Are You A Mason?
Also published on LinkedIN
I grew up with a father in the construction business. He built custom homes in Colorado. He never advertised. All of his jobs came from word of mouth. His customers, subcontractors, and suppliers trusted him. They knew that if Harold was on the job, it would be done with quality. He was a builder.
I chose a different career path than my dad and my brother’s. I went into technology. Little did I know that 20 years later it would come full circle.
It was a proud moment for me when my Dad and my brother Dale, who also followed him into the custom home building business, came to Salt Lake City to attend one of my data center openings. We had planned a big hoopla in Salt Lake City with more than 300 of my colleagues, industry peers, partners, suppliers, friends, media and government officials. We wanted to celebrate the first data center in the world with primary power generated on-site from Fuel Cells. The day before the opening ceremony, we held a series of tours and collaboration sessions to discuss what we did, why we did it, and what we learned. We held similar sessions when we opened our Phoenix Data Center two years earlier. These were some of the most rewarding sessions of my career. Why? Because peers, partners and other technologists got together to share, discuss and debate.
In January, I took the next step in my career. I finalized an exit plan with ebay and then went on a one month sabbatical. This is the first time in my 27 year career where I had nothing on my plate. I was no longer on call (24x7xforever), my calendar was empty (literally), and there were zero business decisions to make. I spent four weeks doing nothing but helping my 17 year old daughter manage the details of the original play that she had written and directed as her senior drama project. I painted sets, printed playbills, publicized, ran errands and whatever else she asked me to do. I was no longer the boss, I was just there to help. It was an amazing and unique experience that I would not have traded for anything.
Getting my hands dirty cleared my head and gave me time to think. I remembered back when I rode in my dad’s pickup to job sites. As we drove, he would point out different homes he had built. At the time, I didn’t appreciate how much effort and dedication he put in to completing something that would change peoples lives so profoundly. I see now that they weren’t just buildings, they were homes – places where children grew and lives were lived. Sadly, most occupants would eventually take these structures for granted. They became commonplace, expected, the builder forgotten. My dad is a humble man, but I can say without question that as a master builder, he enriched people’s lives.
This train of thought led me to a different question. Did other builders have this type of profound impact? For example, the Freemasons were formally established in the 1700’s but they dated back as early as the 14th century. Over the centuries, a barrage of additional groups were formed, creating the combined infrastructure that enabled every country in the world to advance and thrive. The buildings, roads, dams, bridges, railways, airports, power plants, sky scrapers, and other structures were the foundation that made it all work. In fact, these masons played a pivotal role in advancing civilization. Almost everyone on the planet depended on the infrastructure they had built. Today, people expect access to shelter, transportation, running water, electricity, and many other services no matter where they are. When was the last time you turned on the faucet and the water didn’t run, or plugged something into the wall and it didn’t power up?
The same holds true for the digital age. Access to the internet, data, and other digital services are expected commodities for this generation. In fact, they are impatient for it. But do they understand how it works, or what it takes to build and maintain it? Not usually. They view connectivity as an inalienable right, like plugging into the wall, or turning on the faucet.
I felt a kinship to my Dad and the these masons. They knew their contribution to society made a difference, even if the people using it did not understand or appreciate it. My dad’s community was proud to help families thrive. The Masons were proud to help civilizations thrive. My technical community is proud to help every person on the planet connect and thrive. For 27 years, I have built infrastructure that has made this possible, and my peers have built even more. I know we, as a community of Infrastructure leaders, have personally helped billions of people all over the world, participate. We are the Masons for the digital age. Infrastructure Masons.
“An Infrastructure Mason is a person entrusted with building or managing the physical and logical structures of the digital age.”
Without this technology foundation, nothing works. Every digital communication, without exception, is routed on a network, processed, and stored on servers that are housed in data centers all over the world. These structures are the foundation for the Internet of Everything.
Surprisingly, a huge majority of people are unaware that this digital infrastructure exists, how big it is, or how important it is to their daily lives. Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson provided great insight into this phenomenon in their book, The Second Machine Age.
“Not only are the new technologies exponential, digital, and combinatorial, but most of the gains are still ahead of us. In the next twenty-four months, the planet will add more computer power than it did in all previous history. Over the next twenty-four years, the increase will likely be over a thousand-fold.”
We are at an inflection point. We are building infrastructure at the fastest pace in human history, and the world will never be the same.
Earlier this month I wrote an article titled, “The Titans Are Moving“, highlighting how the big cloud providers are going into an epic battle for their share of the $1T cloud market. Every CIO in the world has already moved or is in the process of moving to the cloud. It is now the default, but many overlook the critical link between the software running in these clouds and the physical infrastructure they are built upon. The cloud isn’t incorporeal. It runs on massive physical infrastructure all over the globe. One of my personal pet peeves is the historic tension between software and infrastructure teams. I have heard time and again that ‘Software is the Key, and Infrastructure is becoming less important’. While I agree that software is what unlocks the magic, it is a mistake to discount the infrastructure’s value and minimize the investment needed to make these connections seamless. Bottom line, if the infrastructure stops working, the cloud stops working. This must be treated as a symbiotic relationship. Every byte transmitted, processed and stored goes through this infrastructure, and the world depends upon it.
I am proud to be part of the global community of people who build and manage this digital infrastructure. I think it’s time the world recognizes them and appreciates the work that they do.
Today, I officially launch the Infrastructure Masons industry group by bringing a few of my friends together who have built some the biggest digital infrastructure portfolios in the world. These individuals have personally built and managed more than $1B in infrastructure projects, each. This Billionaire Builders Club will contribute their experience and expertise to drive discussion, debate and direction for the community.
Infrastructure Mason’s Advisory Council
Christian Belady, GM, Data Center Services, Microsoft
Eddie Schutter, Head of Global Foundation Services, Ebay
Tom Furlong, VP, Infrastructure Data Centers, Facebook
Jim Smith, Former CTO, Digital Realty Trust
Infrastructure Masons is dedicated to the advancement of the industry, development of their fellow masons, and empowering business and personal use of the infrastructure to better the economy, the environment, and society as a whole.
So I have one question for my industry peers: Are you an Infrastructure Mason? Then JOIN US on LinkedIN, follow us on Facebook, and share on Twitter. Collaborate, debate, and contribute to help us drive this industry forward.