Approximate Date: 1996-1997 Computer: IBM AT Clone Servers (80486)
Tools & Technologies that didn’t exist: .Net, Hadoop, SSDs, Thumb drives.
Historical remarks: By this time, the internet was alive and well although still trying to settle on standards. Java had only just been born a couple years prior. There was no J2EE nor Websphere or JBoss servers. Java was just something you used to make neat things happen on a browser page. Microsoft Internet server and ASP 1.0 were brand new. Visual Basic and Lotus Notes were the development platforms of choice and Sybase was the predominant SQL RDBMS.
At the time my title was Product Area Expert for the Lotus Notes platform for the Canadian arm of manufacture, Lotus Development Corp. I was approached by the Director of Operations of Zurich Insurance Canada and asked to take over the management and deployment of the product nationwide. He had commented that despite some expertise on their staff, they continued to hit deployment and management challenges. He also noted there was at least one department that was so excited about the technology that they were dominating the agenda, and the server resources. He said I would be given carte blanche to do whatever I felt I needed to do and a budget. After some discussions, I accepted the role.
My first day on the job I headed to the networking building to meet the staff there and see what I was starting with. The staff were great and I was shown to a shelf in the server room where a lone 3 inch tall desktop PC sat with its monitor and mouse. This was the application and mail server for 4000+ employees of Zurich Insurance! No trouble guessing where the performance issues were coming from. I had also learned of a private server owned by the Commercial Mortgage department and asked to see that. It was located in a closet on their floor in the main tower away from all of the power and network backups. A 3 foot high, $50,000 IBM tower with RAID level 5 drives and 4 CPUs. I ordered it moved to the server room where it belonged and told the networking folks to send the owner to me if he complained. The server may have been theirs to own but it was mine to control.
Over the next week I met with the IBM sales reps and ordered 3 new tower class servers. My budget was limited so I leased the servers over 5 years so I could capitalize the expenditure. I built one tower into a mail server that could handle 6000 concurrent users and the other two servers were for a corporate application server and a central hub server to interconnect with the global network of 163 servers worldwide.
As I mentioned, the Operations budget was limited and I had to spread mail servers, application servers and fax servers across the country to fulfil my vision, so it was time to get me someone with some deep pockets. With news of my new toys on everyone’s lips it wasn’t long before the Director of Commercial Mortgage was asking for a face to face. I met with him, listened to his vision of deploying his commercial mortgage application to centers across the country. We shared common goals and had compatible challenges so I recommended partnering. He would buy me boxes. I would retain control of them, turn them into mail, fax and application servers and deploy them across the country so he could accelerate the nationwide deployment of his Commercial Mortgage application.
Within 6 months I had deployed 14 servers nationwide and had the staff at each office trained in the use of the new software.
Next was to build up the operational aspects of the network. Up till now I had been focused on getting the infrastructure sorted out. With that out of the way and the Commercial Mortgage team busy with their new deployment, I could begin to focus on building capacity within the internal support team and the internal security team. It was around this time that the finance manager approached me to offer me one of his staff that he didn’t need anymore, a young Administrative Assistant. All she knew was Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3 but she was eager and willing. Her salary was covered for the next three months so she was a free resource. She was perfect and I got right to work training her as an in house support resource specializing in installation and install diagnostics. She took well to my training and quickly reached a point where she no longer needed much hand holding at which point I loaned her out to the in house support team indefinitely to act as a subject matter expert for his staff. I delegated server access group management to the internal security department and trained one of their staff and now I could focus on building my own department.
In the span of a year, I had given Zurich Canada a very robust and sustainable server infrastructure for their email and application needs both internal and internet based. I had partnered with the management and staff from the various supporting departments and led the effort to bring them up to speed, ready to support and maintain the infrastructure going forward. I had handpicked developers with drive and passion for the work, all while dealing with directors and department heads who were fighting to put their own interests ahead of those of the organization as a whole.
I have to give a big shout out to Harry Crawford who provided endless support and encouragement in what was my very first leadership role. He saw my potential and gave me whatever I needed to help bring that potential to the surface. Harry is retired now and aiding the city of Toronto in protecting the local Falcon population. I guess you can’t stop amazing people!