At Least the Word ‘Maniacal’ Fits

CNBC has another excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s Elon Musk, this one telling the tale of Musk and his cousins moving thousands of servers from a data center in Sacramento to another in Portland:

“You’ll have to hire a contractor to lift the floor panels,” Alex said. “They need to be lifted with suction cups.” Another set of contractors, he said, would then have to go underneath the floor panels and disconnect the electric cables and seismic rods.

Musk turned to his security guard and asked to borrow his pocket knife. Using it, he was able to lift one of the air vents in the floor, which allowed him to pry open the floor panels. He then crawled under the server floor himself, used the knife to jimmy open an electrical cabinet, pulled the server plugs, and waited to see what happened. Nothing exploded. The server was ready to be moved.

“Well that doesn’t seem super hard,” he said as Alex the Uzbek and the rest of the gang stared. Musk was totally jazzed by this point. It was, he said with a loud laugh, like a remake of Mission: Impossible, Sacramento edition.

It’s all a bunch of yucks until it turns to yikes:

The servers had user data on them, and James did not initially realize that, for privacy reasons, they were supposed to be wiped clean before being moved. “By the time we learned this, the servers had already been unplugged and rolled out, so there was no way we would roll them back, plug them in, and then wipe them,” he says. Plus, the wiping software wasn’t working. “Fuck, what do we do?” he asked. Elon recommended that they lock the trucks and track them.

So James sent someone to Home Depot to buy big padlocks, and they sent the combination codes on a spreadsheet to Portland so the trucks could be opened there. “I can’t believe it worked,” James says. “They all made it to Portland safely.”

A profound sense of urgency is beneficial to a leader, up to a point. Despite CNBC’s framing, Musk clearly goes way past that point. This entire endeavor was absurdly and unnecessarily reckless. In addition to the privacy violations, yanking these servers out of Sacramento, against the direct advice of Twitter’s infrastructure team, directly led to months of instability for users.

Monday, 11 September 2023