Sports fans, I think it’s time to overturn the applecart, poke some sacred cows, or step on a few toes — pick the cliché of your choice — on this whole “modular” thing. First, let me say that I’ve been as guilty as the next guy in terms of promoting the modular data center with the fervor of a television evangelist, but it’s time to get over ourselves and admit that in taking this concept and running with it we’ve slammed right into a tree.
In our zest to position the modularization of data center design as revealed truth to the great unwashed, we’ve really just been preaching to the converted. The end result: a term now so banal that most customers either react to it with all the enthusiasm most people have for hot tuna noodle casserole (does anyone really like that stuff?) or view it with the same disdain that Donald Trump reserves for manufactured housing.
Let’s face it, guys: Building data centers in increments makes good sense for both the provider and our customers, but we’re not doing anything that hasn’t been done for years in the construction industry in general. Heck, the average “medical professional” building where your dentist is located was probably built using modular components. We just took an old idea and applied it in a new context. Smart move for us, but I think our customers pretty much expected us to get there eventually.
Isn’t this repackaging of old ideas what is happening now with what many analysts are proclaiming to be Data Center 2.0? First let me say that this effort probably got off to a bad start due to the use of a tired software metaphor to illustrate a new phase for the industry. But how does building data centers in metal boxes in a “factory like” setting represent some major technological breakthrough? Sure it makes for a nice website video, but do endusers care how their data center components arrived on site? Or are they more interested in the fact that the facilities work when they get there? This is kind of like when the pilot comes on the PA and tells you the route to your destination when all you care about is that he arrives at the city listed on your ticket.
Customers understand the value of pre-fabricated components and how their use can accelerate the delivery and implementation of a facility, but the perception that they have to come in 12-x 40-ft metal containers leaves a large percentage of enterprise customers cold. Proclaiming this as the future of the data center industry isn’t doing any of us a favor. Pre-fabricated metal data centers have their place in the continuum of customer offerings, but proclaiming them to be the future of the industry sends the wrong message to a large percentage of the data center community that have come to stigmatize anything labeled “modular” as synonymous with “inferior.”
I think we are all to blame for making the term modular data center as distinctive to endusers as Kleenex is to facial tissue. In attempting to ensure that our solutions were all viewed as residing underneath the same umbrella we have failed to focus on educating the enduser on what makes our individual products and approaches unique. In short, we’re the ones who have trivialized the term modular to the point of irrelevance.
The data center industry is too young to be viewed as a conglomeration of “me too” companies that has consensually embarked on a path that is antithetical to the needs of many of the customer community. All of us bring unique attributes to the marketplace, and we should be wary of efforts to lump us into broad categories that are virtually meaningless to the audience we want to serve. The quick descent of “modular” from a differentiator to an aggregator should be a lesson for all us.