Dean Nelson

CEO, Virtual Power Systems

Founder and Chairman of Infrastructure Masons and a 30-year Silicon Valley industry veteran holding engineering and leadership positions at Sun Microsystems, Allegro Networks, eBay, PayPal, Uber and Virtual Power Systems.

Who are the Infrastructure Masons?

Infrastructure Masons (iMasons) is a non-profit professional association of technical and business leaders who build and operate the foundation for the Internet of everything. Our vision is to ‘Unite the Builders of the Digital Age’ by enabling our members to connect, grow and give back. iMasons has built a global community that is responsible for hundreds of billions in  investment, in digital infrastructure projects in over 130 countries. iMasons is led by a board of directors with guidance from our industry advisory council, committees, member resource groups (MRGs) and strategic industry partners. The organization is funded by industry partner sponsorships and membership dues.

Why did you start iMasons?

In 2008, I was inspired by the leaders at Sun Microsystems to start a community for my industry. I started Data Center Pulse, which grew to over 9,000 participants in 66 countries. It was extremely rewarding to bring people together. I left Sun Microsystems in 2009 joining eBay and entering the whirlwind of a digital turnaround. It was a blast, but work became all consuming. I decided to leave eBay in 2016 and take a sabbatical to help my daughter choose a college. I remember being on an airplane to Seattle for my final handoff with my eBay team, when an idea hit me. I realized that being so busy, I had lost touch with many in my community. I found that I really missed it! I decided to start another community group, but it needed to be different than previous groups. First, data centers were important, but they only represented one part of digital infrastructure. This group needed to include all the building blocks that make the digital infrastructure physical layer work. Data centers, hardware, network, and software that enables metal as a service. Then, the idea struck me. We were similar to the Masons. The people in my community are the next generation of builders. More precisely, we are the builders of the Digital Age. I wanted to build an organization that would unite the builders of the Digital Age. So, at 30,000 feet, Infrastructure Masons was born. I drafted the business plan on that flight and pitched the concept to my team the next day. Soon after I called a few of my industry friends—Maricel Cerruti, Rob Roy, Christian Belady, Joe Kava, Eddie Schutter, Jim Smith, Tom Furlong, Ty Schmitt and Peter Gross—and asked if they would like to be involved. They all signed up.

As the ideal jelled, another important aspect emerged. Many of us had been involved in industry groups where companies had the authority rather than members. The concept of leaving our companies at the door was born. No restrictions. No selling. Our companies are critical elements of our work, but the people make those companies great. Our combined experience is powerful and the authority to set direction should be led by the community. Also, members shouldn’t lose their identity or status when they change jobs. We care about the individual regardless of their current position.

I’m forever grateful to Mark Monroe, iMasons’ first Executive Director, for turning this idea into a reality. Our strategy was implemented at our very first meeting where members connected as individuals and worked together on industry priorities.

Why is Digital Infrastructure important?

Over my 30-year career, a very important truth has emerged. The world has become dependent on digital infrastructure. Without the foundation that the iMasons professionals build and operate, the world would stop. The Covid-19 pandemic has elevated this fact on the world stage. The systems behind our devices are our lifeline to our digital identity, financial systems and to each other. If that lifeline was disrupted or cut for an extended period of time, it would cause global chaos. Digital infrastructure has now been classified as an essential service like electrical power, gas, and water. The foundation of the modern world is built on digital infrastructure and we are all becoming more dependent upon it every day.

A current example is when the island of Kauai lost its subsea network connection for two days. This started a domino effect. Local residents were unable to buy items at stores because credit card systems were down. Banks were unable to provide cash because they could not validate funds in peoples accounts. The entire island ground to a halt, while they waited for that network lifeline to be re-established. This was caused by a cut of fiber optic cables under the ocean that are thinner than a human hair.

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