The Weight of Technical Liberty…Cutting the Cruft

Over the next few months, it’s my sincere desire to share with you some of the amazing technology accomplishments currently underway at First Data and how we are attempting to change the industry.  In any conversation about the future, you must begin by framing the past.   As you may or may not know First Data is a company that was founded in 1971.   It is a company hallmarked in its early years by significant technology innovation with a number of ‘firsts’ in the enablement of credit card processing across the globe. 

Throughout the years the company grew both organically as well as through large numbers of mergers and acquisitions on a global scale which ultimately enabled it to become the international leader it is today.  I will spare folks a deeper commercial of the company only to state that today it has more scale and technology reach than any other company like it in the #Fintech space. 

I share this information because it’s that unencumbered growth over decades of acquisition, an evolving and changing regulatory and compliance field of requirements, and a historically growing list of platforms and services that ultimately led to the largest trove of ‘Cruft’ I have ever been challenged with in my personal career. It’s a challenge 45 years in the making. 

As you may recall I first defined ‘Cruft’ while engaged at the Turn-Around at AOL:

Cruft is defined as years of build-up of technology, processes, politics, fiscal orphaning, and poor operational hygiene that ultimately impede technical agility and operation.  Additionally, Cruft can create an acidic cloud of lethargy or apathy in the workforce that ultimately sucks the energy out of innovation from within.

When I originally defined the term I was referring to the work we accomplished attacking the Cruft in a different organization which ultimately led to the company winning the Uptime Institute’s “Server Round-Up” Award. That award was created to promote full IT and Facilities integration and improve overall energy efficiency.  While recognized for the energy efficiency improvement, it was really a by-product of other technological and organizational wins for the company.

Our work on ‘attacking the Cruft’ at First Data has resulted in similar, in fact, greater energy cost savings, but more importantly it has reduced and continues to reduce the operational complexity of our environments.  Attacking the Cruft problem along the technology, process, and hygiene axes have resulted in some very powerful and significant results.  While we are far from completing the task, the last twenty-four (24) months have yielded some mind-numbing progress.

Is this really my metric? So Not Technical…

The first challenge I had was trying to find a way to truly quantify the reductions in a metric everyone could understand.   Simply counting servers was not enough, it could not account for other devices like storage equipment, network equipment, and other kit that does not easily fold into that definition.   Measuring power usage decreases, while absolutely telling the effort from a purely technical perspective, obfuscated the tremendous amount of work and passion the teams poured into modernizing our plant.  Many of the consumers of the information of our modernization efforts are not technology or energy wonks.   We had to come up with a metric that was universal.  That everyone, even non-technical people could understand and visualize.   In the end, we settled on the ‘ton’. 

I know what you are thinking…the ton?  As in… like..weight?

Yes. 

It’s not as cool as measuring in megawatts, or measured computational capacity, or MIPS, or IOPs, or whatever metric is fashionable these days, but it is universal.  Additionally, the scale of the work output would just get lost.   So what did we achieve over the last 24 months?

  1. We removed 220+ tons of IT Equipment from our global data centers.
  2. We consolidated and shutdown 5 data centers across the world; and have an aggressive plan to continue to consolidate more.
  3. We employed large-scale internal virtualization technology, open source cloud technologies, and are building a hybridized cloud controller that has resulted in moving nearly 75% of our physical distributed server environments to a virtualized footprint. (I will share more on that in a different post).

There were significant other achievements as well which we can discuss at a later date.  But as I said, we had to set the framework of what the starting position was.   We still have a mountain of work in this space to do but the momentum has started and passions have been ignited.  Those passions are blowing away that “acidic cloud” that results from Cruft.  The results speak for themselves.  That is an incredible amount of work to achieve in just 24 months.  It’s not just about establishing a set of technical goals for an organization to achieve.  As a leader it’s about ensuring that you have created the fertile soil for those changes to take place and have empowered your people to make decisions along that alignment. 

Of course, none of this could have been achieved if the firm from the top down was dedicated to driving this kind of significant change.   First Data is truly blessed with a board and leadership team who not only understand technology, they have lived it, they have managed it, they have won with it.   It’s a very unique set of variables that have been toggled.

While tonnage may be an easier metric for non-techies to understand how much equipment was removed,  it is hard to grasp just how much 220 tons actually represents.  As these efforts over the last two years have created more operational simplicity giving us the freedom and liberty to expand and explore new technology approaches it is only fitting to associate it with the Statue of Liberty.  Which by coincidence also weighs 220 tons.  Visualize that.

