At Verne Global, Tate Cantrell is responsible for setting the technical direction for the company. He oversees the design and construction of all aspects of the facilities at Verne’s 100% renewably powered data centre campus. His breadth of responsibility also encompasses the setup and oversight of operational and security strategies at the Verne Global campus. Aside from his internal leadership, he has a broad range of external responsibilities including client relations and industry related mentoring.
Tate draws on 20+ years of experience in the data centre industry. His experiences range from system administration for high performance computing environments to design, strategy and operational oversight during his tenure as vice president of technology at Dupont Fabros Technology.
Can you remember what job you wanted when you were a child?
I wanted to be a hematologist. My brother had a serious battle with hepatitis when I was younger, which at first they were sure was leukemia. We spent a lot of late nights at the Los Angeles Children’s Center waiting and wondering. I knew at that point I wanted to help people and that was clearly the most helpful thing I could think of. Luckily for all of us, youth was on his side and he pushed that disease into remission many years ago. The medical desires stayed with me and towards the end of my university studies, I turned my engineering studies to Biomedical Engineering.
Did you have a clear idea of the career you wanted by the time you left school and has your career path gone the way you expected?
After completing my Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering, I decided to take a break before going into more advanced studies. I had become very interested in neural networks and chaos theory and considered either a pHd in Mathematics or a pHd in Biomedical Engineering. In order to help with the thinking process, I decided to go way outside of my element and landed in Fairbanks, Alaska, where I spent three years helping to design large power systems across the Lone Star State. I found this work very rewarding and interesting, and when I travelled back to the Eastern United States for a wedding, my own in fact, I found that the Internet data centre was just being born. I was lucky enough to land a position at the design firm that was working on all of the America Online data centres and the rest is history.
What is your main motivation in the work that you do?
The motivation has always changed throughout my career. In the beginning it was the theory of reliability which drove me. Later it was applying engineering for business gains and now I find that my motivation is in creating efficiency through a symphony of man and machine. Despite doomsday opinions about the future of Artificial Intelligence, I firmly believe that we as a society will achieve greatness by increasing the understanding of ourselves through technology. Philosophy and technology when placed in balance will push us forward.
Are there any major changes that you would like to see in the data centre industry?
The greatest advancements in the data centre industry will be through collaboration. The barriers between the various levels of infrastructure are continuously breaking down and in a good way. It is rewarding to see that now the very proprietors of the applications which reside in the data centre are considering the power sources that drive those applications. A decade ago, this would not have been a faintest concern in the mind of an application developer. But we need to do much more to ensure that the applications are given the specific resources they require, not only for optimised performance, but for optimisation of the resources that we devote to the applications. We owe it to the generations that will come to get this right.
How would you encourage a school leaver to get involved in your industry? What are their options and what attributes would they need?
Data centres are factories that are made of machines – both computing machines and electro-mechanical machines. So the leaders of the industry must understand the way that factories operate and the way they operate best. But programming is the key. Learn how to tie systems together and make them sing. If you don’t know what API means, look it up and understand it. In order to optimise the data centre industry, tomorrow’s leaders will turn the data centre into an orchestra of science.
If you could go back to one great event/moment in your life and relive it all over again, what would it be and why?
Of course I would have picked a major crossroads and made a different choice. There are so many. Every decision, every day shapes your colourful life. Just think of all of the options you have had throughout your career. It is like a Jackson Pollack painting. Full of the beauty in a system of seemingly random acts.
What are your hobbies/interests outside work?
Anything that makes your mind stronger and more flexible is worthy of interest outside of work. I try to pick a different task each year that is a complete rewire. For example, I learned to tie my shoes incorrectly when I was young. So in my 39th year, I changed the way that I did it. It literally took about a year and a half before I was faster the new way than the old way. Languages, as well, are a wonderful way to test your mental flexibility. But my mind is truly only free when I’m running past 15km, participating in a rugby game, or fly fishing in a river.
Where is your favourite holiday destination and why?
I don’t think I have found my favourite yet. But I’ll keep searching. Holidays are so important. Working as an American in Europe has given me a greater appreciation for holidays. Acceptance of holidays from work ensures that we have no single points of failure in our organisations.
If a film was made of your life which actor would you choose to play you and why?
I think that Dustin Hoffman would probably just stay at the bottom of the pool thinking about plastics if he tried to play me.
Do you have any big industry predictions or targets for 2017?
I am very excited about the prospects that the interest in Artificial Intelligence and the gains in High Performance Computing will bring to the scientific world. I predict that data centres will be at the core of many great discoveries in 2017. I hope to play a part in that.