My HiringSolved Away Mission to Phoenix NAP

Getting Going

My trip to the NAP Datacenter was an unexpected journey. I wasn’t supposed to go, actually. Trevor had invited me to go months ago and I couldn’t make it that time, but when I heard HiringSolved was going on another field trip, I asked if I could join.

Shon was enthused about the outing for a moment, but then realized I couldn’t go. “You need two forms of ID, so it’ll have to be next time.”

“It just so happens I’m carrying two!” I was back in on the away mission.

Arrival

 

Photos of Phoenix NAP facility.

Photos of Phoenix NAP facility.

We parked at a building that I had passed many times before. A very nondescript and boring building from the outside. I had driven past the corporate art and boring block architecture many times on my way to Arizona State University back in my college days.

We exited at the boring building and walked up to a tinted glass door–a common accent for the hot Arizona sun. Nothing impressive so far.

“This is by design,” Shon told me. “Notice how there are no logos or labels of any kind on this building”

Now that you mention it, this building is pretty nondescript… I was thinking. Has anyone even moved in? I see the cars around and everything but surely they’re just here for the Waffle House across the street.

Nope. This is NAP. And despite the cozy name, the security here never sleeps. We got up to the nondescript door of the nondescript building and Shon hit the nondescript buzzer on the nondescript pole in the nondescript cement.

A nondescript voice answered: “Bed—fft ba—ft and be—-ndfssf”

I didn’t really hear it.

“Shon Burton, HiringSolved,” Shon said into the speaker.

Click. The doors were unlocked. We walked over and Shon was saying, “See? There’s nothing signifying what this place is. Again, that’s by design. I’m surprised they even have numbers on the door. Usually they try to hide even the address at these things.”

Clearly this wasn’t Shon’s first rodeo.

Entering the Center

I sheepishly walked in with my hands firmly at my sides. Then clasped behind me. Then crossed in front of me. I didn’t know where the hell to put my hands.

The two security guards were wearing kevlar vests and a bulletproof pane of glass separated them from us.

One of them started grilling Shon on what hard drives he was taking in.

“Brand X,” Shon said.

“How many gigs?”

“X gigs.”

“How many drives?”

“Just two.”

“And your guest?”

“This is Christopher Murray. He’s new and we’re giving him a tour.”

They looked at me and said, “Two forms of ID please.”

I fumbled around in my Beatles wallet and pulled out my green card and Arizona driver’s license.

“Wait, you have a green card?” Shon said.

This was the first time I explained my Irish heritage and how even after living in the USA for 26 years (since I was 2 years old), I am still an Irish citizen. I saved some of the hairier details for later.

The mission that day was to infiltrate the data center, remove the failing drives, and replace them with newer, more reliable ones–some real cyber-punk shit!

The guards handed Shon and I a pair of badges to get us into the data center.

Behind them, I noticed a grip-ton of TVs set up to surveil the surrounding campus as well as the hallways of the complex. They probably had them on display like that to remind people they’re being watched.

The place was a fortress.

Data Meditations, Scorpoyotes, and Porn

I started to think about how malleable data is.

The Pirate Bay, for instance, has node accounts at data centers all over the world that activate in the event that one is taken down. It doesn’t matter if their building blows up because there will always be another backup of the data somewhere else.

For Gangplank startups like HiringSolved, however, this building blowing up would be quite a different situation.

If this building exploded, imploded, burned down, fell into the swamp, was raided by scorpions, coyotes, scorpion-covered coyotes, or giant scorpion-coyote hybrids that stabbed all the security with their scorp tails while half of them ran high powered magnets through the complex to wipe everything; all the startups would be doomed.

Or at least you’d think so.

When I brought forth my Scorpoyote concerns Shon showed me how I shouldn’t be so concerned.

“Technically, at least for us, it’s inaccurate to say we would be doomed. We securely replicate our data to [web server]. So in the event Phoenix NAP becomes a smoking crater, we would be back up and running in a short amount of time (minutes not hours).” Shon explained.

15 years ago I would have been right on the money. Multi-datacenter replication was so expensive that only the very top companies could afford it. Today, thanks to OpenStack, Rackspace, and most of all AWS, if your startup is taken out because your DC goes down, you’re not doing it right.

