Travis Cole knows what successful internet infrastructure management looks like. His experience as an IT engineer spans seven different startups, including Snapvine, iLike, Zoosk and, most recently, Square — leading Datacenter and Network Engineering at the $11 billion payment processing company. In short, Travis has been around the block enough to dispel untruths about internet infrastructure management.
So what are the biggest misconceptions about managing internet infrastructure? First off, Travis advises, don’t think the decisions you make early on won’t matter later — “temporary” tends to become forever.
“You’ll be surprised by how long they’ll be impacting you — those decisions that you didn’t really think through or put investment in at the time,” Travis explains.
Seemingly short-term decisions can grow into multi-million dollar contracts with multiple-year commitments. Dissolving a relationship with a provider — even a public cloud provider, who works well now but is not a good fit for the future — is difficult and expensive. Half-baked decisions will always cost you.
When it comes to deciding the future of your infrastructure, Travis says there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, like how many servers you should have before adding colocation to your portfolio. (Although he does say if you have hundreds of servers, it’s probably time to start doing the math.) Instead, he says one of the biggest deciding factors you should look at is predictability.
“If you can predict what your data growth is going to be like, what your CPU usage growth is going to be like, I think it can be much more cost effective to do it yourself.”
On the other hand, if your workloads remain unpredictable, Travis says you may not want to own hardware that only gets used a fraction of the time.
In terms of people-power, even at a very large scale, Travis contends you probably don’t need as much as some cloud providers may lead you to believe. To keep their infrastructure running at Square, Travis says they need about eight people.
“There’s a misconception that running your own infrastructure is super-hard black magic. I don’t think that’s really true.”
For the growing startup, Travis says that training capable developers to handle operations is not out of the question, as long as they build and maintain a close relationship with the finance team.
In this vein, Travis warns that you should never think of infrastructure operations as an isolated segment of your business. Operations, finance, and engineering should always be working closely together.
When all stakeholders are aligned and collaborating, projects move faster, reducing the opportunity cost of constrained infrastructure and minimizing the likelihood of costly mistakes caused by miscommunication between departments.
Collaboration between technical operations and finance means the technical operations team can plan based on good business metrics from the finance team, and the resulting infrastructure bill won’t be a nasty surprise. At Square, Travis says his team talked to finance for several hours a month to keep on top of their large-scale planning.
Similarly, collaboration between technical operations and engineering can mean avoiding a toxic “us against them” mentality.
“Otherwise…you end up having the old-school situation where engineering writes it and the ops team deploys it, then the ops team feels responsible for something they don’t have control over,” says Travis. “Then they’re always mad at eng for writing crappy code, and eng is mad at [the ops team] for being grumpy with them.”
When it comes to managing your internet infrastructure, take it from Travis: Careful planning and close communication between departments can help your company meet growing user demand efficiently, avoiding common pitfalls (and hurt feelings) along the way.
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