You Can Call Me Al (or not)

My CCIE plaque arrived today.  I’m happy that it weighed more than my usual certificates, as it can now be a handy weapon to wield when salesmen intrude on my solitude of studying:

Purdy, Ain't It?

There was one thing that did seem to generate some discussion, though.  Yes, my plaque says “Alfred” because my legal first name is indeed Alfred.  It’s a fun story.

I am the first male grandchild born to my both sides of my family.  Therefore, it is my responsibility to carry on the family name and legacy.  My mother and father had already agreed to name me after my grandfathers.  My paternal grandfather was named Alfred.  My maternal grandfather was named Tommy, so they decided on Thomas.  Right up to the point where my mom went into labor they both knew what my name was going to be.  Or so they thought.

I was a particularly difficult child, even before I was born.  20-some-odd hours of labor and an emergency C-section later, and Mom found herself sitting in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).  When the nurses presented my father with the birth certificate, he filled it out according to what he thought was going to be the correct name.  They had discussed the names, but not the order.  Naturally, my father picked his dad’s name as my first name (Alfred) and put Thomas as my middle name.  In Mississippi (where I was born), the practice at that time was to file the birth certificate with the state and provide a stamped copy to the parents as the official birth certificate.  So three days later when Mom finally came around, she was presented with a new baby boy and a Xeroxed copy of the birth certificate proudly proclaiming me as Alfred Thomas Hollingsworth.  To which she replied, “He named our son WHAT?!?!”  The nurse jumped back and assured my mother that since she pushed me out, she could name me whatever she wanted.  My mother politely declined, knowing that she would later name my brother something normal, like John.  I’ve gone by Tom most of my life.  The only time I heard Alfred as a boy was when I was in trouble.  The only time I hear it now is when the government or a telemarketer calls my house.  But it always seems to be a great source of fun when people find out my “real name”.

There’s a moral in this for IT people as well.  Communication is very important, even on the little details.  My parents knew what two names they were going to use for me, but they forgot the important detail of what order to put them in.  When faced with a decision, my father chose what he thought was the logical order.  My mother had always assumed I would be Thomas Alfred, but never communicated that to my father.  And now when people try to verify my CCIE number, I constantly have to tell them to use Alfred as the verification name.  If you glaze over the details in any type of communication, you will invariably end up with results that aren’t quite what you expected, even if the majority of the project/trouble ticket/birth certificate is correct.  Then, being called “Al” is the least of your worries.

For Sale: One Nerd

As many of you know, I’m a recently certified CCIE.  As many of these things happen, it has take a while for my current employer to talk to me about what this means to them and to me moving forward.  I’ve heard many stories about CCIEs that have attained their lab only to find themselves out of a job quickly because their employer either doesn’t see the advantage of having a Cisco Expert on staff, or they feel that having a CCIE around will cost too much in the long run and they decide to part ways before the expenses grow too great.  In my case, I’m graced with an employer that wants to keep me around for the foreseeable future.  However, I’m now tasked with a different challenge.

After some conversations, I’ve been asked to come up with a way to sell myself.  No, not like that.  Or that.  Okay, maybe like that.  I’m supposed to find a way to put my skill set front and center and bring in new customers based on things that I can provide that no one else can.  This is a somewhat interesting proposition for me.  Despite what I might say or do around my Twitter friends, I’m usually a shy and reserved person.  I have a hard time being anything other than modest, and I don’t take compliments very well.  Now, I have to turn that on its head and find a way to put myself out there for all the world to see.

When I’m in a group of people, such as at Cisco Live, it’s easy for me to put on a fun act.  Tattoos nonwithstanding, I get to be funny and entertaining for my friends.  I feel comfortable calling attention to myself and generally being goofy.  However, in front of people that don’t know me very well, I find myself much more reserved.  The hardest job interview I’ve ever had involved the interviewer telling me, “Son, I don’t know anything about you.  If you don’t tell me more about yourself, you aren’t going to do very well.”  I tend to hang back and speak only when spoken to.  I don’t interrupt conversation, even when I see someone is wrong and needs to be corrected.  Many times, it’s easy for me to take this role as the silent partner because the people I’m meeting with do the majority of the discussing.