As it turns out, most of the security was there to prevent theft and non-destructive intrusion. Not destruction. Data and infrastructure are fairly easy to replicate today. Theft or worse, subtle infiltration is a much more significant risk for most. Again, replication and virtual hardware took much of the destruction risk away.

CC Bill, the emperor of porn payment processing, dedicates an entire floor of NAP to process transactions but they are no better off than the smaller startups housed there. Despite their massive scale and tenure in the digital space, they use a lot of the same data techniques that younger organizations use to mitigate destruction risk.

The Value of Data

Bits… they’re just a bunch of 0s and 1s. All theoretical, yet valuable. It’s a lot like how we value a person for their personality. It’s not the mass of the person that makes them valuable, it’s the synapses and electronic messages firing through the brain. The memory signature of a human being is quite like the data in this building. Really it’s just an extension of our own brain, isn’t it?

Perhaps that thought progression is what’s driving Trevor the astrophysicist, engineer, and CTO of HiringSolved to consider a possible future in neuroscience one day after he makes his buh-zillions.

 

Script Kiddie Danger

scriptkiddie

Not many people get to see this kind of thing. When I was a kid they took us to go see the factory where they made Coca Cola. Sure the assembly-line machinery was pretty cool, but nobody was carrying a taser.

They never take kids to things like data centers. Well, they never did in the 90s. There weren’t as many of them, in their defense. I have no idea where kids are field-tripping to these days, but if we really wanna trip them out we should take them to a data center.

On second thought, I’m not sure a group of rowdy kids could be trusted in a place like that. With things as fragile as they are, there isn’t much a kid couldn’t destroy.

Even with everything is locked away in black lockers like a goth Saved By the Bell.

Servers are just like your tower or laptop at home really, they need a power strip to plug into and an operating system to run their programming.

If a kid got in there and pressed the red button, they’d muck up the ongoing processes that the software company was performing. Right?

Wrong.

It does not work this way. Dennis the Menace could literally go into the datacenter, open the locker, plug in a Makita and start drilling holes in servers while our users happily went about their business.

Also, before Dennis could drill enough servers to make a difference, he would have been tazed in the head by one of the Kevlar-clad heroes.

If he turned everything off, yes, things would go down. HiringSolved would have to fire up the web server nodes until NAP security fixed the issue.

As a side note, HiringSolved’s entire cluster has in fact been completely powered off before. Not by a menacing kid, but by a clumsy ASU Computer Science intern and his stray elbow. Guess what happened? Nothing! HiringSolved powered back up to crawl sites and serve users like nothing happened.

We have a highly available redundant design. A datacenter being taken out is rare but if it happens we’re ready. If we weren’t, we would be morons.

Security Upon Security

After the security check and being processed, we walked through a glass door on the right that clicked to unlock and we went down a narrow hallway.

Halfway down the hallway there was a wall made of glass where we could see a bunch of tech security experts looking over their monitors right into our eyes as we passed.

They were seated on a series of graduated steps much like the bridge on a Starfleet C-class ship or some kind of secret nerd council or tribunal.

Their demeanor was very serious. A curly, long-haired ginger one I looked at gave me a stoic glare that sent chills through my soul.

I shuddered and kept walking, keeping my mouth shut so as not to set off some kind of security lip-reading software that detects stupid people.

When we got to the end of the hall we arrived at the most interesting part of the technology. The airlock room. Or whatever it was. It’s an airlock in the fashion that it was a room you entered and could not progress through until the doors on both sides had been locked.

Trouble in the Airlock
Airlock-Testing

There was a guy in there fumbling with the communication device on the wall. He seemed flustered and I couldn’t hear what he was saying through the door but it didn’t look good.

All of a sudden a green gas poured through hidden vents in the ceiling and in flew two automated drones with mounted machine guns and quadcopter flight.

They pointed their lasers at him and started firing. The portly young man in the death trap started trying to fight them off immediately and started coughing as the green gas started melting his skin. The gas billowed through the room until it was fully opaque. We couldn’t see anything.

Then *boom* we saw his disfigured bullet-ridden face smack against the glass door. He slumped to the ground and a giant spatula lowered from the ceiling to scrape his body from the floor and into a vacuum opening that had appeared on the far wall.

He was swiftly brushed into the vacuum where him and all the green gas flowed into the abyss. A pipe came out of the floor in the middle of the room and sprayed a solution everywhere. Squeegees dropped out of the ceiling to clean up the remaining specs of human. It all ended with a chirpy *ding* sound and the glass door slid open.

