I’m flying back from Las Vegas, fresh from an eye-opening experience at Gartner. This was my first Gartner event, and the entire experience constitutes yet another of my recent efforts to broaden my knowledge of the mission critical industry. Those of you who follow my blog might see my work helping found the Empire State chapter of the 7x24Exchange, recent visits to both large and small data centers, and a foray to the 451Group’s Hosting and Cloud Transformation Summit as part of this effort.

As with the other examples, my trip to Gartner put me in touch with more IT end-users who rely on data centers to deliver a product or service, sometimes to a consumer or business customer and sometimes to internal business units. In some cases these services are so esoteric that I need the customer to explain the business to me before we can chat about his data center needs. I found myself wondering whether design consultants and vendors face the same challenge.

It appears that IT customer demands on a data center are as varied as the services they offer. If so, does the burden of understanding the business needs of the IT customer fall predominantly on one segment, server manufacturers, for example, allowing cooling, power, and cabling professionals the luxury of reducing the question to tons of cooling, CFM, watts and networking speeds?

I’m also gaining a new appreciation for the monumental task that vendors and consultants face in helping end use customers define their data center requirements, which, after all, is the very first step in building a data center.

Let me explain briefly, linking observations made in the first keynote at Gartner on Monday morning and the final session I attended on Tuesday morning. The first session included observations by Gartner EVP and CFO Chris Lafond about how Gartner formulated its own data center and IT strategy and planned to continue going forward. Lafond described a three-way partnership between himself and Gartner’s CIO and CEO. In this scenario, the CIO reported not to the CFO but directly to the CEO, and both CIO and CFO took active roles in examining IT proposals. Lafond told numerous supportive anecdotes and held Gartner out as an organization on the cusp of transitioning from a medium to large organization.

In short, Gartner proposed itself as an example of an organization benefiting from enlightened management of its IT operations. Nothing remarkable, there. So why was no one surprised the next day, when, in another session, analyst David J. Cappuccio took this question from the floor, “How do you handle a CFO who still uses watts per square foot and wants to compare data center costs with office building costs?”

I can’t begin to count how many things that question implies. For instance, it is a certainty that the latter CFO involves himself in questions involving data center and IT costs. But how deeply? Does he or she yield final authority, or merely put the project off track at the beginning? Has the organization adapted to avoid unnecessary roadblocks put in place by an uninformed executive, thus evading that scrutiny that a strong CFO would bring?

Most important, who at this company evaluates new ideas brought forward at events like Gartner or proposed by vendors and consultants, rejects old ways of doing things, or puts a stop to bad plans.

Gary Wojtasek, president and CEO of CyrusOne, and he remarked that in his experience, organizations follow a leader who is respected. He cited his experience with the CFO of Halliburton, who convinced the business units of that company to unite behind a centralized IT colo strategy because of the respect each business unit had for him. More important, though, was that Halliburton’s example simplified the task for other CFOs to implement similar strategies at other companies.

I suppose each customer really is as different as there are different business cases, and the task of sales is knowing how to help each company succeed. Not as easy as it sounds, I’m learning.