoughts here on Loosebolts after the close of the event as well.  If you would like to connect or reach out while I am at the event you can always reach me at  @mjmanos on Twitter or shoot me a quick email.

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Confessions of an Intentional Serendipity Coordinator

A few months back I had a great conversation with Pat McDevitt, a good friend of mine who at the time was the Engineering Leader for MapQuest.   MapQuest is going through some interesting changes and evolution from a product and engineering perspective and the topic of creating, sustaining, and driving a culture of innovation came up.  This of course led us to talking about the concept of Intentional Serendipity. 

We live in a marketplace where management-speak is fast, loose, and most of all abundant.  Most of it makes me sick and you immediately lose “lets go hang out and get a drink” points when I hear you babble one out.  You definitely don’t want to know what happens if you try to combine two of them together in a sentence.   But I have a dirty little secret to confess.   I have to say that no other management buzzword in the last five years has really captured much of my mind share as much as this phrase – Intentional Serendipity.

Now to be clear I am not really sure that it qualifies as “management-speak” just yet.  I really don’t hear to many people talking about it.  It hasn’t made it on to Bloomberg TV.  I haven’t read to much about it in the blogosphere although its definitely out there.  I have heard it only a smattering of times in podcasts.  I definitely know that it has not been thrown around ubiquitously at the conferences and industry events that I attend.    But it may be getting close to a break out.

Or perhaps I am just infatuated with the term because it most closely matches my style of how I like to cultivate innovation in my teams. 

I am not sure where it began and I am sure word-smithy pundits have thought to put these two words together for a very long time. But by and large I am an engineer at heart and its rare for us to be considered word-smithy pundits. 

The definition has to do with placing yourself in a situation where different ideas, processes, people, cultural norms are present (the intentional) and allowing those inputs to combine with your unique experience to create something new.  A new experience, a new idea, a new business, a whole new perspective, whatever.  There are lots of interesting definitions out there, but my personal favorite is short and sweet and comes from a Professional Learning educator for the YMCA in Toronto, named Peter Skillen.    His quote:

“Getting to where ideas can find you!”

 

I have always been fascinated about how the “Spark” of an idea comes to be and what drives the following ignition of that spark into actions and effort to turn into into reality.   Looking at my own life and career , its very clear to me that my own story is one full of Intentionally Serendipitous moments even though I may not have fully understood it at the time.  

Once you realize that it is indeed a real “thing” it can become an incredibly powerful force to harness in business, in your life, in anything.   But most especially for those of us in leadership positions in the Technology and Engineering disciplines.   The Institute of Design at Stanford University or “d school” basically operates on a very formal process by combining multi-disciplinary students and members for creating the fertile ground of amazing moments of inspiration.  Founded on the principles of Design Thinking it’s a pure application of Intentional Serendipity.   There is a great TED talk from Corey Ford at a TED event at UNC that I highly recommend watching.

As a technology leader in an organization I believe its my duty to create these opportunities to create this fertile ground. Referencing back to Skillen’s definition, Its my duty to create the place where the ideas can find members of my teams.   Oh sure, you have things like projects to get done, goals to accomplish, and the like – but providing these kinds of experiences for your teams is absolutely required if you want to create a culture where innovation can take root.

One of the ways I try to do that is by having “Out of the Blue Table Top Sessions” or as they have become to be known – Blue Table Top Sessions.  Bringing in engineering and architects with different skillsets, combine them with product and business people, provide a fun atmosphere, plenty of time, food, and a couple of key ignition questions or challenges to get the ball rolling.  

BlueTableTop1

Creativity is highly encouraged.  The tables are covered in blue paper and everyone is issued a silver marker, and a buzzer.  Drawing on the tables with ideas, notes, thoughts, diagrams, doodles, everything is encouraged.   Throughout the course of a session the ideas generated are captured, technologies explored, and an inventory is created for deeper follow-ups. The teams get to pick which they think are the best/most viable/ or ah-ha! ideas of the session and those are given extra attention. 