“They just murdered somebody,” I said.

“Shhh,” Shon said.

Shon badged first and motioned for me to follow.

I began to walk in and a piercing horn sound filled the air. Red lights flashed at the door’s entrance.

Shon whipped around and grabbed the badge on my neck to put it on the sensor. “You have to badge in too!”

But it was too late. We hit the deck as bullets went flying all around us.

What actually happened:

The befuddled gentleman in the enclosure finished whining into the speaker. We heard another voice come through our speaker and say, “Okay. You two can badge in and get in there with him now.”

“Alright. Back up,” we heard the loudspeaker say. By that time, Ian had caught up with us. I looked at him for some reciprocation and said “Dude, this place is badass.”  He nodded. It wasn’t his first time here, but he couldn’t deny the coolness either. (He tried).

“Yeah, your first time visiting one of these things is usually pretty intense. It gets less so when you’re running in and out to change hard drives all the time, but I have to admit it’s still pretty cool,” he said.

What I didn’t realize until after the trip is that the ‘airlock’ room we were in was actually measuring our weight down to a fraction of a gram and our weight while exiting would be compared to the original. Just another security measure to ward off theft.

That must be why the guards needed to know the brand and capacity of the drives we were bringing in as well as taking out. Hmm…

I exited the airlock totally ignorant of my weigh-in and entered the actual farm. The farm is a habitat for many a scurrying nerd. I spotted a silverback neckbeard, the duckbilled hipster, and even a water buffalo.

There are vents on the floors between each stack of servers. If left alone, servers can generate quite a bit of heat, actually. They’re kept to an appropriate temperature by a cycle of cool air that blows up from the floor on one side, then up and over the lockers to the other side where the hot air is vented out. So, if you get too cold, you can go to the hot side or vice versa.

I found this useful as I hadn’t dressed for either cold or hot weather. I was kind of in the middle (t-shirt with slacks). I found myself making the rounds once or twice.

Delicate Handling

Every part of the process was delicately and carefully handled. Removing a drive and replacing it is a serious undertaking for a business that relies on data. Each drive was handled like a newborn. It was clear that this server meant their livelihood. It was like defusing a bomb.

Ian added some nice-to-know stuff as I checked out the digs. Such as how the yellow housings that tracked along the tops of all the servers in the farm were the hamster highways where hamsters delivered written network codes from one side of the farm to the other.

Trevor explained how segments of each drive’s data was copied throughout the other drives, so if you lost one it was easy to recover from the other. With limited resources as a startup, this method serves very well and has prevented any major catastrophes at HiringSolved.

The guys joked about a marketing piece I wrote about our “thousands of servers” when in fact we have a much fewer number.

When it was time to go, I had soaked in the importance of data centers like this and the reason security is so important for them. When HiringSolved’s data does eventually need the capacity of thousands of servers, we’ll look back on this moment and think of how cute things were back then.

headshotAbout the Author: Christopher Murray is a growth hacker at HiringSolved. He’s also a Gangplank Chandler community member and volunteer where he supplies a weekly newsletter; edits blog posts; and handles community promotions. He started with HiringSolved in November 2014, and has immersed himself in the knowledge of sourcing, HR, and Recruiting. Christopher has a background in freelance writing, hacking, and marketing. His duties at HiringSolved include site content growth, writing patents & press releases, conducting email blasts, and charting their trajectory in the new media landscape.

GP Brownbag: Chad Smith & Open Forum

When you think of animation, most likely the first image that pops into your head is either a Disney or Pixar character. Ever since that black and white mouse came onto the screen as Steamboat Willy, animation has taken a place in our minds as an entertainment medium.

Yet, there is so much more to the animation field than we are aware.

Chad Smith of Being Studios, will be our featured speaker for Wednesday, June 30th’s brown bag presentation. Smith has recently taken up residence at Gangplank and has already created a series of hilarious cartoons based on the regular activities taking place inside our walls.

More than that, Smith will be talking about the many opportunities available in the animation field, and how businesses can use the medium to tell their stories. Anything and everything you ever wanted to know about animation will be answered, and perhaps you’ll even end up as part of Smith’s Gangplank cartoon collection.

