August 26, 2013
When I was in college I lived in a house with a bunch of other guys. As a party destination it was tremendous—our Trash Can Punch and Fight Night Party was legendary– as a domicile, not so much. Sure it was student housing, but a number of issues arose during the course of the year we lived there that required us to contact our landlord. One request in particular stands out. There was an old refrigerator in the basement filled with the rotting remnants of what we hoped was food—one roommate was convinced it was a dead body, and since the interior was so nasty none of us really wanted to perform a closer inspection to debunk his claim—that we repeatedly asked him to dispose of. One day our requests were answered and he showed up to remove the offending appliance. Although he did remove it from the basement, his solution was almost as bad, he left it in the middle of the backyard. This was my first real introduction to the distinction between being a tenant or a customer. For many of you data center decision makers out there, this is a difference you should be considering when looking for a new home for your organization’s computing gear.
In a perfect world, there would be no distinction between being a tenant or a customer. Ensuring the complete satisfaction of each should not be a mutually exclusive proposition. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, especially not in Multi-Tenant (there’s that word again) Data Centers or MTDC’s. Now nobody is saying that providers have a malicious strategy of servicing the multiple occupants of their facilities differently, but it is a simple fact of life. Jimmy Johnson, the last great coach the Cowboys had, used to have a philosophy regarding his players that describes this provider customer service strategy to a tee. He treated all his players equally, but some he treated more equal than others. This reflects the decision making process of MTDC providers in respect to their customer requests. In short, if you’re the biggest tenant in the facility all decisions are made with you in mind. For example, if you are a 20,000 square foot occupant of a 40,000 square foot data center and are sharing it with two other companies, guess whose requirements drive the scheduling of preventive maintenance efforts? As we like to say here in Texas, “Let the big dog eat”.
This necessary philosophy permeates the MTDC operator decision-making process. Scheduling conflict for the loading dock? Easily resolved. Whoever has more square footage in the facility goes first. In other words, the biggest data center resident is the customer; everyone else is a tenant. This doesn’t mean that your provider doesn’t love you and your 10,000 square feet. They do. They just don’t love you as much as the company that is leasing twice the space. Actually, when you think about things, it’s a fairer way of dealing with these types of issues than the way your parents probably dealt with you and your siblings. Rather, than having to wonder why your mom liked your sister more than you, you’d know that it was because she was bigger. So in some circumstances, being the tenant rather than the customer could be a good thing.
Naturally, this customer/tenant dichotomy becomes more pronounced as the MTDC increases in size. The only way to ensure that you are given the full customer treatment in your next data center is to get one that is dedicated to you alone. The importance of the difference between being a data center customer versus a tenant should be a key element in your next site decision. Unlike many things in life, there is no way to change your status once you sign your long-term lease. You are either the big dog or your not—for the next 5 or so years. In the case of my college house, we decided that we didn’t like being just a tenant and did not renew our lease. The refrigerator was still in the backyard when we left.