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There’s something about craftsmanship. It’s personal, its artistry, and it can be incredibly effective in achieving its goals. On the other hand, mass-market production can be effective in other ways, through speed, efficiency, and cost savings.

The story of data centers is one of going from craftsmanship – where every individual machine is a pet project, maintained with great care – to mass production with big server farms where individual units are completely disposable.

In this article, we take a look at how data centers have changed shape over the decades. We examine the implications for data center workloads, and for the people that run them – who have now lost their pet systems. We’ll also review the cybersecurity implications of the new data center landscape.

Pet system with a big purpose

For any sysadmin who started their career before the advent of virtualization and other cloud and automation technologies, systems were finely crafted pieces of hardware – and treated with the same love as a pet.

It starts with the 1940s emergence of computer rooms – where big machines manually connected by miles of wires were what could only be called a labor of love. These computer rooms contained the steam engines of the computing age, soon to be replaced with more sophisticated equipment thanks to the silicon revolutions. As for security? A big lock on the door was all that was needed.

Mainframes, the precursors to today’s data centers, were finely crafted solutions too, with a single machine taking up an entire room and needing continuous, expert craftsmanship to continue operating. That involved both hardware skills and coding skills where mainframe operators must code on the fly to keep their workloads running.

From a security perspective, mainframes were reasonably easy to manage. It was (way) before the dawn of the internet age, and IT managers’ pet systems were at reasonably limited risk of breach. The first computer viruses emerged in the 1970s, but these were hardly of risk to mainframe operations.

images from Hacker News