You Didn’t Build Your Own Laptop Did You?Remember those halcyon days of your youth when you used to be able to put together your own computer? Wait, what? You didn’t build your own computer, and that is something only some scrawny little dork would have done. Well some of us had a lot of interests when we were younger so, when I wasn’t pumping iron, picking up chicks, or hunting wild boar with a handgun, I built my own PC’s. And this was no easy task let me tell you. Back then you had to find your own motherboard, pick your CPU, install your RAM, add a hard drive, install your operating system and find things like a good word processing program. Actually, now that I look back on it, building your own PC kind of sucked, but if you wanted to whittle away the hours playing Zork in your bedroom what choice did you have? Fortunately for all of us, video games have gotten way better, and you can pick up a PC at your local Walmart. I won’t comment on the reasons for the enhancements in video game quality, but your ability to procure a laptop while picking up some jeans, Pop Tarts, and a new fondue set at Target is because computer manufacturers realized that most people wanted to buy their products with everything they wanted already in place. My marketing guy says the three scariest words in the English language are “some assembly required”, and I think the computer folks realized early on that he’s right. So why, in the face of the obvious appeal of the everything included product, do many of today’s data center providers still use the build your own PC model?

Every company feels that its data center requirements are unique, but the secret we all know is in that most cases they really aren’t. This fact, however, has not deterred the average data center provider from encouraging prospective customers to view the construction of their data center as a process akin to taking a romp through a Chinese menu. And while Howard Wang’s—I love that place—may toss in a free egg roll with my jalapeno stir fry, data center providers are only too happy to fulfill their customer’s desires with a fee associated with each one. Just like when I tell the guy talking to me through the speaker in the clown’s head that “Yes, I would like fries with that”, the plethora of choices offered by many providers add up pretty quickly.

Usually having choices is a good thing, but when you’re acquiring a data center they should include elements that you’d expect to be included in your multi-million dollar investment. Having to pay for things like having your facility commissioned and being able to attend the testing in person shouldn’t be chargeable options. Perhaps, this method of data center design via multiple choice quiz enables providers to perpetuate the myth that a “standard” product is insufficient for a customer’s needs. I would argue that this reflects more on the desire of the provider to offer a less than fully featured package than trying to appear “flexible” to a customer’s demands. Customers want a data center that has the power and cooling to support their needs, that can be operated cost effectively–including all the bells and whistles necessary to operate for the next 20 years– and can be counted on to support their mission critical applications over decades. Unfortunately, what should be incorporated in a standard data center is still primarily available on a piece by piece basis.

The development of standard data center products represents the next evolution of industry development. Unfortunately, it appears that many of today’s providers are not able to take this next step. While they can mask these limitations for some period of time by being all things to all customers, the added costs and waste associated with these models will make it more difficult for them to meet the needs of a customer base that wants a full featured product that can be quickly delivered at a competitive price. To put things in computer parlance, in a world that wants to watch Hulu, those that cater to aficionados of Zork will find life increasingly difficult.

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