Saturday, October 20, 2007

The pull from twin stars ...

In my inbox, when I returned from Brighton, was an email from Fred Laccabue with a couple of good pictures – one of which I show here. This photo was taken towards the end of the European ITUG event following a period of cooler weather, overcast and wet. I didn’t see Fred take this picture but that afternoon, as I walked along the shorefront, I heard a number of cameras clicking away from the main pedestrian path elevated several feet above me.

I was looking out to sea and watching a number of yachts heading down the channel towards the Atlantic. There was a following sea and it reminded me very much of the old Crosby Stills, Nash and Young song “Southern Cross”, the opening few lines very appropriate for a sight as beautiful as this:

“ Got out of town on a boat goin’ to Southern islands
Sailing a reach before a followin’ sea”

When I was much younger, I did a lot of competitive sailing in and around Sydney harbor. I did an offshore event and saw the sun and set over the coastline of Australia with much the same coloring as in this photo and it was something I have always remembered. I don’t sail anywhere near as often these days spending most of my time in airplanes. But even from the window of today’s jets, I have seen a lot of sights.

Returning to Hong Kong from London, in the early ‘80s, I had the chance to fly with Cathay Pacific at a time they were the sole carrier allowed to fly over mainland China and to approach the old airport in Hong Kong from the West. Late in the flight, we passed the Himalaya mountain range and, at the time, I had the shades drawn as I tried to rest up. But the pilot suggested we might want to take a look as it was bathed in early evening light. I threw up the blinds and was staggered.

I have flown over the Sierras and the Rockies. I have flown over the Alps. I have looked down on snow-covered mountain tops and seen the scattering of villages and roads. But never before or after have I looked out an aircraft window to see mountains right next to me. Flying above 30,000 feet and seeing a mountain range that pushed up to about the same height, was another sight I will always remember.

There has been many other occasions, while flying at night, when I have seen other sights. I have seen the Northern Lights putting on a dazzling display – and even though I have flown the Arctic routes many times, I have only seen it once. The night San Francisco 49ers were beating up on San Diego in the SuperBowl!

I have seen the Milky Way from the flight-deck of a 747 – and I suspect I will never get the chance to do that ever again. While on the flight-deck that time, a guest of a captain I once knew, I saw the Southern Cross come into view and again, to pick up a later verse in that same song:

“When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way”

I should be home in Boulder later this week. Ball Aerospace is a Boulder company and they built the Hubble Space Telescope that was deployed from the Space Shuttle Discovery back in 1990. After some initial technical hitches, this space telescope began to beam back some amazing pictures from deep space. Of the pictures that they released, it was those of giant twin stars that really intrigued me. There were a lot more of them – even triple and quad groupings – than I had thought existed.

For those of you who recall the first Star Wars film (Episode IV), you may recall that Luke Skywalker lived on a planet orbiting two suns where the double sunsets were a spectacular sight. Twin suns exhibit some pretty interesting gravitational effects – pulling very large bodies into their orbits, while over millions of years kicking many, often smaller planets, out into the depths of deep space.

And I had to wonder whether we can see a similar situation, just like in deep space, when we look at the technology today.

In much of the research I have been doing over the past few months, two topics have really begun to dominate – security and what is often referred to as the environment, or the “Greening of the Data Center”! No other subjects, within the IT community, are attracting nearly as much attention as these two with each movement spawning a whole cadre of disciples. Yes, we are all aware of the movement to support applications and data as services, and we are all engaged in making sure we survive disasters both natural and man-made – but the impact on our data centers from these two movements seems the most profound.

It was once said by an executive at Sabre, when he was asked about putting the majority of their systems in one place and underground, I believe, that his preference was to have all his eggs in one basket and to watch that basket very carefully. And so it is these days when it comes to security, there’s a very strong argument that can be made in support of this philosophy. Putting all your critical enterprise data under the management of today’s very large mainframe-like servers and surrounding them with a many-layered fabric of security, holds a lot of merit.

Likewise, the server consolidation we are witnessing – even by the major vendors, like HP and IBM, has everything to do with getting on top of the energy bills. Designing data centers with the right balance of power and cooling characteristics is a whole lot easier with today’s modern packaging options. Whether bladed architectures, or the more special-purpose “books” as IBM refers to them in System z or “the blade element” layers that we see with some of HPs NonStop systems, the complete package that results has far better power consumption and cooling needs than come with throwing together arbitrary racks of servers and storage.

Together, security and the environment are dominating much of the discussions of data center managers. Not addressing these issues carries very stiff price penalties, both legislated and de-facto. No manager wants to be accused of wastage or leakage. No manager wants to stand and face the glare from these twin stars.

There is lots of media coverage on both of these subjects, and information about them liberally populates many web sites. But for me, the question always comes back to the dynamics of the pull and push effects on our data center, as we first distribute and then centralize. We empower our department users and then we pull it all back again. And over the years there have been very sound economic reasons in support for each directional change.

I have to sympathise with data center managers - security, the environment, and the changes that they lead to. Perhaps nowhere else in the corporation are the ramifications more visible, often leading to the creation of new data centers. In a previous posting I launched into the issue of security and shortly, I will take a closer look at environmental issues, but for now I will continue to maintain a dialogue with the data center management community and watch where this takes us.

But with the emergence of these two giants, security and environment, I will be surprised to see any hesitancy, on the part of data center managers, on staying on top of requirements. After all, the glare from these twins may pale in significance when compared to the lights of the media should we give control back to the departments…. and fail!

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