Throughout the session the ideas flow, conversation is spurred on, and the only BlueTableTop2requirement is that attendees come with an open mind, assume no constraints or live within the ones defined in the challenges or ignition questions and allow people to have fun.  The buzzers are there for when these basic rules are violated.  Its hard for people to truly get upset when they are buzzed with a loud cow mooing, or dog barking, or like sound.   Its all in good fun.  Someone also has to be in charge of pacing and timing.   The Coordinator.   The Coordinator is an equal member of the team in every way, except that they have the added responsibility to keep the day moving along either by distributing new challenges, making judgement calls, or taking bio breaks.   Its kind of like being the Dungeon Master playing a table top game of Dungeons and Dragons – except you get to be the half-elven fighter/mage too!

This process has been instrumental in many of the advancements on the tech and product sides of  the business.  Allowing the varied life experiences and unique skills of the people around you to contribute to the confluence of ideas is extremely satisfying as a leader and has a real benefit to the goals of your organization.

Whether you lead people formally or not, whether you lead an entire organization or just a small group – having a method of harnessing innovation is priceless.   Are you a Intentional Serendipity Coordinator?  If not…you failed your saving throw.

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Through an idea and force of will, he created an industry…

This week the Data Center Industry got the terrible news it knew might be coming for some time.   That Ken Brill, founder of the Uptime Institute had passed away.  Many of us knew that Ken had been ill for some time and although it may sound silly, were hoping he could somehow pull through it.   Even as ill as he was, Ken was still sending and receiving emails and staying in touch with this industry that quite frankly he helped give birth to.  

I was recently asked about Ken and his legacy for a Computerworld article and it really caused me to stop and re-think his overall legacy and gift to the rest of us in the industry.  Ken Brill was a pioneering, courageous, tenacious, visionary who through his own force of will saw the inefficiencies in a nascent industry and helped craft it into what it is today.

Throughout his early career experience Ken was able to see the absolute silo’ing of information, best practices, and approaches that different enterprises were developing around managing their mission critical IT spaces.    While certainly not alone in the effort, he became the strongest voice and champion to break down those walls, help others through the process and build a network of people who would share these ideas amongst each other.  Before long an industry was born.   Sewn together through his sometimes delicate, sometimes not so delicate cajoling and through it all his absolute passion for the Data Center industry at large.

One of the last times Ken and I got to speak in person.In that effort he also created and permeated the language that the industry uses as commonplace.   Seeing a huge gap in terms of how people communicated and compared mission critical capabilities he became the klaxon of the Tiering system which essentially normalized the those conversations across the Data Center Industry.   While some (including myself) have come to think it’s a time to re-define how we classify our mission critical spaces, we all have to pay homage to the fact that Ken’s insistence and drive for the Tiering system created a place and a platform to even have such conversations.  

One of Ken’s greatest strengths was his adaptability.   For example, Ken and I did not always agree.   I remember an Uptime Fellows meeting back in 2005 or 2006 or so in Arizona.  In this meeting I started talking about the benefits of modularization and reduced infrastructure requirements augmented by better software.   Ken was incredulous and we had significant conversations around the feasibility of such an approach.   At another meeting we discussed the relative importance or non-importance of a new organization called ‘The Green Grid’ (Smile)and if Uptime should closely align itself with those efforts.   Through it all Ken was ultimately adaptable. Whether it was giving those ideas light for conversation amongst the rest of the Uptime community via audio blogs, or other means, Ken was there to have a conversation.

In an industry where complacency has become commonplace, where people rarely question established norms, it was always comforting to know that Ken was there acting the firebrand, causing the conversation to happen.   This week we lost one of the ‘Great Ones’ and I for one will truly miss him.  To his family my deepest sympathies, to our industry I ask, “Who will take his place?”

