Friday, January 16, 2009

Back into the Frying Pan

I was employed for four-plus years at a large corporation in the IT "division" through the last half of the 1990's. "Big iron" was the staple at the time. PC platforms were just coming into fruition. I left that place to work for a much smaller (almost "tiny") company for the next seven years. I left that company to work for an even-smaller IT consulting firm, doing Microsoft stuff, for about six months - before a surprise downsizing left me on the street. Thankfully I left on good terms with most of my previous employers and was hired back to the "big iron" shop again. I was away for almost ten years.

It's really weird being back, but I'm getting settled in and actually liking it. So much mixing and contrasting of old and new. Things that have changed, and things that haven't. This place has a long history. Much, much longer than I've been alive. Even the IT portion has been alive longer than I've been able to spell "computer". But now it's powered by racks of PC technology, with less big iron to be seen, lurking in the corners.

Today, my boss took our group on a casual tour of the data center on the bottom floor. I work in a cube farm on the second floor above it all. We don't often go downstairs into that area due to (a) being too busy and (b) it being a secure area. It was nice to walk through it all again. I remember going through it back in 1996 through 1999, and again for a quick tour in mid-2007. But today kind of helped me establish a mental picture of where its' been and where it's going. It's truly amazing to see the evolution of our data center.

In the 1980's it was a bastion of IBM hardware. IBM practically lived there. Mainframes covered thousands of square feet, divided into multiple divided rooms, with false floors and Halon systems and command centers, etc. And of course: the ever-fashionable amber-colored short-pile carpeted false flooring squares. Complete with decades of stains. In the 1990's the balance of PC to mainframe was about even.

Today, what is most noticable, to someone having seen it back in the 1990's, would be the drastic reduction in actual hardware. Rather than rows and rows of racks, there are now large open areas of nothing but flooring. The racks are now stocked with blade servers, tied to SANs through neatly bundled cable routes (which used to be a massive cluster-fk under the false floor space). Amazing transformation.

It's easy to become jaded by the sheer horsepower that an enterprise data center holds. But when you leave it for several years to work in smaller areas you soon realize that not everything is as grandiose elsewhere. Coming back is almost like returning from the Moon. Strange. Impressive. Incredible. "Scale" takes on new meaning. And after wondering for so long how people stay engaged, focused and driven, within what seems to be a culture of bureaucratic roadblocks and chokepoints, I finally realized it's this massive juggernaut that keeps everyone's attention. After listening to my boss give the tour and explaining things to the group, it's easy to see his enthusiasm for this. He doesn't read my blog so don't think I'm brown-nosing here.

I remember giving a presentation back in 1999 for an Autodesk partner conference on behalf of this same company. I gave a brief explanation of what we do (build ships and submarines) and showed a few Powerpoint slides of the scenery (cleared by our communications dept of course). When I was done joking around, I looked up and realized how many jaws were slackened. Not by my presentation (I wish), but by absorbing the dimensional and scalar aspects of our industrial capacity. I, too, was overwhelmed. It is amazing. At that time it was about manufacturing capacity. Today it's about information capacity, and the ability to put it to work every day. Powerful stuff. I guess you can tell I'm feeling it.
Post a Comment