Now, however, I think I’m going to have to be more forward.  That doesn’t sit well with me.  I’ve tried my hand at sales-type activities before and found they weren’t for me.  I’m good at presenting information and answering questions.  I suck at closing people.  I don’t have the patience or desire to endlessly ask someone to buy something.  I tend to take the approach that I’ve presented you with all the information that you need to make up your mind.  It’s up to you to buy this widget or not.  I think I’m going to need to start finding ways to “close the deal”, even if only from the aspect that I have to convince the people I’m “selling” to that I’m capable of doing the job they want me to do.

This is just a little peak into what happens after you spend years of your life chasing something that identifies you as one of the best in your field.  It tends to change your standing in ways you couldn’t possibly understand when you start out on the path.  I’m going to be spending a lot of time in the immediate future figuring out exactly how I can sell myself more effectively than I have been.  And suggestions would be warmly appreciated.

Nerd Icons

A while back, I took Angry Cisco Guy’s Cisco Geek picture and turned it into a Cisco Nerd picture.  You know, for branding purposes.  Afterwards, I noticed two things.  Firstly, Solarwinds has some great stickers that say things like “Network Geek” or “IOS Geek”.  They seem to be popular with my co-workers.  The other is Netpappy’s current Twitter avatar.  It looked very appealing to me, as it boldly stated who he was and what he was all about.  Taking my preference for nerdiness into account, I figured I’d come up with my own icon set for displaying my talents.  I took the Cisco marketing icons that are almost universally recognized in the networking industry and added a little Photoshop magic.

Routers:

Switches:

Voice:

CallManager (Per request of Erik Peterson)

Security:

Wireless:

And even one for the VDCBadgers out there:

Thoughts?  Ideas?  Let me here em!

EDIT: Due to several people using these as Twitter avatars, I’ve resized them so that no dimension is more than 128 pixels, which means it shouldn’t be cut off when you put it into Twitter.  Enjoy!

Yet Another Edit:

Seems that I’ve got a few more icons to add to the pile thanks to some submissions of other vendors material.  I’ll be happy to keep churning these out, but remember that marketing icons make much better source material than wireframes in Visio.  You want something that can be recognized on sight, like the Aircraft Recognition Guides.

Juniper Router:

Juniper L2/L3 Switch:

Juniper Secured Router/Firewall:

My Thoughts on Dell and Force 10

Big announcement today concerning Michael Dell’s little computer company and their drive to keep up with the Joneses in the data center.  Dell has been a player in the server market for many years, but in the data center they are quickly losing out to the likes of HP, Cisco, and even IBM.  Until they hired away HP’s chief blade architect a few years ago, they weren’t even interested in blade servers/enclosures.  Instead, they relied on the tried-and-true model of 1U rack-mounted servers everywhere.  That has all changed recently with the explosion of high-density server enclosures becoming the rage with customers.  Now, the push seems to be headed toward offering a soup-to-nuts portfolio that allows your customers to go to one vendor to get all their data center needs, whether it be storage, servers, or networking.  HP was the first company to really do this, having acquired 3Com last year and integrating their core switching products into the Flex family of data center offerings.  Cisco has always had a strong background in networking, and their UCS product line appears to be coming on strong as of late.  IBM has been a constant bellweather in the market, offering storage and servers, but being forced to outsource their networking offerings.  Dell found itself in the same boat as IBM, relying on Brocade and Juniper as OEM partners to offer their networking connectivity for anything beyond simple low-end ports, which are covered by the Dell PowerConnect line.  However, the days of OEM relationships are quickly drying up, as the bigger vendors are on an acquisition spree and the little fish in the market are becoming meals for hungry vendors.

Dell has enjoyed a very strong relationship with Brocade in the past, and the positioning of Brocade as a strong player in the data center made them a very logical target for Dell’s pocketbook.  In fact, it had been reported several weeks ago that a deal between Dell and Brocade was all but done.  So, imagine the surprise of everyone when Dell announced on July 20th that they were buying Force10 Networks, a smaller vendor that specializes in high-performance switching for markets such as stock market trading floors.  To say that my Twitter stream erupted was an understatement.  We all knew that Dell was going to buy someone, but most figured it would be Brocade.  I even ranked Arista ahead of Force10 as the likely target of Dell’s acquisition fever.  I just figured that Force10 was a little too small and specialized to garner much attention from the big boys.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that Force10 makes some great products.  Their presentation at Network Field Day was well received, and they several customers that will swear by their performance.