Something a little different

Some of you may recall that a few months back, Derek held an informal discussion about the future of Gangplank after a brown bag. We are planning on making this a regular occurrence, to hear your thoughts and share updates about Gangplank. These open forums will take place the last Wednesday of the month, before the brown bag presentation.

This open forum is for the curious, new members and Gangplank veterans alike. Want to know what Gangplank is? We’ll cover it. Want updates on the move? Come and ask. The open forum will begin at 11am. Stick around to catch the brown bag.

Jay Roger’s Brown Bag

Local Motors CEO and Co-Founder, Jay Rogers, was kind enough to come share his vision of the future of the car industry with us last month. Rogers explained the traditional model of car building and how that model is no longer sustainable. He shared the history of Local Motors, as well as how open-source car design localizes a vehicle and involves the purchaser in the process. Below is his presentation for your enjoyment. Local Motors will be hosting an Open House for their new factory in Phoenix at the end of July. Check back for details about the event.

Jay Rogers

Announcing Gangplank JR Book Club

Gangplank Junior has decided the grown-ups shouldn’t be the ones having all the fun.

Starting next month, the kids of Gangplank will begin hosting their own book club. Each month’s book will target a different age range, from 7-15, though all children are welcome to attend any of the book club meetings. We will post the reading grade-level of each titles, as well as caution parents for any strong language or themes.

Our first meeting will be Tuesday, July 20th at 6pm inside Gangplank HQ. The discussion will be led by Brittany Neighbors, a Queen Creek High School Junior.

For our first title, we will be reading Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. The book takes place in Arizona, with main character Stargirl Caraway making a splash at her new high school. Having been home schooled for the majority of her life, Stargirl moves to beat of her own drummer in dress, behavior and personality. In this book, Spinelli “captures the collective, not-always-pretty emotions of a high school microcosm in which individuality is pitted against conformity”.

Recommended ages are 10-14. 208 pages.

Why you shouldn't miss Hacknights

Hacknights were started to provide an opportunity for like-minded individuals to connect, share ideas and launch new ventures in the community. Every Wednesday around quitting time, a hodge-podge of developers, bloggers, artists, techies and entrepreneurs are thrown together in one giant room – and crazy things happen.

If you haven’t had an opportunity to attend a Hacknight, here’s a taste.

Last night, more than 40 people showed up to Gangplank for Hacknight. Our first ever roller-hockey game was played in the loading area behind the building. Josh Strebel of Page.ly acted as videographer, riding around on the new Gangplank bike shooting the bloody battle. Injuries were sustained, with the ConreyHurstCharland team pulling off a 3-1 victory. Who says girls can’t play?

In the midst of the game, lots was going on inside Gangplank. Nicholas Dibiase and Brandon Franklin struck up an impromptu jam session, playing percussion and guitar for attendees enjoyment. Also on the music front, Stern Savage stopped by to drop off a sneak preview of his mixtape, to be released July 31st.

Hacking activities were in full swing as well. Heat Sync Labs set up a lock picking table, with various levels to challenge Hacknight attendees. Nick Hammond managed to pick all the locks, save the hardest.

And of course, what’s a Hacknight without a ridiculously awesome YouTube video about college sports?

Even with all the distractions and activities, Hacknights main draw is the amazing conversations between people. Artists, musicians, dating advice bloggers, marketing consultants and coders discussing sports, differences between the sexes and getting to know one another. These initial meetings are the stepping stones that create projects and passions that move the world.

Why miss out?

Linchpin Meetup Recap

Last night, 40+ people assembled at Gangplank to discuss the book Linchpin, written by marketing guru Seth Godin. The book discusses the idea of making yourself so good at what you do that you are indispensable, and that causing disruption by rapidly eschewing traditional models for new ones is a worthy endeavor.

The Linchpin meetup, put on by Tyler Hurst and Stealthmode, broke attendees into groups to discuss key concepts from the book, including overcoming fear, qualities of leadership, our current education system and the importance of learning to lose. Each group presented on their topics with a discussion portion following each presentation.

Many of the participants had recently left Corporate America and were starting ventures of their own. Their interest in attending the event stemmed from wanting to meet others that were in a similar positions for encouragement, ideas and general networking. Throughout the evening connections were made, relationships were formed and attendees walked away with some insight into their own status as a Linchpin, and where they might improve.

