This is the tale of two IT executives.
One runs an outsourced data center for organizations such as hospitals that want to outsource their data center processing rather than worry about uptime, network transport speeds and never-ending data storage upgrades.
The other exec is now in Hong Kong after spending a few years in the backwoods regions of China and Mongolia doing education support. Education support can mean everything from building a network around a single dial-up connection to installing servers (after youve first figured out how to buy a box of parts that may or may not be a server once assembled).
Despite an ocean of distance between the two executives, they both have lessons to teach us all, and IT pros, in particular.
John Boyd is the president of Offsite, based in Manchester, Conn. You can get a full description of Offsites facility at www.offsitenow.com. The capacity, redundancy and planning that went into the sites construction would make any IT manager trying to squeeze one more server into an already overheated and overcrowded server room very envious.
Boyd spent 20 years as the chief technologist at Northeast Utilities, which helps explain his preoccupation with making the overused term of 24/7 operation a reality regardless of weather, customer requirements or electrical requirements on New Englands power grid.
Boyd also is on the forefront of looking at his power usage as a contributor to the overall power grid rather than simply a user. He is working with EnerNOC (www.enernoc.com) to become part of the EnerNOC "negawatt" grid. The negawatt grid acts as a go-between for utilities and major power customers, enabling those customers to make small adjustments to their power consumption. In return for those 1- to 3-degree temperature adjustments, EnerNOC customers get paid. "It does not pay for us to be up and running if our customers are down," said Boyd, noting that programs such as EnerNOC allow customers such as Offsite not only to be good environmental citizens but also to contribute to electrical and data center uptime for their customers.
IT execs in the past have been knocked for being too cocooned in technology to understand their companys business. Boyd is among the tech exec leaders who understand not only their companys business but also the social and economic world where their customers businesses operate.
In addition to Boyd, Id like to add Doctor John to the smart IT execs list—not the Doctor John of New Orleans fame, but the Doctor John who has spent the last four years in China teaching and building technology networks at schools, including the Mongolia University for Nationalities. I first came across Doctor John (the name he goes by in China) when he wrote some dispatches for The Register about a year ago. The dispatches were very interesting reading then, and I spent about a month hunting him down via e-mail, and then I asked him to write a lessons-learned dispatch for us. You can read that dispatch on our site.
"The IT role [in China] can be unique and often is. Most of the places I have been had no infrastructure in place. If they did have something, it was mostly based on old, odd and unavailable technology. Add to this a real frightful bundle of communication issues. Not too many Western IT managers find themselves in a position where they feel a need to learn Chinese and Mongolian to do their job," Doctor John wrote in an e-mail.
The best IT execs Ive run across are the ones who skip the complaining about management and go in and do a job that seemed impossible in the face of immature technology, indifferent management and throttled budgets. Remember, if Doctor John can do it in Mongolia, you can do it in your facility, wherever that may be.
Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.