What I expected from Dell was a purchase that would serve them across their whole network portfolio.  Brocade would have given them a replacement for the PowerConnect line at the low end as well as data center and fibre channel connectivity options.  They were already OEM-ing Brocade’s product line, so why not buy them outright?  I think that comes down the fact that EVERYONE is OEM-ing from Brocade (or so it seems).  EMC, IBM, and even HP have products from Brocade in their offerings.  If Dell had purchased Brocade outright, it would have forced those vendors to look elsewhere for fibre channel connectivity.  This would either be due to a desire to not inflate a competitor’s bottom line, or perhaps later if and when Dell decided to change the rules of how other vendors OEM from them.  This move away from a Dell-owned Brocade would have really muddied the waters for those inside Dell that wanted Brocade for it’s revenue stream.  As it is, I’m pretty sure that Dell is going to scale back on the B-series PowerConnect stuff everywhere but the fibre channel line and use Force10 as the main data center core technology group, while at the same time maintaining the PowerConnect line at the lower end for campus connectivity.  This will allow them to keep their margins on the PowerConnect side while at the same time increasing them in the data center, since they’ll no longer have to pay OEM fees to Brocade.

Whither Juniper?

The next most popular topic of conversation after Force10 involved…Juniper.  Juniper was a long-shot target of acquisition for Dell (and others), and now that the only major server vendor without a solid networking background is IBM, people are staring to ask who, if not IBM, is going to buy Juniper?  And when?

Folks, Juniper isn’t an easy acquisition.  Add in the fact that the IBM you see today isn’t the IBM of your father (or my early networking days for that matter), and you’ll see that Juniper is best left to its own devices for the time being.  Juniper isn’t really what I would consider a “data center switching” company like Force10 or Arista.  They tend to fall more in the service provider/campus LAN market to me.  I think that if someone like IBM could pony up the billions to buy them, they’d quickly find themselves lost in what to do with Juniper’s other technologies.  Buying Juniper for their data center offerings would be like buying a Porsche because you like the stereo.  You’re missing the point.  I’d wager money that Juniper is more likely to buy twenty more companies before they get bought themselves.  Their networking business is growing by leaps and bounds right now, and saddling them with a large company as ‘oversight’ would probably cripple their innovation.

IBM already owns a high-speed, low-latency networking company that they bought about this time last year, Blade Networks.  Why should they go out and spend more money right now?  Especially if they are happy with their OEM partnerships with Brocade and Juniper (like Dell has been doing previously)?  IBM has shed so much of what it used to be that it no longer resembles the monster that it once was.  Gone are the PCs and Thinkpads and low-end servers.  Instead, they’ve moved to the blade and high end server market, with storage to complement.  They used to be number one, but have long since been passed by HP.  Now they find themselves fighting off their old foe Dell and this new upstart, Cisco.  Does it really make sense for them to mortgage the family farm to buy Juniper, only to let it die off?  I’d rather see them make a play for a smaller company, maybe even one as well-known as Arista.  It would fit the profile a bit better than buying Juniper.  That’s more HP’s style.

Tom’s Take

I fully expect the trumpets of Dell’s new-found data center switching expertise to start sounding as soon as the ink is dry on Force10.  In fact, don’t be surprised to see it come up during Tech Field Day 7 next month in Austin, TX.  I think Dell will get a lot of mileage out of their new stalking horse, as most of the complaints I’ve heard about Force10 come from their sales staff, and we all know how great Dell is at selling.

For now, Juniper needs to sit back and bide its time, perhaps stroking a white Persian cat.  They can go down the interoperability road, telling their customers that since they have strong OEM relationships with many vendors, they can tie all these new switches together will very little effort.  They shouldn’t worry themselves with the idea that anyone is going to buy them anytime soon.

So…The Tattoo

Probably the most talked about thing at Cisco Live, at least from my perspective, was this little joke that took on a life of its own.  Since a lot of people asked about it, and since it still keeps popping up all over the place, I figured I’d take the time to say something about it.

