Zachary (Zac) Smith has spent nearly 20 years building, running, and fixing public cloud infrastructure platforms.
A native of Southern California, Zac moved to New York at age 17 to study classical double bass at Juilliard. While commuting on the A train from Inwood to Columbus Circle, he taught himself Linux and the basics of servers, web hosting, and website/application development.
After graduation, and while working the night shift at Credit Suisse as a document prep expert, he became a co-owner of Voxel, one of the earliest Linux hosting startups.
Together with Raj Dutt, the duo grew Voxel to more than 75 employees. When it was sold to Internap in 2011, it offered one of the most advanced bare metal and virtualized cloud offerings on the market as well as a software product (Ubersmith) used by hundreds of datacenter and cloud businesses to automate their physical data center management and billing.
Early employees of Voxel leveraged their formative experience in those early days of cloud to lead infrastructure teams at companies along the lines of MediaMath, Facebook, and Etsy or to start new ventures including NS1 and Grafana Labs.
After spending a year running the Cloud Business Unit at Internap, Zac left to pursue new adventures. While looking to leverage his experience in cloud, the guiding mantra for his next startup was “anything but infrastructure.” Alas, Zac’s passion led him back to cloud—and he co-founded Packet in 2014 with a vision to automate fundamental infrastructure for a world quickly being transformed by, well, the cloud.
Zac is responsible for the company’s strategic roadmap and is most passionate about helping customers and partners innovate on infrastructure and about democratizing cloud-scale access to hardware innovation for enterprises and developers.
On any given day, you are likely to find Zac meeting an enterprise CIO about his/her 10-year tech plan; test-driving the latest addition to a Packet Terraform provider; outlining architecture on new network design, and working with industry bigwigs to align supply chain for a new hardware delivery model. It’s one simple mission: He’s reinventing hardware for the millennial IT buyer.
Zac lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife and two young children. He is on the operating board of Pursuit, a nationally-known org helping low-income young adults ‘5X’ their incomes in one year by joining the tech workforce. He also proudly leads the Lower Manhattan Boy Scout Troop, which he founded in 2017.
DANNI WHITE: First off, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you made it from advanced musical education to professional experience in marketing and customer success.
ZACHARY SMITH: While I was at Juilliard, I spent my free time at the (minimalist!) computer lab. It was there that I saw a friend installing Gentoo Linux on a machine with about a dozen CD-ROM’s. Later, after I left school and realized I didn’t want to remain a “starving musician” I landed at an early Linux based hosting company called Voxel. Even though I didn’t know much about Linux, servers or the business of web hosting, I was sure it wouldn’t be as hard as performing at Juilliard! So I started to figure it out along the way – it worked!
DW: Tell us about Packet and how it has been crafting a place in the cloud, enterprise, and edge markets over the past few years.
ZS: My twin brother, Jacob Smith, (who was a professional opera musician and a marketing guru) and I started Packet in 2014 to help companies leverage infrastructure as their competitive advantage. We felt that software was innovating quickly but that the model for accessing and operating the latest in computing hardware was out of reach for most businesses and startups. We thought that if we could automate physical hardware for developers better than anybody else in the world — no matter what it was, where it was or who owned it – we would have a chance to lead the next wave in the cloud. It’s what we’re still focused on today.
DW: Packet targets the millennial IT buyer. What is the persona of the millennial IT buyer and how do they go about making these types of decisions when it comes to infrastructure?
ZS: Although I’m officially a few years older than the millennial generation, I’m close enough to peek through the lens a bit. We see the fast-growing millennial IT buyer as an elite group of technologists who are curious, worldly and not interested in operating things “the old way” – everything is or should be automated. They are often solving big problems, and demand a level of powerful convenience — empowerment — at the lowest layers of the stack, including hardware, data centers, and networks.
As a generation that grew up with consumerized technology at their fingertips (from iPhones to Amazon Web Services API’s), they have a high bar for the experience of leveraging infrastructure. Where we may differ from other clouds is that we understand the Millennial IT buyer as hungry to innovate through the entire stack — from CPU’s to accelerators to new runtimes or operating systems.
DW: What kind of transition is the IT space experiencing when it wants to maintain some of the traditional buying models but also wants to prepare for the buyers of the future?
ZS: Aside from the disruption of the cloud (which is increasingly dominant in IT), we see the most change in the OEM space. Enterprises are now trying, buying and operating technology at a different pace — and many have pure “cloud first” strategies where they want their vendors to operate everything for them. This, combined with the trend towards a more distributed or regional computer footprint, is putting huge pressure on the traditional OEM model to keep up.
DW: Packet launched an initiative called the Edge Access Program which allows for billions of people to be connected to devices and locations in a cost-effective manner. Can you share a little more about that?
ZS: We believe that the next big wave of innovation will feature specialized infrastructure that is highly distributed in order to deliver immersive experiences to billions of people. Alongside 5G and other technologies, this trend is forcing a fundamental reshaping of the internet and enabling new use cases from AI-powered medical diagnosing and smart retail to VR gaming and self-driving cars. Our Edge Access Program, which provides bare metal compute at the network edge in minutes, is all about inviting developers to innovate and create these new experiences.
DW: What is Packet looking out for in the near future when it comes to automating and simplifying infrastructure?
ZS: A major topic on our minds is the security of the hardware, and how we help to make that possible even at an edge data center next to a football stadium parking lot (hint: there are no armed guards or retina scanners at a true edge facility). We need to help our customers move to a “zero trust” mindset that extends beyond the software they use, to the physical hardware and even the datacenter.