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Is Emotional Intelligence in a Leader Important in a Tech-led Turn Around?

eqxno

I was recently reflecting on and inspired by an article I read by Ross Kingsland which was published over a year ago on the topic of the Emotional Intelligence myth in leadership.  His article focuses on the role of the leader and whether or not emotional intelligence (or EQ) has any measurable effectiveness in the area of leadership.   In fact he even points out that the entire application of Emotional Intelligence in leadership as a discipline is only mentioned a single time in the original research done by Daniel Goleman.

One thing that you must understand is that on the weekends I become a voracious consumer of information and data.  Its that quiet time of the week when the pressing issues and challenges of my day job subside just enough to allow for additional thought expansion. Whether that data and information is work or industry related, or an area that I just have personal passions in,  it doesn’t really matter.   To me each idea has a specific shape.  Its own mass.   For me to really consume it, understand it, agree and/or disagree with it, it must process in my brain as a three dimensional object.   There I have to play with the shape.  Explore it.  Challenge it.  Stretch it.  Apply my own life experience and pre-conceived opinions against it.  Its like a blob of silly putty and I play with it for as long as I need to until I get value and enjoyment from it.  If truth be told, more often than not, I get more value and enjoyment from the process itself than the revelations I may or may not come up with. 

While not specifically technology focused, the article itself challenges whether or not a leader’s specific measurable EQ has an impact on organizational effectiveness or end results. I prefer to think of EQ less as a sole measure and more of a “trait with weight” that is influenced and regulated by other environmental factors.  The individual leader’s trait is but a voice (and more importantly an ear) in the cacophony of the environment. Their individual trait interacts with what I will call organizational receptors to determine its ability to successfully impact it or not.  Much like an athlete with raw natural talent must practice and engage situationally to hone their craft.  It does not matter if the athlete can throw a ball 80 yards with exacting precision, if he cannot do it when his opponents are closing in on him from all sides, he will fail.

When it comes to the combining the concepts of leadership and EQ all of the conversations I have experienced focus too much on the leader as a lone agent. I believe it has more to do with the leaders interaction within their own specific eco-system and their experience in managing the combined tactical and EQ environment of their teams.

Its through this lens that I believe that Leadership EQ begins to matter…and I do think it matters.  The caveat is that it matters experientially based upon where in the hierarchy you sit, the function one delivers, and the results expected by the task.  Additionally EQ has as many inputs as outputs and together they can become cumulative in ultimately creating or reflecting a set of expectations and results not immediately appreciated in the environment.  

Interestingly I have also come to the belief that an individual leader’s EQ becomes less relevant the higher in the hierarchy he or she achieves specifically in organizations that experience “normal” levels of stress or pressure in the system.  I would also posit that organizations going through “significant or elevated” levels of stress actually prefer a lack of measureable EQ in the highest levels of leadership which reinforces Kingsland’s ‘Hero’ observations. However, even in those situations, those more localized team leads in an organization must still have those EQ talents if the organization is to deliver successful results. 

These are important factors to consider especially when leading an organization through change and selecting and understanding your leadership team and management chain.

What is Emotional Intelligence or EQ Anyway?

The Wikipedia definition of EQ is defined as :

“the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.[1] Emotional intelligence also reflects abilities to join intelligence, empathy and emotions to enhance thought and understanding of interpersonal dynamics.”

I wont go into the various EQ models or the complexity of the debate by those much smarter than me in this space.  My position is more observational and it focuses more on the different environmental representations and reflections in the modern workplace.  Its less about an individual and more about the navigation of the leader in a complex interaction of individuals and their work environments.

Its not just about the leader but the landscape of the led

Having observed and participated in some fairly substantial organizational and company level turn-around activity especially in the realm of technology there seems to be a clear set of criteria or perhaps areas of awareness required for success. In my experience where groups have led change the following 10 conditions were present and where results were mixed or failed they were not.  Please keep in my that this is solely through the lens of the EQ perspective.  There are far more opportunities to fail via poor strategic or tactical decisions.  So we must pre-suppose for this chat that the strategy and tactical direction is correct or at least directionally correct.

As mentioned, I believe it is more about the interaction and observation of the leader with an overall EQ ecosystem that is additionally regulated by specific expectations of hierarchy. In short, I have ended up on the following basic tenets of observation in this space:

  1. EQ can be measured (and in my mind more accurately weighted) for an individual leader. But it is just a small but important part in driving overall organization effectiveness and success. Like the natural athlete has the raw ability, its the application of those skills into real world experiences that matter most.
  2. EQ is also an organizational environmental variable that is made up from the collective expectations of its individuals and their own personal weights.  Those individuals, groups or teams have created a collective set of traits and importance as an organization.  In order for a leader to lead to success those collective expectations need to be met. In effect, each ‘organization’ has its own EQ desires and expectations fashioned from the interaction of its members along with their individual requirements. 
  3. An organization can have different EQ personalities at different levels of the hierarchy which also need to be well understood. 
  4. Different strategies will likely need to be applied to each level of the hierarchy of the eco-system for success to be achieved.
  5. In some cases even the distribution of teams across different geographies can add additional cultural/experiential wrinkles to the problem that must be accommodated into the strategy.
  6. Any successful leader must be able and willing to “change frequencies” in both their sending of communication and more importantly their reception of it in the eco-system.  Depending on the hierarchy and size of the organization a leader may introduce, change, or incent other “receivers” at closer levels in the hierarchy. 
  7. If this is done, it is imperative that those “receivers” have a more direct communication path to the leader.
  8. EQ matters more at the atomic work level.  Close to the execution teams.
  9. In a turn-around or organizational change situation – the overall strategic or tactical deliverables are paramount.  Those are the goals to be achieved.  While these can be achieved from a purely intellectual pursuit, it is the ignition via EQ that represents the fuel that will power that change. That fuel has a finite quantity.  The leader who ignites the EQ “fuel” with a Poor strategy and direction can cause a change in the EQ characteristics of the environment they are trying to read. Capability Counts. Confidence Counts.
  10. Be mindful that in my experience different professions can have their own sets of group EQ expectations that may differ from the rest of the organization – Technology organizations versus Human Resource Organizations for example.  There can even be slight differentiations introduced by geography or culture.  Think Silicon Valley Technology versus Atlanta Internet Company versus East Coast Financial Services Technology cultures.  Like different plays in a playbook, the leader must adapt their EQ strategy.

One might argue that this would all feed into the formal definition of a leader’s emotional intelligence.  Their ability to read the field as things develop.   In some regards that is true, but my supposition is that it is more than just their ability.  On one hand there is an ability that is both natural and experiential (to some degree even learnable if not observable) and on the other hand there is an equal force in the environment that they work in that is as dynamic, changing, and alive which represents individual EQ’s and aggregations of EQ from within the organization.   Its that delicate dance the defines the ultimate success.

In his post, Ross Kingsland asked “How is it so many people in position of power and leadership achieve this level and maintain it, despite the fact that their emotional intelligence is perceived as low?” His examples focus on Tony Blair, Barrack Obama, and even George W. Bush.   In my mind it ultimately boils down to how well they understand, listen, interact, and ultimately manage the EQs of the various organizations and institutions they lead.  Its not just about the leader.  The organizational EQ pushes back. It interacts.  It can and does change. Once higher level needs are met, the needs of the organization become more focused.  The leader must continue to dance. It is not a one and done affair.

Ultimately the leader charged with change my deploy their own strategy around the EQ.  It tests their ability to read the plays.  The teams they put in place and their ability to “fire up” or “ignite” the underlying EQ passions of the organization they lead.  If a low EQ leader knows that they have a deficiency they may compensate with hiring or promoting more ‘relate-able’ leaders underneath them.  Its a perfectly sound strategy but it takes some awareness of one’s own strengths and weaknesses.  All of Ross’ leadership examples had specific programs, plans, and targets – the tactical and strategic goals to achieve.  Their ability to execute and inspire had less to do with their own EQ as it did their strategies and interactions with the various elements of the EQ environments they worked within. 

The one thing worth mentioning is that a certain EQ Cognitive dissonance occurs when organizations are in a significantly stressed state.   The tactical and strategic elements of a leaders plan can over-ride any underlying requirements from the organizational EQ if the entire eco-system itself is under strain.  An example would be if the company’s existence has been significantly disrupted or in danger of going out of business.  In that case it is highly likely to find people putting their own interests and preferences aside for the short term to save the firm. 

In these cases leaders with high intelligence but low emotional intelligence are tolerated and to some degree rallied behind.  The example used in the article focused around Winston Churchill during World War Two.   During the time of extreme duress the country and its institutions fell into line behind someone with a plan and a way forward.  Once the danger had passed, the ‘organization’ eventually rejected him. Just about everyone has an example of someone who led an organization or group to achieve a great feat while presented with overwhelming odds only to ultimately be undone by those same teams once the ‘big trouble’ was eliminated.

In the end, it represents another work track that one has to be mindful of when tasked to bring about change in an organization.  For whatever reason my own personal experience has shown this to be particularly important in the Technology areas of a company.   When its deployed successfully – you achieve the mission faster, with less resistance, and ultimately with better results.  That is not to say you cannot achieve this without it, but its definitely a hard path to execute along.  Of course there is always a better than average chance I am full of …silly putty.

Interesting and Related Links

http://rosskingsland.com/emotional-intelligence-myth-leadership/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2011/06/14/why-some-psychopaths-make-great-ceos/2/#1373dbe23c8f

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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 #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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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.

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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. 