In the World of Solutions (WoS), Cisco usually has a lounge for any Cisco Certified individuals to come in and chat and hang out.  A couple of years ago, they started making the CCIEs go into this lounge to get their silver CCIE ribbon for their badge holder.  This usually means there is a long line of CCIEs waiting to pick up their shinies.  This year, Cisco hired an airbrush artist to put fake CCIE logo tattoos on any CCIE that wanted one.  You could get the basic new CCIE logo, or a specific logo with any track name, such as Routing and Switching or ISP Dial.  People started getting tattoos put on their arms and calves right away.  Some people, like Marko Milivojevic, got two tattoos on each arm for his dual CCIE accomplishments.  I skipped getting at tattoo on Monday night, due to the long line and the desire to get as many codes as I could for the Destination Collaboration game (which I ended up winning on day one).

The next day (Tuesday), I was just getting out of a class and decided to go back to the WoS to pick up a few t-shirts and other pieces of swag.  Along the way, I saw a tweet from Mr. Tugs aimed at the Learning@Cisco people asking if anyone had gotten the “tramp stamp” CCIE tattoo yet.  From Wikipedia:

lower back tattoo is a body decoration, sometimes intended to emphasize sexual attractiveness. Such tattoos have become popular since the late 1990s. They are sometimes derided as suggestive of promiscuity and often referred to as “tramp stamps”[1] and other slang terms.[2] The German term Arschgeweih can be translated as ‘ass antlers’. Such tattoos are primarily seen on women, although a small but increasing number of men have them as well.

While the lower back is not the widest area of the human back, it has abundant space for a large design and horizontal tattoo designs can be worked easily. In contrast to the abdomen, which is otherwise a similar location, the lower back does not stretch significantly during pregnancy or other weight gains, thus providing a more stable site for a design. Lower back tattoos are often left uncovered by individuals wearing crop tops that are designed to expose the midriff and low-rise jeans that are worn low around the hips.

For those that might not be too familiar with the term “tramp stamp”.  At first it appeared to be a joke in good fun, pointing out that since the majority of attendees are male, the possibility of someone getting a tattoo in an area usually associated with someone feminine was out of the question.  The Cisco Learning folks decided to up the ante by offering a free t-shirt to the first person to get said tattoo in the lower back region.  As I walked into the Certification Lounge, I asked if anyone had gotten it yet, and I was told that no one had.  Julia, the Certification lady, asked if I was thinking about going for it.

To take a moment here to explain my thinking…I was pretty sure this would be a funny little joke for everyone.  I couldn’t care less about the position of the tattoo.  I figured Learning@Cisco would tweet about it and my name would get attached to it somehow.  My friends would have a good laugh about it and I’d be on the receiving end of some good-natured ribbing about it for the next couple of days.  I’ve been known to do silly things before, so this wasn’t entirely out of character for me.  However, the confluence of events rose to make this somewhat of the Perfect Tramp Stamp Storm.

Once I had committed to getting said tattoo, Marko walked over and said that if I would get it, he would get it too, provided there was a t-shirt in it for him as well.  Once he got the green light for his t-shirt, we went about the business of getting stamped.  When I looked up halfway through the process, I noticed a bunch of my friends sitting on the couches in the Certification Lounge.  What was originally going to be a bit of a shock to them turned into them crowding around to see and start taking pictures.  I was doomed from the moment I stood up.  A couple of quick photos followed while Marko got his matching tattoo.  Once we had completed the process, Julia asked us for a quick picture so she could tweet it out to the world to show that two CCIEs had stepped up and sacrificed a little dignity for a t-shirt.  When she posted the pic to twitter, she not only used the conference hashtag of #cl11, but she also appended the hashtag #CCIE2011, which was to be used for pictures taken at the CCIE party that night.  This was the beginning of the end.

As word spread about the tattoo, the picture kept getting retweeted over and over again.  Because the hashtag for the CCIE party pictures was embedded in the original tweet (and subsequent retweets), the picture kept popping up on the monitors at the party.  It wasn’t all that uncommon to see the picture three or four times in a row while walking around the party.  It ended up being so popular that Carlos Dominguez put it up on the big screen during his introduction at the Wednesday keynote by Padmassree Warrior.  He said it was his favorite picture at Cisco Live so far and he called Marko and I “two of our brightest CCIEs”.  For Marko and I, this was praise enough to make it worth it.