 

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Patent Wars may Chill Data Center Innovation

Yahoo may have just sent a cold chill across the data center industry at large and begun a stifling of data center innovation.  In a May 3, 2012 article, Forbes did a quick and dirty analysis on the patent wars between Facebook and Yahoo. It’s a quick read but shines an interesting light on the potential impact something like this can have across the industry.   The article, found here,  highlights that :

In a new disclosure, Facebook added in the latest version of the filing that on April 23 Yahoo sent a letter to Facebook indicating that Yahoo believes it holds 16 patents that “may be relevant” to open source technology Yahoo asserts is being used in Facebook’s data centers and servers.

While these types of patent infringement cases happen all the time in the Corporate world, this one could have far greater ramifications on an industry that has only recently emerged into the light of sharing of ideas.    While details remain sketchy at the time of this writing, its clear that the specific call out of data center and servers is an allusion to more than just server technology or applications running in their facilities.  In fact, there is a specific call out of data centers and infrastructure. 

With this revelation one has to wonder about its impact on the Open Compute Project which is being led by Facebook.   It leads to some interesting questions. Has their effort to be more open in their designs and approaches to data center operations and design led them to a position of risk and exposure legally?  Will this open the flood gates for design firms to become more aggressive around functionality designed into their buildings?  Could companies use their patents to freeze competitors out of colocation facilities in certain markets by threatening colo providers with these types of lawsuits?  Perhaps I am reaching a bit but I never underestimate litigious fervor once the  proverbial blood gets in the water. 

In my own estimation, there is a ton of “prior art”, to use an intellectual property term, out there to settle this down long term, but the question remains – will firms go through that lengthy process to prove it out or opt to re-enter their shells of secrecy?  

After almost a decade of fighting to open up the collective industry to share technologies, designs, and techniques this is a very disheartening move.   The general Glasnost that has descended over the industry has led to real and material change for the industry.  

We have seen the mental shift of companies move from measuring facilities purely around “Up Time” measurements to one that is primarily more focused around efficiency as well.  We have seen more willingness to share best practices and find like minded firms to share in innovation.  One has to wonder, will this impact the larger “greening” of data centers in general.   Without that kind of pressure – will people move back to what is comfortable?

Time will certainly tell.   I was going to make a joke about the fact that until time proves out I may have to “lawyer” up just to be safe.  Its not really a joke however because I’m going to bet other firms do something similar and that, my dear friends, is how the innovation will start to freeze.

 

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on taking the responsibilities of CTO of the Huffington Post Media Group. . .

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Today I was asked to take over the responsibilities of Chief Technology Officer for the Huffington Post Media Group and I can tell I am extremely excited for this opportunity.  This new set of responsibilities will be in addition to my current role as Senior Vice President of Technology at AOL where I have responsibility for the Operations and Day to Day Delivery of all AOL products and services.  What is extremely interesting is that the Huffington Post is like no other platform or agency of its kind.  In fact, I am not sure there really is a ‘kind’ to apply. 

In observing and participating in the daily Operation of the Huffington Post since its integration into AOL and experiencing first hand how that organization functions from an editorial flow perspective it is singly unique to any other organization I have ever witnessed. 

First the integration between the Editorial, Design, and Technology components of the company are truly three equal and dependent legs in the overall delivery of the service. Unlike many media companies where Technology plays a secondary role, at the Huffington Post its an essential and core part of the overall product and delivery strategy.  Technology literally iterates on a daily basis.

In conversations with Arianna Huffington and Tim Armstrong, I have come to truly appreciate the longer term vision and expansion of this product and how important a role Technology will represent. My background of rapidly scaling out infrastructure and development capabilities will I hope lend some considerable capabilities to these goals for the future.

Some people familiar with this type of industry may think its nothing more than a simplified website with a custom CMS.  I can tell you that the back end systems, custom CMS, widget interfaces and overall flexibility that these systems operate on and develop to are part of the reason for the platforms overall success.   In a world where ‘Internet time’ generally means an aggressively accelerated rate of time, the Huffington Post Platform operates at a Faster than Internet time rate.   Its an incredible challenge and one I cant wait to sink my teeth into.

 

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