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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Data Center Modularization - The new New Thing?

Recently I have followed a number of discussions, articles, and presentations about modularization of the data center. First was virtualization and next seems to be modularization. Is this cloud all over again? Repainting existing technology approaches as new?

I saw a video that was at Data Center Knowledge this morning introducing us to Dell's new approach to 'modularization'. I commented on the video and wanted to expand on my thoughts here.

Dell talks about their solution - as do others - as being able to deploy compute and storage resources quickly. Plug and play if you will. Dell says they can deploy within 30 days at a 'ready site'. The issue is that you still need to have a site/building to put them in that is ready to go. By ready to go I mean water infrastructure, electricity, fiber/telco, and security in place. And it all has to be redundant. The other distinction that needs to be publicized is that the Dell solution is NOT a mass production offering. It is a design and deploy offering, not an off the shelf offering.

This to me is not modularization, it is layout-ization. You are controlling the layout of the data center floor and in other cases the data center itself. What this 'new' approach does not address is the more difficult tasks of finding sites that have the infrastructure available - power substations that are accessible with capacity, necessary water for cooling, no less than 5 telecom/carriers accessible, and risk profile lowering physical security - not in flood plains, not in flight paths, 40 miles from population/city centers, 18 miles away and not downwind from nuclear power plants, and the list goes on. Once these requirements have been met, then you need to look at permiting in localities, which is not an easy process. Then construction schedules, budgets, and finally breaking ground around the weather.

Most of the 'new' approaches are for single tenant facilities. This is an important distinction because with a single tenant facility, there is one set of policies, rules, and group of decision makers to satisfy. In essence you only need to satisfy the requirements for one customer - the internal one. You can argue that there are multiple customers, however at the end of the day, it is one company's budgets and one cpany's policies and needs that drive decisions.

In a multi tenant facility, you have potentially hundreds of customer's requirements and decision processes and policies to contend with making the challenges numerous and all over the map. Densities vary, what phase of power, AC or DC, which telcos are important, circuit management, cabinet hardware, cage or no cage, private suite, and cooling these various deployments. What has happened is that the multi tenant facilities design facilities that work in their business model and for the potentially greatest number of tenants and the greatest number of requirements. Customers either find what they want in the facilities or keep shopping until they do.

Layout-ization can help with this because they can buy or build facilities with the requisite infrastructure, finish it off the way customers want it and create the win-win. However, this assumes that the other pieces are in place (permits, sites, etc.). The other issue is that when a data center operator buys a facility, it is a 20 year asset and technology changes many many times in 20 years. Raised floor vs slab, 50 watts/ft vs. 200 watts/ft, blades vs. pizza box, gig E vs. 30 gig, Tier calssifications that are the 'must have' Tier classification. You get the picture.

So what is the solution?

I think that the data center operators who 'get it' will adopt new deployment models for their facilities themselves and the layouts inside them. Watts per square foot don't matter as much after the short list is made by customers, only whether or not an operator can deliver to the customer requirements now and in the future. Tier classifications are being restructured, and existing space gets harder and harder to come by every week. This means that choices for customers will be made by what is available, vs. what is right for the customer.

There is a small window of opportunity here for investors to create the next model with data center operators who saw what has happened over the past 20 years and know it needs to be different for the next 20, and are willing to team up and build it.

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