The picture keeps cropping up even a week later, as people find it and retweet it or my friends keep bringing it back up as a punchline in a joke.  Frankly, I’m more than amused.  If my jovial behavior during Cisco Live didn’t already make me popular, going to the lengths that I did to get my backside up on a giant screen in front of 15,000 live guests and who knows how many thousand around the world virtually sealed the deal.  I’ll always be known as the “Tramp Stamp CCIE”.  And I’m perfectly fine with that.

Tom’s Take

Never be afraid to make an ass out of yourself.  It takes a lot of confidence to put yourself out there and to be ready to weather the storm of criticism and jeers.  I’m pale and a little chunkier than I could stand to be.  I’m also not afraid to have fun and use some self deprecation to accomplish good humor.  If all I’m ever known for is one famous tattoo, I can die a happy man.

Should you really want to see the evidence of my little bit of humor, I’ll link to it rather than putting the pictures in this post.  Be aware, though, that what has been seen cannot be unseen.  Do not observe my paleness while under the influence of medication or while operating heavy machinery.  My back has been known to cause blindness and discomfort in test subjects and small children.  Do not expose yourself to these pictures for more than a few minutes.  Should your find yourself with blindness lasting for more than four hours, please consult a physician.

With that out of the way, check out my tattoo HERE (thanks Amy and Greg) and HERE (Thanks Learning@Cisco).

CCIE Data Center – Coming Soon-ish

Right before I left for Cisco Live, I had a big post about the rumored CCIE Data Center certification exam that I was going to publish.  I held off at the last second because I wanted to gather some more information at Cisco Live from the army of Cisco people that would be there.  I’m glad I waited.

Speculation has been rampant that Cisco is readying an update to the CCIE Storage Area Network (SAN) lab certification exam to better align their position with the new Unified Computing System (UCS) hardware and various other technologies like Wide-Area Application Services (WAAS) and the Application Control Engine (ACE).  These items are heavily utilized in modern datacenters to provide the best customer experience with large scale computing deployments.  Since the focus inside of Cisco for the past few months has involved UCS to a large degree, there is a lot of support in the partner community for top-tier certifications to recognize the investment that partners make in UCS training for their employees.  Also, having a program with the prestige of the CCIE attached to your data center learning gives the engineers working on the product an aura of intelligence when it comes to product.

During Cisco Live, there was even an overview of the CCIE SAN program in the breakout session BRKCCIE-1001.  Curiously, it was titled CCIE Data Center/Storage Certification.  I’m sure that people flooded into the class hoping to hear whether or not the data center CCIE would be coming out soon.  However, the majority of the class dealt with CCIE SAN and the methodologies and topologies of that exam. Only in the last few slides are any hints of the future of data center certification, and even then it is just a suggestion of updates to the existing blueprint.  What follows in this article are my ideas about what a proposed CCIE Data Center might involve.  They are based on conversations I had in the past week, but in no way represent the official position of the CCIE program or any person inside of Cisco, so don’t go quoting me as the gospel truth.

I think the CCIE Data Center program is still 12-15 months out.  Why?  Well, there is still a lot of life left in the SAN program.  The announcement of the removal of the Core Knowledge/Open Ended Questions slated for August 15th proved it.  Why bother mentioning SAN if it’s not going to be around for a while?  There are still a number of students in the CCIE SAN track today and announcing changes this soon would wreck all their hard work and study.  This is also a requirement that any major changes to a track or blueprint must be preceded by a 6-month notice.  As we haven’t heard any announcement yet, the data center CCIE couldn’t possibly arrive earlier than next January.

There is a lot of hardware that could go into a CCIE Data Center exam.  UCS, MDS, WAAS, ACE, load balancers, and even FC/FCoE storage arrays must be considered at a minimum.  What about focus?  There are lots of different areas that you could exam for track focus, from simple UCS deployments to more of a service provider, hosted cloud type integration.  How to cover all of those bases in one exam?  Especially if you have to shoehorn it all into 8 hours?  I’m pretty sure that we might end up seeing some form of tracks in the CCIE Data Center after it launches, similar to the way the CCIE Service Provider used to be subdivided.

