I recently read an article that answered the burning question, “Who leased the most data center space in 2017?” As compelling as the title may have seemed, it turns out that the story read a lot like one of those mystery novels where it’s obvious who did it after the first page or two. If you, like me, guessed big cloud guys, consider yourself a member in good standing in the Hercule Poirot society of data center detectives.
Despite the obvious profiling of companies like Facebook, Amazon, Uber, et al., as voracious consumers of data center capacity, we can’t overlook the effects of their patterns of conspicuous consumption on many facets of the industry — not the least of which being marketing.
For those of you familiar with the discipline of marketing, you know that it is a field largely populated by people who couldn’t get into a good major in college whose purpose is to turn every element of a product or service into a superlative — Tier III+!, 2N!, Chilled Water! — and thereby induce folks to buy said product or service. For those of you who may find this portrayal offensive, let me say this is the exact wording used by my marketing guy when we asked everyone to write their job descriptions. So, what does the insatiable need for space on the part of companies we could all identify in less than 30 seconds have to do with a group of people who otherwise couldn’t find gainful employment?
The answer is: There is nothing to market. This may come as a surprise to many of you since every data center provider’s offerings has its own superlative-laden feature sets. But based on the content of that article, the primary marketing appeal to those companies who bite off capacity in chunks is: “We’ve got space.” That’s it. Nothing about Tier levels, cooling technologies, or renewable energy. Just a naked appeal predicated on the amount of unoccupied white space available within the building. For those of you asking, “So, what’s the big deal?,” I think the potential prospect of reducing some head count whose marketing necessity is in question obscures the larger economic impact of this shift in the marketplace.
Not unlike so many things in life, the impact of a personal or business decision has consequences far beyond the effect on the immediate participants. When you think about it, there are a lot of folks who are dependent on your marketing efforts that would be adversely impacted by the decision to eliminate or reduce them. For example, if you cut marketing to the bone thinking that one simple statement will do the trick, then what are the PR firms that support your business going to talk about? And, if they’ve got nothing to say, then sites like Data Center Knowledge and Data Center Frontier might as well develop new business models based on posting real estate ads for Northern Virginia.
And what about the printers and designers that were counting on the revenue from your next glossy brochure to cover little Timmy’s orthodontic needs? Do you really want to force someone to tell their kid that they’re going to have to go through life with a smile typically found on a pumpkin? If that doesn’t melt your heart, you just don’t have one. I think the most devastated group of all will be, of course, the tchotchke folks. Both providers and recipients. If there is no one around to produce logoed coozies, acrylic figurines, and key chains, I think we can expect quite a few less people milling around the floors of our tradeshows in the near future.
Although we all learned in Econ 101 that there are winners and losers based on any market development, it’s another thing to see it played out right before our very eyes. Certainly, no one wants to tell companies like Facebook and Amazon that ensuring their endusers continue to have instantaneous access to their services has the potential to wreak havoc on huge swaths of the service economy, but there is no denying we stand at a precipice. I think we need to take the long view in considering our response options to this situation. Common sense and experience tells us that the halcyon days — before product differentiation was replaced by promoting the availability of a raised floor that we haven’t sold yet — will eventually return. Let’s be prudent people and ensure that we’re ready for the day when Chilled Water! and a squishy ball make a difference again.