The data center skills of the future – lessons from Raspberry Pi

Published on 28th February 2014 by Penny Jones

I don’t know if it is the recent success of the movie but I have heard the brand Lego bandied about a lot lately. Jay Park used it to describe Facebook’s new pre-fab way of designing data centers earlier this week. And late last week I heard it used again, this time to describe a new make-your-own computer kit called Kano.

Kano may be aimed at children but it is not that removed from the future of the data center. But before I get to the how, let me explain what Kano is.

Created by Silicon Valley-based cousins Alex and Saul Klein and Yonatan Raz-Fridman, the idea for Kano came out of Raspberry Pi – the credit card sized single-board computer developed by the Raspberry Pi foundation designed as a cheap way to promote computer science in schools.

Faced with a heavy guide book explaining how to use Raspberry Pi, the Kano founders decided they wanted to make computing more fun, and much easier to learn for young people. It also had to be cheap enough that the product could help foster computing skills in the new generations coming up in emerging economies.

Kano comes in cool colours and takes you through – step by simple step – the building of your own computer, from the processor to the case, speaker and connectivity. It uses a fun story to capture imagination throughout this process, before getting to the hard part – coding and creating your own apps.

Alex Klein says that he ultimately wants Kano to be the “Lego for the future”, and by this he means the building blocks to get children interested in computing because “coding and computer science is not just a vocational skill, computing is the bicycle for the mind, as Steve Jobs said. It is a way of expressing yourself.”


The Kano computing kit


So far Kano has raised more than US$1.5m on Kickstarter and has 13,000 backers in more than 50 countries wanting the product for the Kickstarter price of US$129 (Steve Wozniak is one).  Klein said the product has already been a hit with schools in emerging economies but it also has a huge role to play in more economic mature countries where children are already used to social media and computing as end users, but have little idea about what is underneath.

“The ideas that make computers work are fundamental,” Klein says.

Almost everyone I spoke with at Cloud Expo and Data Centre World in London this week had a story that ties in heavily with this. It is the one of software and coding for automation and orchestration of modern data center environments – ie the Cloud. We are fast moving to a world where software will underpin almost everything we do.

Klein believes we will see incredible inventions in the next decade, and teaching the youth of today the compute skills for tomorrow through open source ideas will lead them into the engineering roles of tomorrow.

But teaching children to code does not only mean the hardware underneath becomes redundant with Kano. It starts with an intrinsic view on how and why things are built the way they are.

We can talk about skills gaps of today. But even companies such as Deutsche Telekom and many others are starting to move towards these open environments, where Cisco certifications or others are being gazumped by knowledge in open source. And where the problem to a solution will lie in code, as opposed to the flicking of a switch (think of the rise of DCIM).

I am almost jealous of the youth of today. The opportunities they will have in the near future will put technology in the palm of their hand. Just on the BBC’s Radio 4 the other day I was listening to a story about a school in Silicon Valley that uses apps as one of their main teaching tools, freeing up staff time to spend on more complex student learning challenges.

The effect these youth will have on the data center and surrounding industries is likely to be huge. Hackathons like Facebook’s will be an everyday event for them in future. And as data centers grow – be it in Lego-like formats or otherwise - the new generations coming through to staff them are likely to be multi-disciplined, with a positive attitude to change and with code as their first language.


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Penny Jones is the Global Editor for FOCUS online and FOCUS magazine

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