Not The Stereotypical Mechanic

Former auto mechanic James Hamilton is the data-center engineer and force behind key innovations at Amazon’s computing-services operation. His team’s analysis during a 2011 power outage at Amazon’s data center in Virginia led the company to design its own electrical gear, and he was a force behind Microsoft’s switch to modular data centers during his tenure there.

On a rainy Monday in August 2011, a 10-million-watt transformer exploded in northern Virginia, sending an enormous voltage spike across the power grid. The surge hit an Amazon data center in Ashburn, Virginia, knocking out the facility’s main source of power, and about 15 minutes later, James Hamilton just happened to pull into the parking lot.

It was a serendipitous moment. Hamilton is the Distinguished Engineer who oversees the increasingly complex design of the data-center empire that drives Amazon Web Services, or AWS — the nothing-less-than-revolutionary collection of online services that provide computing power to companies across the globe, including names such as Netflix, Pinterest, and Dropbox. The Ashburn facility is part of that AWS empire. When it goes down, services like NetFlix are in danger of going down, and Hamilton is the man who works to ensure this doesn’t happen.

When Hamilton and his team drove up, the data center’s backup generators had kicked in, and they were idling away. But for some reason, the power wasn’t getting to the servers inside the facility, and the machines had sapped most of the juice from the battery system that temporarily keeps them going during a blackout. “We arrived just as the servers were starting to come down,” Hamilton remembered during a recent speech at an Amazon conference in Las Vegas. “Super annoying. Super annoying.”

“He’s really sharp,” says Adrian Cockcroft, the director of cloud architecture at Netflix, Amazon’s most high-profile customer. “He’s been around a long time, built a lot of interesting stuff.”

This story is courtesy of Wired Magazine and the Computer Technical Industry Association. You should read the rest of the story at Wired. Just click the link. http://Wired.Com