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A Look Into the Future of IT

NetApp tour

Instructors from Convergence College Network (CCN) member schools recently enjoyed a special treat during the HI TEC conference in Portland, Oregon.  NetApp –  a multi-billion-dollar data storage and management company with 12,000 employees around the world – arranged a special presentation and facility tour at its new data center in Hillsboro, just 15 minutes west of Portland.  The red carpet was rolled out for the CCN.  NetApp chartered a plush passenger bus, served a big lunch spread (FYI: the brownies were truly amazing), and provided a fascinating three-hour glimpse into the future of IT.

C. Matt Brown first gave his perspective on the evolution of the IT employee.  Matt’s overall point was that the old compartmentalized silos between the business offices and IT shops are a thing of the past.  Whereas today IT departments react to problems and spend most of their time managing trouble tickets and navigating corporate bureaucracy, Matt sees the industry evolving into a culture of trust between business and IT that demands proactive innovation and challenges the old models.

IT and business both have to change and meet in the middle.  IT needs to better understand the business side of the house.  What are they trying to do?  What are the company’s goals.  Matt put it this way: “You’re here to make the company money, not run an IT shop.”  The business people likely won’t know what they need from IT, so it’s up to the IT department to listen to the business side’s problems, then develop a solution that works.  Likewise, business executives need to change as well.  This means letting go of its need to micromanage and learning to the trust the IT staff.  Just as you don’t tell a dentist or mechanic how to do their job, the IT department needs to be allowed to fix the problem without interference.  That said, Matt made clear the increasing need in IT shops for accountability and ownership.  “No one’s going to catch your mistakes.”

Following his talk, the group heard a detailed overview from Randy Eggers on the history of NetApp and the unique features of this new Hillsboro facility he helped design.  NetApp then provided the CCN with a look inside its mammoth new data center, which – incredibly – was built in just 9 months from shovel to “lights on.”  Aside from the sheer storage size of the system, Randy explained how NetApp installed an innovative (and proprietary) energy system that cools only one side of the servers.  So rather than chilling an entire room, NetApp is only cooling one small aisle between servers.  The building also uses the mild Oregon climate to help control the temperature inside.  The technology on display definitely blew a lot of minds on this tour.

And then there was the human element: everyone noticed the small staff on hand to run the center.  Aside from Matt and Randy, who helped design the facility, we counted only one other NetAPp employee, plus two private security staffers running the front desk (and parking lot gate outside).  This offers another signpost towards the future of IT where data centers will be run by a skeleton crew of technicians.

A big thank you to Matt and Randy.  And to Mark Conway for arranging our visit.

Read the press release announcing the Hillsboro data center here:

And if you’re an IT instructor at a community college and wish you’d been able to take such an amazing tour, maybe you should consider joining the CCN.  Membership is free.  Learn more here.


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