I was recently attending a holiday dinner party when someone asked what I did for a living......after about 30 seconds of explaining that I worked for Intel on virtualization technologies and innovation in the data center, their eyes glazed over and they began to reach for a holiday refreshment.
Anyone else have a similar experience??
Perhaps, that would be my reaction if I sold mud flaps, distributed lettuce or traded stocks and bonds all day. As I began to retreat into my blackberry (geek speak for I was completely bored), my friend's wife asked me a question: "What the difference between MySpace, Facebook, Yahoo and Google? I don't really understand it but my teenage daughter and all of her friends spends hours every week on these sites." Eureka! 2 Guys and a dog had saved me from a night of sheer agony. More on my response to the question later.......
The question got me thinking back and reflecting a little on our collective journey the last decade in the data center, what has happened, what has not and the importance of innovation....
In the mid-90's when Oracle, Microsoft and Open Source established their market positions, Netscape was a media darling, and graduating from Stanford insured a $3-5 Million venture capital raise, innovation seemed to be everywhere. Juniper, Ciena, Marconi, Cerent, JDS Uniphase, Nexabit, Alta Vista, Transmeta, Brocade, McData and many others re-established an era of excessive ( a good thing in my opinion) innovation in the Data Center. Even Captain Wireless, Craig McCaw, got involved, realizing that without a proper infrastructure 1st mile Broadband (wired or wireless) consumer innovation is not possible. My point, the data center was then and is today, the foundation of internet innovation.
I would be remiss if I thought innovation had kept pace with what is possible. As technology professionals, we have become encumbered by lawyers, regulatory commissions and avarice, we have experienced our fair share of disappointments along the way. Y2K?, Sarbanes-Oxley, Netscape's eventual implosion, AOL, etc.....Fiber Channel, once considered a foundational element of the 21st century data center, has been slowed by avarice, arrogance and meaningful innovation due to lack of standards, ease of deployment and manufacturing materials technology innovation. Ethernet and MetCalfe's law have won the day, in my opinion, for the opposite reasons: standards, ease of use and manufacutring innovation. Virtualization has revisited mainframe usage models to establish a new era of innovation, which looks a lot like the late 60's and early 70's, only at a fraction of the cost. Storage innovation has allowed children of today to collectively hold more technology in the palm of their hands than the greatest scientists of their grandparents generation could have ever imagined or forecast. In the data center this has meant that between 2-3% of all power consumed in mature markets goes to support our computing needs of today.
To me, this suggests a paradigm shift for us all, a responsibility as technologists, scientists and yes even regulatory commissions to examine data center innovation in a new, thoughful and critical way as we embark on the new era. If 2 guys (or Gals hopefully soon) and a dog can change the dialectic of the human existence (at least in some mature markets) then we must take the responsibility to insure innovation occurs every year, even if the media and venture capitalists are not watching. We have been slow to innovate transport technologies, materials technology, software management tools, and energy efficency in the Data Center. We can do better.
In my opinion, by the end of the decade we need to take an optimistic goal of deploying 10Gb (at least) ethernet on every server in a data center, storage virtualization across unlimited distances with latency under 250 milliseconds, virtual machines migration to the best available compute resources, policy-based software management tools, biometric authentication for consumers/sellers, recycleable components and zero downtime in the data centers if we hope to maintain investments for the next generation of "risk" innovation.
Back to my dinner party response: "The difference to your daughter between Google (2 guys), MySpace ( 2 guys and surfboard), Yahoo (2 Guys) and Facebook is minimal. Each has found a way to connect with a particular network of subscirbers in a meaningful way. The difference in the data center, for a geek like me I explained, is meaningful. One company has made their data center, the center of innovation in design, deployment, use of renewable energy and delivery of content. One has made the content aggregration and user interface their innovation. One has made the social aspect of entertainment and innovative advertising their innovation. One has real-time interactivity and blogging as the cornerstone of their innovation, which requires fewer compute resources, less consumption of energy resources and potentially "liquid" scalability of the business model. Each is responsible to you to deliver a safe, interactive environment for your daughter and her friends to enjoy each other in a way that was not possible only a decade ago. For me it is a very exciting time to watch our world evolve and communicate with each other for the 1st time, in real time, on a global basis, without encumberance. I'm just glad to have been a small part of the evolution."
Her response: "Wow, I had no idea....I guess. Have you seen our new mud flaps?"