PHOENIX — The theme of this year’s 7x24 Exchange Intl.’s Fall Conference — The New Horizon — could not have been anymore spot on.  The word “horizon” offers two meanings. It can be defined as the line where the Earth meets the sky, and it also refers to the limits of one’s perception, experience, and desire. But, in the end, these two things are really one in the same.

To marry these two definitions together and really drive home the idea that what’s happening in the mission critical industry today was once only viewed as an out-of-this-world possibility, 7x24 invited Mike Massimino, a former NASA astronaut, to the stage to kick off the event.

Massimino, who is the senior advisor for the Intrepid Museum and author of “Spaceman,” recalled the moment in his life when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. Only, his story ended a little differently than most versions … with a picture of him in a makeshift astronaut suit, holding a Snoopy stuffed animal in one hand.

“I wanted to be an astronaut,” he said. “But I didn’t think that was possible.”

As a young child, his dream was to explore new horizons — literally. It was a ridiculous goal for him to have at age 8, and he knew that. But, it was absolutely absurd that he was still entertaining the idea after being rejected by NASA the first time … the second time … and, especially, the third time. 

You see, the first two let downs were easy to overcome. NASA simply sent a letter that said, “No.” No one there really knew who he was, and it’s hard to determine greatness on paper. But the third time — well, the third time they did know him. He actually participated in an extensive interview process that ended in a defeating summary. It was determined that Massimino would make a great astronaut if it weren’t for his weak eyesight.

“Strike one usually isn’t the end of it,” he said.

And neither are strike two or three if you’re the Spaceman. Massimino took his third rejection letter from NASA — that one that said it would be physically impossible for him to fulfill the role of an astronaut — and he found a way. He found a specialist who worked with him in ways that exercised his eye muscles and improved his sight accuracy.

Not long after his fourth application to NASA, Massimino traveled faster and higher into space than anyone in the 21st century and performed the most intricate repair on the Hubble Space Telescope — in a real astronaut suit, with that same stuffed Snoopy by his side.

The Spaceman relayed what he learned on his unlikely journey to unlock the secrets of the universe with the members of the audience and how they can use some of his other-worldly experiences to attract new talent to the mission critical industry and move together toward new horizons.

“You’re providing a great service for people,” he said. “Keep the big picture in mind. And be more inclusive. It doesn’t matter where people are coming from; we need to give them the opportunities. If you start out young, to let them know this is a career they can have, that’s important. Kids don’t necessarily know what’s out there.”

And that’s exactly why Bob Cassiliano, chairman and CEO of 7x24 Exchange Intl., started Day 2 — Tuesday, Oct. 29 — with a celebration in honor of the first International Data Center Day that was broadcast via livestream to mission critical professionals all over the world. As confetti fell from the ceiling, people stood to their feet in excitement, and Cassiliano took a moment to reflect on this milestone and what it means for the industry.

“In 2015, this audience stated that the pipeline for talent is running dry and posed the question, ‘How is the 7x24 Exchange going to get the youth of America interested in the mission critical industry?,’” he said.

That question led 7x24 to the discovery that many parents, teachers, and students are unaware of the career opportunities available within the data center industry. Since then, the organization has developed a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiative that includes a mentoring program, a Women in Mission Critical Operations (WiMCO) community, a Data Center 101 session, educational videos, and more.

“And now, this has turned 360, and we are asking you for help,” Cassiliano said to the audience. “International Data Center Day is all about spreading awareness, and we can’t do it alone. If we all work together — companies in the industry, alliance partners, academia, government, and media — we can create a movement to get the youth of America interested in the mission critical industry.

Day One

The Fall Conference did not disappoint when it came to learning opportunities. The Spaceman’s story got everyone motivated early Monday morning, so they were prepared for the sessions that followed, some of which included “Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima: Lessons for the Data Center Industry,” presented by Steve Fairfax, president, MTechnology; “Building a Zero-Deficiency Culture in Construction,” presented by Shaun Selha, global quality assurance/quality control program manager, Facebook; and “WiMCO®: Command Your Audience with Words of Wisdom,” presented by Carrie Goetz, Principal/CTO, StrategITcom.

As the sessions came to a close, attendees had just enough time to dump their thinking caps before checking in to Data Center Camp. It was guaranteed fun for everyone — from giant Battleship boards and inflatable dart boards to air hockey and an overly aggressive tug-of-war, Data Center Camp had it all.

Day Two

Though the International Data Center Day Celebration was a hard act to follow, it didn’t take Kevin Kealy, CISO at Scientific Games, long to command the audience’s attention with his keynote presentation on “Security — Now and Next.” Kealy gave attendees a lot to think about, both personally and professionally, and he even sent them off with a few homework assignments. Luckily, he allowed enough time for attendees to check out the panel discussion before it was due. Led by Chirs McLean, director of mission critical solutions for M.C. Dean, the panelists explored “Concept to CX — Owner’s Operational risk management Strategy & Tactics.” The topics covered in the breakout sessions included gas-fired power, liquid cooling, air permits, and the evolution of data centers.

And what better way to celebrate International Data Center Day than with the Rock ‘n Roll BBQ event that everyone has come to know and love?

Day Three

Though the last day is a short day, it doesn’t go without mention. John Dumler, director of energy management at Digital realty; Zahl Limbuwala, executive director of CBRE/Romonet; and Matt Renner, founder and managing director of Northshore IO gave a compelling keynote presentation on “Using Big Data & Predictive Modeling to Validate Utility Energy Rebates.” The sessions that followed pulled the strings of the New Horizon theme that was woven throughout the conference and really tied everything together.

Meanwhile, Back at the Data Center

The data center of the future is here today, and it will quickly be replaced by another new data center from the future. Aside from keeping up with current technologies that are constantly evolving, one of the most crucial tasks for everyone involved in the mission critical industry is to attract young talent, and that all starts with awareness. The next International Data Center Day will take place on March 25, 2020. Though spreading awareness and recruiting should happen every day, moving forward, it is on the last Wednesday in March annually that the industry will recognize those efforts to honor the people and processes that make a difference. For more information, visit