Data Centers Offer HBO's Silicon Valley Much to Laugh About

TV series manages to make the problem of infrastructure scalability hilarious

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

June 21, 2016

3 Min Read
Data Centers Offer HBO's Silicon Valley Much to Laugh About
Actors Martin Starr, Thomas Middleditch, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods, and T.J. Miller attend the premiere of HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ 2nd Season at the El Capitan Theatre in April 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Besides the sheer comedic brilliance of its writers and actors, what makes the HBO series Silicon Valley great satire is the amount of effort its creators put into making sure everything on the show that has to do with technology is at least plausible. Silicon Valley loves Silicon Valley because it's funny and because it gets both technology and business right.

And if you’re shooting for accuracy in portraying the high-tech industry, there’s no way around what sits at the heart of every modern software product or service: the data center. There are numerous data center or data center-related scenes in Silicon Valley. Pied Piper, the file-compression startup the show revolves around, uses a home-baked garage data center at first but eventually needs to move to the cloud so it can scale better.

It is the only TV show that manages to find humor in the data center. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find another piece of popular culture that portrays the technology world’s very real everyday struggle of infrastructure scalability in such an accurate yet hilarious way.

Here’s a selection of data center and data center-related scenes from HBO’s Silicon Valley, so judge for yourself and let us know what you think in the comments below:

Gilfoyle: the Infrastructure Man

Bertram Gilfoyle, or Gilfoyle, played by Martin Starr, is in charge of Pied Piper’s infrastructure. He is the startup’s data center man, handling system architecture, networking, and security.

“While you were busy minoring in gender studies and singing acapella at Sarah Lawrence, I was getting root access to NSA servers. I was one click away from starting the second Iranian revolution.”

Rack Space

In this scene, Richard, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle get a tour of a data center where a future hardware appliance they really don’t want to be building will be hosted. The appliance, by the way, was inspired by SimpliVity’s OmniCube.

The data center manager who is showing the trio around walks them from isle to isle, pointing to empty rack spaces where the appliance would go. All the racks and all the spaces are of course the same, but he insists on showing them all. Being shown the same thing over and over is an inescapable part of any data center tour, and unless you’re a data center geek, you will be yawning about 20 minutes in.

“There are sixteen stairwells; which one would you like to see first?”

See the video on YouTube

Scaling the Garage Data Center

Here we get a glimpse of Pied Piper’s data center Gilfoyle built out of tool shelves and milk crates in the garage of the startup’s incubator, also known as Erlich Bachman’s house. In this scene, Piped Piper is demonstrating a live video stream to showcase its compression technology and following a tweet of the stream’s link by the Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, it goes viral in the Philippines, putting pressure on Gilfoyle to scale the infrastructure’s capacity.

His efforts, which include punching a hole through a wall for a shorter cable run and jamming the circuit breakers so they don’t flip, eventually lead to a fire. What happens between Pacquiao’s tweet and a pile of IT gear getting engulfed in flames is hilarious.

“My servers can handle ten times the traffic, if they weren’t busy apologizing for your shit codebase.”

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The actual part where servers catch fire is here:

See the video on YouTube

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