Retiring to the Rockies

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Ma/Fa,

Desc: Fantasy Story: An old hacker finds himself suddenly wealthy enough to retire gracefully. Read about how he matures as he ages, and finally faces and reacts to a horrible act.

Flights of fantasy are our specialty. We try not to let reality pop our balloons.

This vacation to Lander, Wyoming was turning out to be a bust. I was here to see what the Rockies were all about, as I'd never been here before. It was time to see the places I'd always wanted to see before I was too broke or screwed up to do so. I was in the bar of an up-scale hotel nursing a bourbon and coke. What was left of the local talent had too many wrinkles to count so it looked like another night alone. A swarthy-looking fellow dressed in a very nice business suit was sitting a few seats down the bar from me sipping on what looked like for all the world to be fruit juice. I caught his eye and raised my glass in greeting, then took a sip. He nodded in my direction.

"What's the matter, fellow? You look like someone ran over your best friend and didn't stop."

He looked past dejected and accelerating towards suicidal. I figured that at least he had a worse story than mine.

He slowly shook his head. "I have failed my king. I know not what to do. I must return in disgrace and face the ire of the royal family."

My ears perked up. Royal family in this day and age? I looked him over a bit better. It looked like a fitted Italian suit. He had a Rolex on his wrist and his nails were impeccable. Hmm. Fruit juice, not alcohol. Probably Muslim. One in seven chance--


His eyes widened. He nodded quickly, followed by a quick grin. I shrugged my shoulders and commented "Lucky guess."

He gave me the once over: white, older, overweight, more black than silver on top, dressed VERY casually. Tech support in higher ed doesn't pay as well as the industry averages.

"If it is not too sensitive, what issue has you bemoaning your fate?"

"It seems unsolvable. I have been commanded by my prince to find a data repository willing to commit to a long term relationship with the emirates with, how do you say, speedy dynamic access. It is all so haphazard and vulnerable. I fear that I am lost."

I sat and stewed. We were in the middle of a cloud computing controversy back at the shop. Virtualization and security were the lynchpins of the whole operation. It was a dynamic solution to disaster recovery turned into daily operations. He had gotten me curious, dammit. I proceeded to get a précis of his requirements.

"Ahh, forgive me, but I may have some ideas. What sort of bandwidth access are you requiring?

"Two gigabits per second." Hm ... bigtime. OC3 fiber or better.

"How much storage? What capacity?"

"I was told to begin with a million terabytes and look forward for expansion."

Whoooo. That's the entire country's financials for decades, engineering documents and every game and song ever pirated put together.

"I see your problem. It's scale. You're going to have to build your own."

His eyes lit up like a pinball machine hitting a 3X multiplier. I felt safe to say that I had his total attention.

"What is the primary goal for this facility?"

"Security and undeniable access."

"Is this facility for storage only or do you require something more, such as a web presence?

"That would be preferred as a hot backup." I've got it. I've also got a way out of my dead-end job.

Okay, here's what I'm thinking. The whole thing revolves around getting long term leases on several communications satellite channels that can be trunked together. If they're on a single satellite a single dish transceiver can handle it, but spanning this across multiple satellites gives the operation a safety net in case one satellite takes a hit and goes offline. The startup cost of this is going to be ferocious but the sweet part is it's totally anonymous. You don't even need a DNS presence--run raw IP addresses. For security purposes stream all traffic under 4096-bit encryption. Only the web presence needs a DNS presence and using a separate IP space which leaves your data backup pretty secure against a DDOS attack.

The actual site can be anywhere that can see the satellites and that's a heck of a footprint. Look, if you buy up an old ghost town with a closed mine you've got a place to bury the equipment for undeniable security--embed the facility in a rock mountain. Water should be available if it had a town there and an old flooded mineshaft would make a hell of a thermal sink. If it's mountainous then dig out a shelf, drive in semi trailers and pour concrete walls to entomb them. Dig another shelf reasonably close and fill it full of propane tanks. Use a propane generator with a backup or two and set up a couple of satellite transceiver dishes--instant repository. Put in a house for a caretaker to run it and it's stand-alone for months. Schedule propane and food deliveries every six months and you're good to go.