For coverage of the event, as well as an interesting take on startups in this economy, check out ABC 15’s video. Also, listen to Gangplank Studio episodes 35 and 36 to hear attendees discuss what the word Linchpin means to them.

New staff member

Hey, I’m Katie Charland, the new Director of Operations for Gangplank.

Last week, Gangplank welcomed me as its first full-time staff member. Though I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of you through various events, I’ve got a long way to go if I hope to get to know the 2,000+ Gangplank members and fans.

Gangplank means something different to each person that walks through its doors. My journey to this position started over 3 years ago when I began teaching.

Fresh off my bachelors degree in poli sci and communications, I was looking for an in to Chicago politics. On a whim, I applied to Teach for America and was accepted as a 7th grade history teacher on the border of Mexico and Texas. This experience forever altered my life, as I became passionate about nonprofit causes.

After my 2-year contract was up, I moved to Arizona to pursue a graduate degree at ASU. My masters program focused on public relations for nonprofits. In May 2009, I graduated and went off into the world.

And what a crappy world it was. Recession, Arizona unemployment hovering around 10% — ouch. Having become involved in the social media/PR scene, I was able to contract myself out for various small projects. It was during this time I was introduced to Gangplank.

At the beginning, I was terrified. Here I am, a tech/social networking newbie and (gasp) blackberry user, surrounded by the hacker elite of the Valley. Intimidated? Hell yeah.

But what’s great about Gangplank is its welcoming spirit. People love to chat and network.

Not only that, Gangplank is an organization with tremendous potential. All I had to do was ask if I could help plan events for Gangplank and was instantly assigned to brown bags.

Now I’m staff (though still not an iPhone convert). That’s my Gangplank story.

I want to hear yours.

Just as Gangplank means something different to each person, everyone has a stake in the organization’s future. What is your experience with Gangplank? What would you like to see it become?

Schedule a chat with me.

GP Brownbag: 'Opportunities in a time of mass upheaval'

Everyone loves free stuff. Unfortunately, most big companies are out to make money and dislike giving away their products for free.

Then Shwaag came along.

The company’s CEO Eric Keosky-Smith has taken local social media by storm with the concept of social powered generosity. His site gives away premium products, such as Amazon Kindle, to encourage real generosity by brands and promote consumer loyalty. Members get a shot at unique, high-quality products and the participating companies get advertising through social media buzz and happy customers.

Keosky-Smith has a long history with developing marketing strategies that break new ground. With over 25 years experience in technology and consumer marketing, he’s been behind some of the largest product launches and initiatives of the past decade.

His extensive history may be why he had trouble picking a topic – there’s just so much be wants to share with Valley-area entrepreneurs! His topic, ‘Opportunities in a time of mass upheaval’ will encompass many of the subjects he wanted to cover, including marketing and relationships in a social media world, as well as how to bridge generation/technology gaps in business.

Wednesday, June 16th @ Noon
Bring your lunch (and questions).

Ignite Phoenix Developer #3 Update

Due to a low number of submissions, Ignite Phoenix Developer #3 has been canceled.  We apologize to the individuals who submitted, but we didn’t want to half-ass an event. We will be planning another developer event in the near future, so keep watching our blog, facebook page and twitter for updates.

In the meantime, developers come join us at Gangplank for Hacknight each Wednesday from 6pm to whenever the energy drinks run out. This is an opportunity to share what you’ve been working on and ideas you have with a community of like-minded individuals. Perhaps a new venture or project will come of it. You’ll only know if you come participate.

Phoenix Crowd Pitch

What:
This event will bring entrepreneurs, innovators, mentors, support providers, and investors together in an informal and energetic setting.

Think ´American Idol´ — selected entrepreneurs will have 4 minutes to pitch their company to both a panel of experts & a live audience, followed immediately by a 3-minute Q&A session with the panel.

A free networking dinner will follow the formal pitch.

When:
May 26, 2009
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Where:
The Marriott – The Buttes Resort (in the Amphitheater room)
2000 Westcourt Way
Tempe, AZ 85282

Useful links:
Event Registration
Event Details

Video of previous CrowdPitches:
http://www.youtube.com/fundinguniverse#p/u/3/7WCdwfugRM4
http://www.youtube.com/fundinguniverse#p/u/4/2IJdTmqVDb4
http://www.youtube.com/fundinguniverse#p/a/u/2/1i_gLse4JjM