The Data Center is the New Uber

Zach Hilliard of Cyxtera explains how innovations like hyperconverged infrastructure and enterprise cloud software are modernizing IT, making data centers more cohesive with new technologies.

By Tom Mangan

By Tom Mangan December 13, 2019

A data center is an air-conditioned room packed with computing power. Uber is a service that connects pedestrians with drivers who share their cars for a fee. It’s hard to imagine two things more different. But it turns out that data centers are becoming more like ride-sharing services all the time.

How so? It’s like this:

A ride-sharing company is not really about cars, drivers and passengers. It’s about delivering convenience to the end user. Think about the appeal of ride-sharing services. You don’t have to acquire a car — no payments, no leases, no oil changes. You don’t have to find a parking lot or tip a valet driver.

When you take those woozy steps outside your favorite downtown club at 12:47 a.m., you need a ride home, and you need it right now. A few taps on the ride-sharing app on your smartphone delivers a driver of your choice. The app even pays the driver.

That’s about as convenient as it gets.

Innovations in cloud-computing technology are giving data center owners an opportunity to do much the same: Use assets they own to produce convenient solutions that attract new customers and novel revenue streams.

Data Centers in the Age of Convenience

Cloud computing has caused a tectonic shift in the world of data centers, which originally had hub-and-spoke infrastructures. Today, cloud services encourage the distribution of data center operations. People can use the resources they need, when they need them, and often at a location of their choosing.

All that convenience has a common side effect: excess or unused data center capacity. Companies need a convenient way to tap these unused assets, much like Uber drivers need riders to fill empty seats.

Zach Hillard of Cyxtera on how enterprises secure data in the IoT era

Zach Hilliard has witnessed this Uberization of data centers first-hand. Hilliard is Senior Director of Site Reliability Engineering for Cyxtera Technologies, a Texas-based provider of data centers around the globe. Cyxtera also has a deep portfolio of software services for cloud- and hybrid-ready security and analytics.

“We had a technology partner that was selling bare metal as-a-service via Nutanix,” Hilliard recalled. They chose Nutanix because their hypercoverged infrastructure (HCI) platform made it extremely convenient to allocate compute, storage and network resources in the cloud.

“I have 59 data centers around the world,” Hilliard said. “That data center portfolio is our main bread and butter. So, I’m always asking, how do I ensure that a client’s hybrid cloud strategy is cohesive in all my data centers as well?"

Because Nutanix software can manage compute, storage and networking on almost any kind of server, many organizations use it to allocate resources exactly where they need them. For instance, Nutanix’s high availability service enables backups to specific locations.

Before HCI services came along, it might’ve taken months for a company to find excess capacity in a specific site and get those services up and running. HCI can shrink that timeline dramatically.

Cutting Costs While Adding Convenience

Hilliard noted that his company encountered a familiar difficulty in the cloud. Cloud-based services are extremely economical on a small scale because it’s cheaper to rent space on somebody else’s server than it is to buy and manage servers outright.

But when cloud provisioning scales up, eventually, cloud-based services exceed the cost of a data center. That’s where Hilliard’s company was, until it started using more Nutanix services.

“We got into a situation like Lyft and Uber where we were not hugely profitable,” Hilliard said. Using Nutanix’s HCI platform allowed them to reduce their total cost of ownership by more than 40% while providing a majority of the cloud-related services their customers demand.

Companies that want to monetize unused capacity in their environment have convenient tools to make that happen, thanks to HCI software.

A Diesel Mechanic’s Path to High Tech

Before he was a techie, Hilliard was into internal combustion engines.

“I'm 33, so I'm kind of a young dude and I come by way of being a diesel mechanic,” he said. “I always liked cars, but I was that car guy who didn’t listen to my mom, who told me ‘don't make your hobby your job.’ I did anyway, and it wasn’t great.”

Hilliard’s father, however, had experience with Unix, Linux and data centers, which is where Zach ended up.

“I was like, ‘you know what, this is OK.’ Data centers have air conditioning and it's a fairly clean job. My hands don’t come back gashed in and covered in mud.”

His first data center job was on the midnight-to-10 a.m. shift. He soon learned to troubleshoot data center operations, helping clients recover crashed servers. Before long, he was leading teams.

“’You know, I'm the nerd,” he recalled. “But I also have some people skills and I understand how to talk to management.” Next, he jumped into development and configuration management.

At Cyxtera, his sixth employer, he’s deep into the realm of Kubernetes and containerization.

“We’re driving clients toward the idea that if it can be containerized, we should containerize it because we have this vast ecosystem where we’d like them to shift all of their workloads,” he said. “To do that, we've had to create a flow that makes sense to them.”

Kubernetes liberates Hilliard and his colleagues from having to request resources from the IT team before proceeding with a development project.

“Today, I give a developer a cluster and I am 99% sure that there's nothing that they can do to that cluster that will impact anyone else,” he said. “I'm not going to have to go log onto it cause I'm out of disc space. I can literally let them be free.”

That’s the kind of convenience that HCI and new enterprise software is delivering. Like all those technologies helping people earn extra cash by sharing their cars, these innovations put companies in the driver’s seat of their data centers and take them to new destinations.  

Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor, specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.

© 2019 Nutanix, Inc. All rights reserved.  For additional legal information, please go here.