What about all those SAN folks that busted their butts learning about MDS switches and figuring out crafty ways to configure fibre channel?  Are they going to be left out in the cold just like the old CCIE ISP Dial guys?  Relics of a bygone era?  I doubt it.  MDS switches are still on the proposed blueprints that I’ve seen being kicked around, and even the rumors say that the SAN program is being upgraded, not retired.  Don’t be shocked if the SAN guys get some kind of “bridge” program to take what they’ve learned about storage and apply it to a Data Center track.  My guess would be something like running the two tracks parallel for a few months after launch and then allowing SAN CCIEs and candidates a single free shot at the Data Center lab exam.

Tom’s Take

It’s time for Cisco to come out with a CCIE for the modern data center.  The other vendors that play in this space love to tout their expertise building multivendor networks and implementing large scale server/storage/switching deployments.  But let’s face it: they aren’t CCIEs.  Once someone gets the digits, they take on a different aura.  Having CCIEs focused on servers and storage would give Cisco a competitive advantage in the data center market, where it appears the battle for supremacy will be waged for the next couple of years.  I think Cisco is going to take their time and get this one perfect before releasing it to the public, both to be sure that it covers their goals for where they want the Cisco data center brand to go as well as to ensure they don’t alienate those CCIEs who have diligently studied SANs and taken the battle standard thus far.  Just remember to have a little patience, since the CCIE is a marathon that pays off in the end.

Switch SuperNAP – The Super Datacenter

One of the highlights of my trip to Cisco Live 2011 was an invitation from Aneel Lakhani and Brian Gracely of Cisco to take an impromptu tour of the SuperNAP facility in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Now, I must admit that I was a bit ignorant of what SuperNAP was when I accepted the invitation.  That changed quickly, though.

We left the Mandalay Bay hotel on the south end of The Strip and drove over to the facility.  The drive would have been less than fifteen minutes except for some road construction traffic.  Once we turned the corner into the facility, we were greeted with this visage:

This is the kind of facility that just screams “stay away”.  The only entrance is the door in the middle right of the picture.  You must have an appointment to enter the facility, and the voice on the loudspeaker isn’t a friendly one.  Once our tour group gained access, we parked in one of the three parking spots and were immediately greeted by a man in a tactical vest with an assortment of hardware, like a walkie-talkie, flashlight, and sidearm.  He informed us that we needed to have our identification ready and there were ABSOLUTELY no pictures to be taken inside the facility.  While he didn’t confiscate our cell phones, he did question one of our group about an insulin pump on his hip.

Once inside the entrance, I immediately noticed the hardware located behind the security office.  It was more impressive than what I had seen in the FBI buildings I’ve visited.  Behind several inches of bullet resistant glass were M4 assault rifles and what appeared to be shotguns as well.  Coupled with the the posture of the security guards, I was pretty sure this was going to be a rather interesting tour.  Once I surrendered by driver’s license for a visitor pass, we were escorted through the steel mantrap.  The security guard had to buzz each visitor in individually with his access badge and his thumbprint, a very nice combo of two-factor authorization for a security nerd like me.  We were escorted to a conference room filled with industrial-looking tables and comfortable chairs.  The guard asked if we needed to use the restroom, and after no one accepted his offer he asked that we stay in this room until our appointment arrived.  When I heard the door click behind him, I realized that was more of a statement rather than a request.

Once the rest of our group arrived, Missy Young came in to start our sightseeing show.  She started out giving us an overview of the facility itself, focusing on the layout and the air handling system.  In most datacenters, keeping the massive amount of equipment cool is one of the more difficult tasks.  When Switch first asked about cooling SuperNAP with the traditional air cooling units, the cooling vendor’s response to their request would have filled half the datacenter floor with A/C units.  So Switch built their own:

Each of those units contains four different types of cooling systems to ensure the most efficient method is used to keep the data center at the appropriate temperature.  There’s even a software program, Living Datacenter, running at all times to monitor the air temperature outside that keeps the air handlers running at peak efficiency and the data center from becoming a greenhouse.  Altogether, there are 44,000 tons of cooling available for the 407,000 square foot facility.  Inside, it was nice and chilly, just like the servers like it.  Thanks to all that cooling power, SuperNAP customers are not required to space their equipment out to allow proper airflow.  The building can deliver the right amount of cooling to every square inch of the floor, therefore allowing Switch to make the most efficient use of the space.