The Soft Whisper that Big Data, Cloud Computing, and Infrastructure at Scale should treat as a Clarion Call.

The Cloud Jail

On Friday, August 23rd, the Chinese government quietly released Shi Tao from prison.   He was released a full fifteen months before his incarceration was supposed to end.  While certainly a relief to his family and friends, it’s likely a bittersweet ending to a sour turn of events.

Just who is Shi Tao and what the heck does he have to do with Big Data?  Why is he important to Cloud Computing and big infrastructure?   Is he a world-class engineer who understands technology at scale?  Is he a deep thinker of all things cloud?  Did he invent some new technology poised to revolutionize and leap frog our understanding?

No.  He is none of these things.  

He is a totem of sorts.   A living parable and a reminder of the realities that many in the Cloud Computing industry and those who deal with Big Data, rarely if ever address head on or give little mind to.   He represents the cautionary tale of what can happen if companies and firms don’t fully vet the impacts of their Technology Choices grounded by the real world.  The site selection of their data centers.   The impact of how data is stored.  Where that data is stored.   The methods used of storing the data.  In short a responsibility for the full accounting and consideration of their technological and informational artifacts. 

To an engineering mind that responsibility generally means the most efficient storage of data with the least amount of cost.  Using the most direct method or the highest performing algorithm.  In short…to continually build a better mouse trap.  

In site selecting of new data centers it would likely be limited to just the basic real estate and business drivers.   What is the power cost?  What is the land cost?  What is my access to water? Is there sufficient network nearby?  Can I negotiate tax breaks at the country and/or at local levels?

In selecting a cloud provider its generally about avoiding large capital costs and paying what I need, when I need it.

In the business landscape of tomorrow, these thoughts will prove short-sighted and may likely expose your company to significant cost and business risks they are not contemplating or worse!

Big Data is becoming a dangerous game.  To be fair content and information in general has always been a bit of a dangerous game.   In Technology, we just go on pretending we live under a Utopian illusion that fairness  ultimately rules the world.  It doesn’t.   Businesses have an inherent risk collecting, storing, analyzing , and using the data that they obtain.  Does that sound alarmist or  jaded?  Perhaps, but its spiced with some cold hard realities that are becoming ever more present every day and you ignore at your own peril.  

Shi was arrested in 2004 and sentenced to prison the following year on charges of disclosing state secrets.  His crime? He had sent details of a government memo restricting news coverage to a human rights group in the United States.  The Chinese government demanded that Yahoo! (his mail provider) turn over all mail records (Big Data) to the authorities. Something they ultimately did.  

Now Before you go and get your Western Democracy Sensibilities all in a bunch and cry foul-that ugly cold hard reality thing I was talking about plays a real part here.  As Yahoo was operating as a business inside China, they were bound by comply with Chinese law no matter how hard the action was to stomach for them.   Around that time Yahoo sold most of its stake in the Chinese market to Alibaba and as of the last month or so Yahoo has since left China altogether.  

Yahoo’s adventure in Data information risk and governmental oversight was not over however.  They were brought before the US Congress on charges of Human Rights Violations.   Placing them once again into a pot of boiling water from a governmental concern closer to home.  

These events took place back almost seven years ago and I would argue that the world of information, big data, and scaled infrastructure has actually gotten more convoluted and tricky to deal with.   With the advent of Amazon AWS and other cloud services, a lack of understanding of regional and local Safe Harbor practices amongst enterprises and startups alike,  concepts like chain of custody and complicated and recursive ownership rights can be obfuscated to the point of insanity if you don’t have a program to manage it.    We don’t have to use the example of China either, similar complexities are emerging across and internal to  Europe .  Is your company really thinking through Big Data?  Do you fully understand ownership in a clouded environment?  Who is responsible for taxation for you local business hosted internationally?  What if your cloud servers ,with your data, hosted by a cloud platform  were confiscated by local and regional governments without your direct involvement?  Are you strategically storing data in a way that protects yourself? Do you even have someone looking at these risks to your business? 

As a recovering network engineer I am reminded by an old joke referring to the OSI Model.   The OSI Model categorizes all functions of a communication system into seven logical layers.   It makes internetworking clear and efficient and easily categorized.  Of course, as every good network engineer knows, it doesn’t account for layers 8 and 9.  But wait!  You said there were only 7!  Well Layers 8 and 9 are Politics and Religion.    These layers exist in Cloud Computing and Big Data too and are potentially more impactful to the business overall.

All of these scenarios do not necessarily lend themselves to be the most direct or efficient, but its pretty clear that you can save yourself a whole lot of time and heartache if you think about them strategically.  The infrastructure of tomorrow is powerful, robust, and ubiquitous.   You simply cannot manage this complex eco-system the same ways you have in the past and just like the technology your thinking needs to evolve.   

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