Mar 24, 2022
Episode 7: Compute
Play • 30 min

The invisible bones holding up the Internet are its hardware. One of the most prominent benefits we are reaping from hardware innovations is cloud services. And as you may have guessed, the cloud isn’t actually just somewhere up in space: physical data centers services are necessary to keep them up and running. 

In this episode of Traceroute, we take a closer look at hardware and why its advancement is crucial to the development of the internet. We discuss the importance and benefits of optimization for hardware to suit the needs of software. Joined by our guests Amir Michael, Rose Schooler, and Ken Patchett, we explore the synergy of software and hardware in data center services and its effects on the connected world. 

Episode Highlights

The important Relationship Between Hardware and Software

  • Efficiency depends on understanding how software uses hardware and vice versa
  • Software consumes every just like hardware depending on the way it’s written
  • People want software and hardware “out of sight/out of mind,” but hardware is increasing in visibility due to data centers and the cloud
  • As the internet increases, so does the need for better hardware

Amir Michael: There are thousands of people at large companies that are driving not only the design of the hardware, but the supply chains behind them as well. And if you just look at the financial reporting from these companies, they spend billions and billions of dollars on infrastructure.”

The Building Blocks Of Getting Online

  • Intel started in 1968, specializing in bulky but efficient memory chips. Now they lay transistors on top of atoms.
  • Microprocessors are in every device now, from cell phones to servers to routers, making foundational microprocessor capability critical
  • The biggest breakthrough came when Intel was able to use their infrastructure to support networking, and could then scale up to data centers and cloud architecture
  • This began the transformation of networking, with storage moving from big fixed function hardware over to software-defined
  • More growth in hardware is on the horizon with things like Artificial Intelligence, 5G, and edge computing 

The Birth Of The Cloud

  • The “Metal Rush” of the early 2000s saw companies like Google and Yahoo building their own data centers
  • For smaller companies, this infrastructure development didn’t make sense
  • Small business turned to companies like Amazon, which had server resources to spare, and the cloud was born
  • Data centers have scaled in size, but now the need is to optimize efficiency 
  • More and more, hardware is now tailored for specific software applications
  • Unlike software, developing hardware requires a longer production schedule and a more consistent supply chain, which can be difficult
  • The next step is density, where more computing power is packed into less space but with greater efficiencies.

Amir Michael: “You know, no one really goes into a bank anymore. Everything's just done over the network over these cloud resources today. It's how we've become accustomed to getting a lot of work done today. And so you need all that infrastructure to drive that. And I think it's just going to become more and more so in the future as well.

The Nuts & Bolts Of Data Centers

  • The cloud is simply a combination of data centers of various sizes across the globe that are all connected through a network
  • The first data centers relied on redundancy and stability, so they were built like bomb shelters with backup systems
  • Data centers started redesigning hardware to optimize it for different uses,  depending on who’s renting the server space
  • Open compute is the next phase for data centers, where engineers figure out how to get bigger, better, faster and more resilient with existing servers and components

Ken Patchett: “Data and the usage of data has become much like a microwave in a home,  it is simply required, is expected. Most people don't look for it, they don't need it, and they don't really think about it that much until it doesn't work.”

What’s Next

  • In the past, a low barrier to entry—in both cost and technology—allowed companies to do their own manufacturing. Those days are gone.
  • But hardware advancements are fundamentally responsible for developments in AI, edge computing, and 5G
  • What was once a supercomputer is now a smartphone, thanks to hardware
  • Keeping hardware inexpensive and efficient will open more of the world to its benefits

Three reasons why you should listen to this episode:

  1. Discover the background of the cloud and how it started.
  2. Find out how advances in software and hardware influence each other.
  3. Understand the importance of optimization for data center services. 

About Our Guests

Amir Michael began his career at Google, building and designing server and data center infrastructure. As Facebook's first hardware engineer, he led the team that came up with the first Open Compute server designs. He was also VP of Infrastructure at Salesforce, and now heads up Lightbits Labs, which builds a high-performance NVMe/TCP storage system.

Connect with Amir through LinkedIn for more information.

Rose Schooler is the Corporate VP of Data Center Sales at Intel Corporation and has worked in that company for over 30 years. She has previously served as the VP of the Internet of Things, Strategy, and Information Office, and the VP / General Manager of the Comms and Storage Group.

Connect with Rose through LinkedIn for more information on her work.

Ken Patchett has over 25 years of experience working in data centers. He has worked with Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Oracle. His initial job as an ironworker led to his work in the Canyon Park Data Center in Bothell, Washington. He also cites experience working in the 2004 Olympics. Currently, he is the CEO at ServerDomes. 

For more information about Ken’s work, connect with him through LinkedIn.

Additional Resources

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