Ken Brill, the man who defined the data center, dies

The founder of the UpTime Institute was 69

The founder of the UpTime Institute, Kenneth G. Brill, 69, died Tuesday, the institute's parent company announced.

Brill, an electrical engineer by training, is credited with playing an enormous role in shaping the modern data center industry.

Kenneth G. Brill
Kenneth G. Brill

"He singled-handedly crafted an industry out of nothing," said Mike Manos, the chief technology officer at AOL, who had known Brill since the late 1990s.

Before Brill and the UpTime Institute, there was no identity or commonality among data centers, which were "small little silos" in enterprises, Manos said. Brill's gift, he continued, was an ability to see across the spectrum and the outlines of an industry that could share and leverage information to improve operations.

"He was the definer, he was the pioneer that identified something much bigger than himself," said Manos. "I don't know too many people who actually defined an industry in their career, and I think that is going to be one of Ken's lasting legacies."

One of the things that UpTime is best known for is its tier classifications for comparing data centers.

Until Brill's efforts, enterprises had been defining and measuring data centers in their own way, said Manos. "There was no commonality."

Today, "you can't go anywhere in the world without people talking about tier 1, tier 2, tier 3 data centers - it's that fundamental," he said. "Not only did he define the industry in terms of what it is, he created the language, he created the measurement that the industry really uses."

Brill's work extends back to 1985 through his firm, Computer Site Engineering. In 1993, he established a successor organization, the UpTime Institute. In 2009 UpTime was acquired by The 451 Group, a technology analyst and research organization.

Brill held an undergraduate electrical engineering degree from the University of Redlands and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He also received an honorary doctorate degree from Redlands. The cause of death was not disclosed.

"Ken Brill was a rare and special man," Martin McCarthy, chairman and CEO of The 451 Group, said in a statement. "Part visionary thinker, part ruthless pragmatist, he was an iconoclast and innovator, and a man of great integrity and passion. He is legitimately known around the world as 'The Father of the Data Center Industry.' On behalf of our firm, the clients that Ken devoted his life to serving, and the overall global IT industry, we collectively mourn his passing, and express our condolences to his family and intimates. We will all deeply miss this brilliant and bristly individual."

Brill, in a 2011 interview with Computerworld, talked about changes in the data center following Amazon's prolonged outage. He warned that the concentration of computing resources with large cloud providers was putting people who champion internal reliability at a disadvantage.

Brill likened the problem facing cloud providers to the problem facing Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. It was relatively problem free for 40 years, but then an earthquake and tsunami struck with enormous consequence. Those events exposed weaknesses in the system, which exacerbated the problems.

"There will always be an advocate for how it can be done cheaper, [but] if you haven't had a failure for five years -- who is the advocate for reliability?" said Brill. "My prediction is that in the years ahead, we will see more failures than we have been seeing, because people have forgotten what we had to do to get to where we are."

This article, Ken Brill, the man who defined the data center, dies, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies