Brant Bernet: The Aging Data Center

Brant Bernet

When I was a kid, I was always tinkering with something. I wasn’t particularly adept at it, but tinker away I did. On one ridiculously hot summer day, I decided that I would replace the faded and cracked dashboard on my maroon-colored, Chevy Monte Carlo (“Monty”), and off to the junkyard I went. The only one I could find was black—not maroon—but in perfect condition.

After I removed the 800 or so screws that held the damaged dash in place and peeled back the plastic and foam board, I had my first of many “Oh crap” moments. Springs, and gears and tiny strings wrapped around coils were all I could see; it looked like something from a Dr. Seuss book. However, it was kind of like swimming across a lake; once you reach the middle, you realize the swim was a really bad idea, but it would be of no benefit to turn around, so you power on to the other side.

I powered on … in the Texas heat … no instructions … dwindling confidence … very limited mechanical skills. I was about five hours into my project (the opposite shore was in plain view) when I heard bowwoing! And in a whiz, the little spring that controlled the speedometer needle was gone (the opposite shore was a mirage). I looked for that stupid spring for what seemed like an hour.

Never one to give up easily, and not about to go back to the junk yard, I remembered that the little spring inside of a cheap pen looked very similar to the one that had just flown the coop. After some careful handiwork, my pen’s sacrifice rang true. Finally, with all the springs and coils back in place, and 700 of the 800 screws where they belonged, the great Dashboard Caper of 1981 finally was over.

These days, corporate chief information officers are doing some tinkering of their own. Some of the necessary changes will be painful—and most will take time. International Data Corp. reports that the average data center in the United States is more than 12 years old. That, folks, is old. Over the years, companies are able to change a spring here and replace a dashboard there, but eventually technology outruns the bones of the data center and a more permanent retrofit must take place.

Twelve years ago a “data center” might have been housed in an abandoned office closet and, as the company grew, the cancerous data center metastasized into every available nook, eating space and power like I eat cheese grits (I just discovered Rex’s cheese grits in Dallas—they are unmatched). When these internal data centers can grow no more, the technology departments within these companies have a decision to make; ”Do we start moving people out to make room for more servers, or do we focus on our core business and leave the electronic storage to someone else?”

This question is being asked all over the world, and the decision to outsource the data center is growing by leaps and bounds. But where do I go? Who is the best provider? What is the best climate? Can I really escape all natural disasters? The list of questions is endless, and each must be carefully considered.

In a recent panel i/o Data Centers’ president, Anthony Wanger said, “Data centers as a big construction project is over…and is being replaced by the era of mass production.” That bodes well for i/o and other big-scale data center operators that are attempting to automate the construction process, reduce costs, and ramp up the speed-to-market process. But I’m not sure I totally agree. Data centers are intricate, working bodies, and one company’s computing needs rarely match those of another. A little bit of uniqueness will always be the signature of a good data center. Someone will master the automation of data center construction, and when they do, we will all benefit from the lower cost and the expanded reliability.

By the way, it turns out that the pen spring was a little too high strung, and my speedometer was always 30 MPH off. As I look back on that project, I really had two decisions—either live with the cruddy old beat up, outdated dashboard, or let someone who knew what they were doing take care of the replacement.
What will you do?

Brant Bernet is co-founder and managing director of Lincoln Rackhouse. Contact him at [email protected]