SuperNAP houses lots of equipment from various different companies like Sony and Ebay.  They also host a variety of servers from government agencies as well, many of which they aren’t allowed to talk about.  Because of this, the facility can never be down.  They promise 100% uptime to their customers, and they have the backup systems to deliver.  The facility has 100 MW of power delivered to it for running systems and has almost 150 MW of generator capacity.  Each of those generators is powered by 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  In the event of a power outage, SuperNAP has contracts with several fuel companies to start delivering diesel within two hours of the outage report and every eight hours thereafter until power is restored.  In the event that the fuel resupply fails, the security forces are authorized to begin commandeering fuel from the civilian population of Las Vegas.  However, I doubt it would come to that anytime soon.  SuperNAP taps the two national power mains that deliver electricity to Las Vegas upstream of the city.  Even if Sin City starts having brownouts, SuperNAP will stay online.  Due to their level of importance in keeping the lights on, the only facility in Nevada that would get power preference before them is the Hoover Dam.

After the overview, we all signed our waivers and walked out a door to begin the tour of the facility.  Since we couldn’t take our own pictures, I’m going to post some of theirs.  Trust me, they’re real.

It’s really impressive in person.  Even though there were only nine of us on the tour, we were followed by an armed guard at all times.  He radioed in every time we walked into a different section of the facility.  It was a little eerie, but I can see how they might want to keep tabs on a shifty fellow like me.

We walked into one of the air handling units and got to see each of the sections bringing air into the facility.  There is a pressure differential inside each unit, so in order to show us the amount of air being pushed by the fans, they had to crack an outside door to equalize things inside.  Somehow, I got stuck on the end nearest the fan door, and when the rather large guard opened it up, I got blasted with hurricane-force cold air for a few seconds.  I felt like Jim Cantore for a bit.  That much air flowing into the facility is a large reason behind its success at keeping the whole thing cool and stable, and they’ve got 30 of these things around the perimeter.  Combined with Living Datacenter, the units are even smart enough to shut off the outside air supply in the event of a dust storm or other unwanted conditions and recirculate the hot exhaust coming back from the server areas.

In between areas runs the Power Spine, the location of the large PDUs that distribute the go-go juice to all those hungry servers.  It looked like something out of a sci-fi movie:

Each rack can be provided 26 Kw of power from each of those color-coded units, and there are two running to each rack to provide redundancy, with a third available just in case.  There’s even enough floor space to double up and provide 200 Mw of power to the whole facility.  The floor itself uses 4,500 psi concrete to be able to support all that weight.  And since there isn’t any raised floor space in the whole facility (all the infrastructure is overhead), it allows customers to pack in some seriously heavy computing power.

One thing I will note here.  You notice that everything in these pictures looks very polished and theatrical.  That’s a bit on purpose.  From the armed guards to the LED lighting to the enamel paint everywhere, this whole facility screams theater from the inside.  Some disbelieve their ability to deliver what they promise.  Missy’s response was “just ask our customers.”  I agree that there is a bit of a show being put on at the facility.  I surmise that it’s most likely due to an extension of will from those that built the facility in the first place.  After all, it’s very impressive to visitors to see all this hardware powering rows and rows of computing power.  Why not take the extra time and effort to make it pretty?  Besides, if someone leaves a mess, you’ve always got the security guards around to shoot the offenders.

Tom’s Take

If there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, I’m getting in the car and heading for SuperNAP.  I’m going to call ahead and make sure that Missy knows I’m coming though, because that could get interesting when the guards don’t know whether or not I’m zombified.  The SuperNAP facility delivers a very impressive profile for a datacenter, both in size and operation.  It was like walking through Toys R Us as a kid, only the toys here are multi-million dollar server equipment and the sales clerks carry assault rifles.  SuperNAP delivers on their promises of 100% uptime and their customer list is rather impressive.  I think that everyone interested in the hows and whys of data center design should take a peek inside to see what it looks like when it’s done right.  Just call ahead first.

Thanks again to Aneel Lakhani and Brian Gracely of Cisco for the invite and thanks to the rest of the group for allowing me to tag along and not get us shot at.