…Special orders don’t upset us…at least that’s how I think part of an old Burger King jingle went from the 70’s maybe early 80’s.  Burger King was pretty clear:  you could have it your way (also part of the jingle I think).  As long as your way was Burger King’s way.  What I mean by that is Burger King was the hamburger specialist and as such they would provide top quality (no jokes here, I like their burgers) components that would allow you to create a number of different finished hamburger types.  No pickles, no problem.  Extra tomato, here you go.  Now, if you wanted to go outside of the components offered by Burger King even a little bit, you were out of luck, no apologies.  Your “way” may actually be to place radish slices on your burger (I know someone that likes this) or to perhaps cover the top of your burger with potato chips, but Burger King’s “way” was to say “no way” to all of this (phew, that was difficult to write).  No one is wrong or right here, just different “ways.”

            Before you get scared into thinking this is going to be a diatribe on fast food, let me bring it back to data centers, specifically the data center physical infrastructure (DCPI).  Huge amounts of conversation exist today around modularity and scalability and the benefits they bring such as speed to market, improved TCO, and improved efficiency to name a few.  I’m not sure that all recognize that modularity and scalability is enabled by standardization.  For DCPI equipment manufacturers/integrators to successfully provide the benefits just mentioned they must be allowed to do things like settle on a list of high quality components and options that can be pre-engineered, tested in the factory, stocked, quickly shipped as needed, and quickly assembled on site.  In addition, the commissioning will be quicker since much of the interoperability testing will have been done at the factory.  Performance of the system will also be optimized for all the same reasons.  In fact, the controls required to correctly optimize the performance of the DCPI is so exorbitant to do using today’s legacy approach that it doesn’t often get done.  In a standardized system, these controls can be optimized as part of the design process.

            So far this all sounds good and I believe most folks today would agree with most of the statements I’ve made above.  But just like with Burger King, the customer’s “way” may not be the DCPI equipment manufacturer’s “way” when it comes to a scalable, modular approach.  In the fast food industry it’s easily accepted that I only have certain options and this allows companies like Burger King to achieve great global scale while providing a consistent high quality product (again, no jokes here).  Of course, other than the fact that you can cook them in the backs of some of the racks we’re seeing, there is no comparison to be drawn between a burger and a mission critical data center (although, I can think of more than one late night instance when getting a burger sure felt mission critical).  Still, there must be some middle ground.  If we, as an industry, are to truly achieve the benefits of scalable, modular data centers, we must allow manufacturers some bandwidth to standardize.  That doesn’t just mean standardizing on a per customer basis although that’s a step in the right direction and should be applauded.  We need to allow industry standards to develop and flourish much faster than they do today.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to tell you that a manufacturer must be intensely focused on out-innovating the next guy and usurping today’s current performance standards but at the same time today’s business must be allowed to provide lower cost, quickly delivered, high quality goods through the scale brought by standardization.  The problem is that everybody still wants it “their way” and this will continue to impact cost, speed to market, and quality.  The benefits of scalable, modular data centers will never truly be achieved. Customer A wants to scale in 750KVA building blocks, customer B wants to scale in 1MVA building blocks, and customer C wants to scales in 1.25MVA building blocks, etc.  It’s only getting started.  On virtually every major modular data center decision, there are a variety of opinions.  None of us have it completely right so where do we start?  There’s a lot of great learning and experimenting going on right now so we should look there.  As you start to work with your selected manufacturer, take advantage of the huge database of knowledge they have and be open minded to the ideas they bring to the table.   Ask manufacturers to talk to each other.  In the end, there is no one utopian scalable, modular data center “way,” but there can be standards with options and some opportunities to customize.  You won’t upset us.  In fact, the best manufacturers and the best customers are those that listen to each other and collaborate.

Does anyone have the complete lyrics to that jingle?  I’ll send you a Whopper although I can’t guarantee the condition in which it will arrive.  Come to think of it, I’ll send you a much healthier Turkey Burger.  Happy Thanksgiving!