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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The New Mod Squad

Lee Technologies has released an interesting whitepaper this morning discussing modularization and introducing not only their approach but their solutions - at least high level. Steve Manos discussed his changing belief system in a blog post, which I thought was spot on.Change is in the air, as Steve points out, and I have always maintained change is fun to watch and even more fun to be a part of. That does not mean it is painless however - it seldom is. Change is a response to feedback - physical, mental, spiritual - that causes us to shift what we are doing and have 'always' done. 
Having been in the data center space for 20 years, I have seen and been part of a lot of change. I was an early blogger on containers and that shift in the industry toward more efficient data center operation, and invested a fair amount of time in sitting with the vendors to understand how what they made were similar and how they were different. The change they were introducing made sense. What they were saying and doing was logical. Like a lot of other things that make sense and are logical and increase awareness - for that awareness to reach the point of changing behavior takes a while, not to mention a few skinned knees, and other painful lessons. 
One major thing that was missing is their understanding of the entire ecosystem - not just their part of it - so they didn't understand that as great and efficient as they might be, unless you have a facility (or utility/systems) to hook them up to, you aren't done yet. You just sold a laptop without a battery or an iPhone without service, not the whole package that makes it all work.The data center industry, and the other parts of its ecosystem (power, network, water, facilities) are starting to change. Companies are deploying new solutions based on the logical assessments and operational experience of what they have done before (good and bad), and it is reinforced by carrot (cost savings) and stick (coal backed electricity) adding fuel to the building momentum. 
The change is slow however, and I want offer an answer to the question 'Why?'
The dot com boom fueled a massive boom in data center development starting in 1993-1994. Money was pouring in, and as more and more data centers were built around the house of cards (logic went out the window - you don't stay in business without actual profits) more money kept being thrown at projects that wouldn't be done for years, and then you still had to fill them up with customers. The investors to a large degree didn't understand the data center business as a whole, they knew it took money which they had and knew how to work with. They didn't understand what it took to sell and operate them. 
Those who jumped in without understanding the nature of the data center business aside from the real estate or money part, and followed the herd mentality got pinched. When they got pinched, they flinched hard, and abandoned projects and rather than owning their mistake (not understanding what they were investing in), they abandoned their projects and went on to express their opinions on why everyone else was foolish to be in that business. They had a chair when the music stopped. 
The sentiment of data centers as a business from the financial community soured. They were not such a hot ticket in 1999-2002 when the bubble popped. Now I am watching the data center business become a hot ticket again. Amazon, Ebay, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and other internet companies, including 'cloud' companies started the pendulum swinging back the other way to make data centers the 'new black'. I will point out that these companies who started the changes, made the changes for themselves based on their requirments only, not the requirements of hundreds of customers with gear in the same data center. When you only have to satisfy one end user vs. hundreds, things are simpler.What has also changed is the influence from the data center ecosystem in data centers themselves. 
The tree hugging dirt worshippers in the 'Green' movement have flexed their PR muscle (Google 'Facebook and Greenpeace'), the US Government has mandated energy conservation and lower carbon footprints for their data centers and builders, architects, and owner operators have flocked to LEED designs for projects. In short, logic backed decisions influenced by awareness of what we can do differently as an industry have begun to change behavior. First in single tenant facilities, and now the behavior change is spilling over to multi tenant facilities. 
The behavior change is manifested in customers willingness to look at different solutions, so long as there is not a giant chasm to cross in being different is ok. It is up to us in the industry to continue some degree of missionary work in transferring knowledge about what we have learned to our customers and why it's important to them. We have to know the entire ecosystem, not just a piece of it. 
We also need to explain why things like watts per square foot and rents based on square feet don't matter as much today, even though they have been standard selection criteria for decades. We need to explain that basing a decision on which data center to lease should be based on things like how accessible will it be if a dirty bomb goes off and the city is in lockdown, or what will the impact be to our production environments if a jet drops on top of the Ashburn cluster.  
We are a part of a data center ecosystem - ultimately part of customers' ecosystems - and having a solid logical framework is the basis of what ultimately drives a right decision, not the greatest number of checkboxes checked on an RFP or how easy the facility is to reach from the airport for a tour.Modularization is a culmination of best practices, smarter execution, and practical application of components of that ecosystem. 
Modular solutions are the physical representations that show us that each component which is part of the system can be inegrated better - or in a different way - to satisfy the most requirements for all customers, not just one and deliver more carrots from the experience with sticks.
Container solutions provide flexibility of deployment in the event of a disaster, modular builds let you eat the IT infrastructure elephant in bites, and provide the broadest set of options to satisfy the greatest number of requirements - and the only one that matters - the customer... 
To be part of the Mod Squad - ping me - mmacauley AT bytegrid DOT net...

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