About seven months ago I started working with Equinix. I had no idea what they did before I started, and as it turns out that’s a common problem for the company as a lot of people react to the name with a: “Equinox? The gym?”
Nope, Equinix is one of the world’s largest colocation data center companies, and I was hired on to help develop and build a new marketing project called Equinix Forum, a content marketing portal that espouses Equinix customer’s expertise and related marketing collateral.
Recently, I finished reading Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet. The book focuses on the physical location of the internet. “Is there one?” the author Andrew Blum asks repeatedly, as he tours countless data centers looking for the one hub, the one server, to which we all plug in.
Tubes is popular at Equinix because Blum spends a good amount of his book touring Equinix data centers, and he praises the company a good amount for its founders, its network-neutral structure, and the speed at which the company has grown and its datacenters have proliferated.
You haven’t heard of Equinix? There may be a reason for that.
A key discussion within Tubes is the mystery that enshrouds these large data centers. With the advent and propagation of Cloud computing, more and more of our personal data–our personal lives–is stored on machines to which we have less than 0 access to. The recent Jennifer Lawrence nude photo scandal stressed the dangerous nature of this dichotomy; it’s a point of tension frequently found in the news. Facebook is almost constantly under fire for its handling of its users information, even their emotions.
Equinix actually offers Blum a number of fairly transparent visits–especially in comparison to Google who only let him into their unmarked buildings as far as the cafeteria–but even discussing what companies locate within Equinix is generally frowned upon.
After all: knowledge is power, and knowledge is information. That hackneyed marketing phrase, Big Data, has proved itself so far as the mass accumulation of every measurable aspect of each of our individual lives, harvested and stored in large warehouses that very few are privy to.
Like they say: if you aren’t paying for a service, you are the product being sold.
The Human Network
What’s most interesting about Tubes however is Blum’s emphasis on the human relationships that underline this now critically important physical infrastructure. Colocation companies like Equinix provide a space where companies can make direct connections to each other servers (cross-connects). Behind these physical connections are personal connections and any number of drinks, company dinners, and otherwise casually-brokered deals.
Blum comes to find that as a network there’s not necessarily any defined physical center of the Internet. Rather, IT infrastructure is surprisingly reliant on the ebb and flow of a number of important and seemingly haphazard personal relationships. The health of the internet as a system, relies heavily on the health of our efforts as social entities.
It makes sense that behind the digital network is a network of well-coordinated professionals, but I think Blum’s point is that it is easy to forget, amidst the woosh and whirl of technology, that at the heart of this sometimes seamlessly-functioning system is unadorned, and fickle humanity.
Stay tuned for my interview with Iona Harding, an HR veteran who helped build the company that built the network of the internet.