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Joseph Smith sleeps well, albeit with his mobile next to his bed.

Smith is the facilities manager for HP’s Australian data centres, including the new giant Aurora facility in Sydney’s west. He is where the buck stops.

The building management systems are monitored continuously, and any problems immediately trigger an alarm which is relayed to Smith’s mobile. Fortunately he says it doesn’t ring often.

Over the last decade Smith says market expectations regarding computer uptime have shifted enormously – from a situation where people shrugged off a banking glitch, to the case now where a computer crash can make front page news. “Everyone has gone 24x7 and the internet changed the way we consume things. Because data centres are the DNA building blocks that sit under that, the expectation of a data centre is 100 per cent (uptime).”

Smith’s role is to ensure that HP’s data centres get as close as they can to the magic number.

Born in New Zealand in 1977, the fourth of five children, Smith’s original intent was to leave high school and take on a trade apprenticeship. His family had moved back to Australia when Smith was a young child, and finally settled in the southern part of Newcastle – then a major BHP hub.

By the time Smith was ready to make the leap from school BHP had shut shop, the opportunity to get a trade in Newcastle were plummeting, and youth unemployment was soaring. Instead at the age of 18 he left home and moved to Sydney as a junior computer trainee for Tyco.

Smith had done five years of computing at high school. But; “The computing was based on Apple and a lot of it was programming … that doesn’t suit my personality –a lot of time staring at a screen, I like interaction.”

At Tyco Smith took on a role as a computer operator, handling “back up jobs, batch jobs, doing payroll transfers – a lot of the stuff that is now automated.”

From Tyco he moved onto Avco Finance. “That was what lit the fire for me. They had bought a few companies and probably had one of every technology in the marketplace and they had to integrate it, consolidate it and make it all work. It gave me a really big base of infrastructure exposure – IBM mainframes, SNA gateways, Sun unix, HP unix, VMS, OS/2, Novell.”

Smith thrived in the alphabet soup, moving into the infrastructure group when Avco was sold into the GE Group. Again he found himself on the technology front line; “I got into thin client consulting – rolled about 1200 (Citrix) thin clients out to replace dumb terminals – it was part of the Y2K deal.”

Along the way Smith attained a series of product specific qualifications collecting Unix administration know-how, Microsoft certifications, Cisco certifications, Citrix and “a few other product specific ones.”

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Beverley Head

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Beverley Head is a Sydney-based freelance writer who specialises in exploring how and why technology changes everything - society, business, government, education, health. Beverley started writing about the business of technology in London in 1983 before moving to Australia in 1986. She was the technology editor of the Financial Review for almost a decade, and then became the newspaper's features editor before embarking on a freelance career, during which time she has written on a broad array of technology related topics for the Sydney Morning Herald, Age, Boss, BRW, Banking Day, Campus Review, Education Review, Insite and Government Technology Review. Beverley holds a degree in Metallurgy and the Science of Materials from Oxford University and a deep affection for things which are shaken not stirred.

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