Whisper Sweet Nothings…

If you whisper the word “Infrastructure” to me, I can guarantee that as quick as a flash, I will conjure up two very clear yet very different mental images, each telling an interesting story of the juxtaposition of my professional life.

One will be of a sterile data center, you know, the kind that we’ve grown up around (back when they were called machine rooms and then computer rooms and then…you get the drift) containing row upon row of dull 42U racks, a symphony of twinkly lights and the constant hum of a small country’s worth of drawn power.

The other will be of an expansive construction site, you know, the kind that you see on TV shows – airports, railways, highways and the like – holding your bemused gaze as an under-qualified yet over-excited voice over man wills you to try to figure out how do they build that (as the synchronized yet precarious dance of a thousand heavy cranes lifts and guides these giant super-structure components into place with an unerring accuracy.)

Having been involved with building the physical implementations of the mental images in some of the more interesting parts of the world, it is certainly gratifying to deliver these, yet equally, it is sobering to come to the shuddering realization that none of it actually matters to the ultimate customer of the facility you’re building.

Seriously. It really doesn’t matter.

Now, the key piece here is ultimate customer. Let’s say you’re in the airport operations business, then you’re probably going to care a lot about the way your facility is built and the same is certainly true for the data center provider business.

In turn, your customer, whether it be airline or hosting provider, will certainly care about what you offer, but if you move that further along the chain, you end up at the ultimate customer – someone who is concerned only with acquiring a service and it’s probably a very safe bet that they will have no idea about how the facility they are receiving that service from was built, nor indeed how it operates.

This latest in the line of bizarre revelations came to me last week when, whilst standing in the truly vast space of a construction work-in-progress passenger terminal somewhere in the middle of the Arabian Gulf, I was tinged with a strange sadness to think that once the work is done and that magnificent airport is open for business, the people who pass through it will most likely only be concerned about making sure they can talk their way into getting the check-in agent to turn a blind eye to their overweight luggage or whether their name is being proudly displayed on a tattered clip-board, held up in the arrivals hall by a one-eyed limousine driver.

And. That. Is. A. Heinous. Crime. If only they knew…..if only they cared.

When that time arrives, the people that built the facility will be off doing something else, somewhere else, proud of what they have achieved, but playing no further part in the day to day operation of the facility. That’s what they do.

My experience of building clouds stretches back to around the same time that the construction work started on the very same passenger terminal. In fact, in a somewhat existentialist twist, I was building clouds to enable the things that would enable the putting of people into clouds, a process that took around 4 years of re-architecting, engineering, building and operationalizing one of the first (and obviously I’m going to say the best) private cloud infrastructures.

And. It. Has. Lots. Of. Twinkly. Lights.

Today, that very same cloud is now being used to deliver some incredible services to enable some amazing innovation, including the delivery of a new generation of mobile applications that will make a huge difference to the way work is done across the globe. That’s why it was built and that’s why it is successful.

Am I Proud? Yes.  Am I Attached? No

Just like the guys who are off doing something else, somewhere else, so must we all move on, but what is clear is that the ultimate customers of that cloud have no idea how it was built, nor how it operates, nor do they care – they are the passengers in a terminal, the riders on a train and the drivers on a highway.

Infrastructure is certainly a very important component of the civilized world and the not-so-civilized world of cloud computing. Without it, we have no foundation to provide essential services, but what would use a railway without trains, an airport without ‘planes or a highway without cars? Not much, I would argue.

Isn’t it time that we stopped focusing quite so much time and wasted energy on the bits that really don’t matter and switch instead to understanding how we apply what we’ve can build (or have built) to benefit those ultimate customers? Does anyone really care about squeezing the last living terrameh-flop out of a bunch of iron?

Next time you find yourself in a cloud mega data center take one quick mental picture and store it. When you find yourself at the airport at night, look across the apron, take another and store that.

Put your ultimate customer hat on. Close your eyes. Stitch the two photos together and whisper softly to yourself….

Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure….”

The result? Can’t you see?

It’s. Just. Lots. Of. Twinkly. Lights.


3 thoughts on “Whisper Sweet Nothings…

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