His eyes were glazed and a film of sweat covered his forehead, but he was smiling. He saw a way out. He focused his eyes on me and stuck out his hand.

"Hamid Al Jiluwi."

I took his hand. "Howard Faxon." I grinned at him. "Looking for an IT manager slash caretaker?"

He kept my hand within his while looking at me with speculation in his eyes.

"You have shown me a light when I had none. If you have a background in such then I have no objection to putting forth your name as a party of interest. Come, my appetite has returned. Let us dine and plot."

Hamid introduced me to the life of the truly privileged. I had to take a daily reality break to remind myself that this may be fun, but it was ephermal. We turned it into a working holiday.

The four seasons had a respectable internet pipe and we abused it. It didn't take much research other than fine-tuning the search keys to find some truly astonishing mobile data centers. The throughput required had us hung up until we hired a consultant with a background in practical electrical engineering. We could slave two sets of two satellite transceivers into hot swappable twin channels. SGI has a containerized-freight-based solution called Ice Cube that uses a fireplug per trailer as a cooling medium. We sent a realty agent on a foaming-at-the-mouth search for Colorado or Wyoming property that featured a closed copper mine--not open face, but a driven shaft in mountainous country with reasonably close road access. Deeper mines seem to invariably flood. Extreme high pressure water drilling can dig a chamber in a rock face so fast that it's frightening. High volume lifting pumps along with feed pumps were planned to drive the solid bars of bone-chillingly-cold water to cool eight trailers hidden within the mountain. Three sets of four LP-gas based generators would provide the 350 KW per trailer needed with acceptable redundancy. The propane tank farm was designed to be covered from aerial observation by a heavy granite overhang. It would be left open to the local environment for the refill trucks to access. A large X-shaped single-story house was laid out to be sheltered from the Northern and North-Western winds by the peaks sheltering the valley. The only things betraying the sophistication of the installation were the satellite transceiver dishes, and they could be covered by camouflage nets to match the valley floor.

Once Prince Fayed gave his blessing to the project the money started flowing. For less than thirteen million dollars a state-of-the-art data center with multiple redundancy took shape in northern Colorado. At first it was only accessible by helicopter, but as we progressed a road was cut to a neighboring highway and a 2200 foot runway was chewed out of the granite comprising the roots of the mountain. A twenty room hotel was built to support the laborers and provide cover for the presence of the airstrip. I was hired as the site integrator and datacomm specialist. I sweated over the manuals many a day and night and wrecked quite a few systems in a practice lab until I had it down well enough to get everything up and running. Cisco switches, SGI quad-core Xenon processors and iSCSI farms backing each other up in a ring formed our core. The firewall locked everything down on the data farm side to a single source IP and two DMZ zones supported my few outward-facing machines and the web/FTP servers under totally separate IP ranges.

The LP-gas farm was broken in to strips--quadrants--by reinforced concrete walls so that no one explosion could chain-fire and destroy more than a quarter of our fuel supply. Concentric rings of vibration sensors, infra-red sensors and razor wire formed our perimeter. If you couldn't be authenticated you simply did not get in. One of Hamid's cousins found out the hard way and damned near got handed his ass. It was not an intended test but the prince became involved. We were grateful that he came down on our side once the smoke cleared.

The site residence was laid out in a large 'X' with the kitchen and my residence in one wing, two apartments for a cook and rotating security team in the next and two wings were built as high-end suites for 'family' visitors. Nothing was plated with gold but the facilities were top-of-the-line.

A small room was reserved in each suite for prayers and had a arrow painted on the wall noting the direction of Mecca.

.... There is more of this story ...

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