The Life of Ken Brill
With the tragic loss of Mr. Brill to cancer, both the IT industry and the global tech community have lost a true innovator and champion. Mr. Brill was responsible for the creation of data center standardization, and was rightly known around the globe as “The Father of Data Centers.”
After starting his career in power supplies for the IT industry during the 1970s, Brill became a consultant for IT firms. Finding the data center industry lacking in comprehensive standards for layout, safety and power management, he founded the Uptime Institute in 1993. By the late ‘90s, his Tier IV data center ranking system—which evaluates data center uptime, power management and tolerances—was gaining worldwide acceptance as the gold standard by which data centers may be judged.
Tier IV was built upon the standards that preceded it (Tiers I-III) but also radically transformed the expectations—and capacity—of the modern data center. Brill’s Tier IV standards improved total power output and introduced power redundancy to make data centers more fault-tolerant. It also reduced site downtime to just four-tenths of an hour each year, improving site availability to an astounding 99.995% (averaged over five years). Without Tier IV, many of the performance and uptime standards hosting customers expect wouldn’t exist—or, would exist in radically less efficient forms.
The Tier IV standard was not Mr. Brill’s only stroke of genius, however; in 2000, he was awarded a patent for a dual power supply for servers, which let the machine could keep running even if the main supply failed. This critical upgrade improved server uptimes significantly and helped mitigate or even prevent catastrophic site failures. Ever dedicated to the universal improvement of data center efficiency, Mr. Brill declined to charge royalties for his innovation.
In addition to his data center innovations, Mr. Brill was also well-known for a 2007 presentation in which he asserted Moore’s Law did not apply equally to all aspects of technology, and the doubling rate of power management resources was insufficient to keep pace with the demands of other technological advances. His clarion call for greater power efficiency is considered by many to be the impetus for the “greening” of data centers (and, consequently, many Web hosting providers) in the latter part of the 2010s.
Although Mr. Brill is no longer with us, his legacy—ongoing innovation in power management and redundancy, as well as worldwide commitment to continuous improvement in data center management—will no doubt continue to shape the tech industry well into the future.
The Life of Ken Brill: A Tribute to the Father of the Data Center
Founder of the UpTime Institute, Ken Brill was a pioneer of the data center industry, having “crafted an industry out of nothing.” He established the tier classification that brought uniformity to the industry and was a leader in advocating for greater efficiency. A visionary of great passion and integrity, Brill will always be known as “The Father of the Data Center Industry.”
Ken Brill earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Redlands in California and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
He began his data center career as a manufacturer of power supply equipment for rotary UPS in the 1970s.
By the mid-1980s he had made and lost $1 million and nearly went bankrupt, deciding to dedicate his career to more than just making money.
He shifted his focus to “ensuring uninterruptible uptime.”
In 1989, Brill found the Uninterruptible Uptime Users Group, now known as 7X24 Exchange International, which later presented him with a lifetime achievement award.
- 7×24 Exchange is the leading knowledge exchange for those who design, build, operate and maintain mission-critical enterprise information infrastructures.
In 1993, he founded the UpTime Institute, which pioneered the creation and facilitation of end-user knowledge communities to improve reliability and uninterruptible availability — uptime — in data center facilities and Information Technology organizations.
- The Institute introduced the industry’s Tier system for evaluating and classifying data center facility performance.
- Since then, it has awarded Tier Certifications in 26 countries, and expanded from the U.S. to Brazil, Asia Pacific, and Europe.
- In 2009, the Institute was acquired by The 451 Group, a technology-industry analyst company focusing on the business of enterprise IT innovation.
Brill also brought a number of technical innovations to the industry.
In 2000, he was awarded a patent for the invention of dual power supplies for servers, which ensures a server keeps running if one power supply fails, and did not charge royalties for its use.
He’s also been credited with introducing IT facility energy efficiency and productivity measurement.
In 2001, he founded Upsite Technologies, a data center airflow-management company.
In 2008 through 2010, he was an IT columnist for Forbes.com.
- His essays for senior executives combined uncommon common-sense ideas with real-life illustrations to set practical IT management priorities.
In 2009, he was named among the “10 People You Should Know In Tech” by Network World and was recognized with an award for his outstanding contribution to the industry by DatacenterDynamics.
A Lasting Legend
Brill pushed for better communication between IT staff and the engineering teams that run data centers because he believed that was the only way to get the most from operations.
”I think that will be a big part of his legacy: bringing together different disciplines to speak a common language for the betterment of the enterprise and its use of IT resources,” said Julian Kudritzki, the Uptime Institute’s COO.
His thought leadership has led to increased efficiencies and higher performing data centers across the industry.
In 2008, he blamed the possible meltdown of Moore’s Law and an additional power consumption of 11.4x in little over a decade on virtualization and energy waste, claiming that 4x more cooling was being used than needed.
- Moore’s law is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.
In a 2009 survey by the Uptime Institute, 65% of respondents said their centers would run out of power capacity in 2-5 years.
Brill pushed for senior enterprise leaders to commit to reduce energy consumption significantly because their business depended on it.
According to eWeek, over the last 5 years, more efficient power and cooling equipment has been deployed, saving enterprises untold millions of dollars in power usage.
In 2011, Brill compared Amazon’s data center outage to the weaknesses exposed in Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant after it was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.
He predicted that Amazon’s post-mortem would show at least 10 things that could have been done to help avoid that failure and reduce the magnitude of damage.
He warned that the concentration of computing resources with large cloud providers was putting people who champion internal reliability at a disadvantage.
He predicted 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.
“As a personality and an innovator, he left an indelible imprint on the IT and data center industry.” — Julian Kutritzki
- Uptime Institute – uptimeinstitute.com
- Data Center Innovator Ken Brill Dies at 68 – pcworld.com
- Ken Brill, the Man Who Defined the Data Center, Dies – m.computerworld.com
- Uptime Institute Founder Ken Brill Passes – datacenterdynamics.com
- Ken Brill, Data Center Design Pioneer, Dies at 69 – eweek.com
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