I Could Be Great, If…How many of you dreamed of being something when you were young but fate intervened? For example, my marketing guy loved basketball when he was a kid.

When he was in 7th grade he was the bruising 5’ 8” starting power forward on his junior high team. Unfortunately, unlike other members of his peer group, he never grew another inch, and so his basketball career slowly faded away. Thus, his life began the downward spiral that ultimately leads one to become a marketing guy. But for the want of a few more inches, greatness was lost. I think all of us can identify with his story since most of us have had our dreams of greatness dashed against the rocks of reality. Thoreau summarized this state of being when he said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” which is ironic since many believe his true ambition was to be a motivational speaker. But this is life. The difference between what we want and what we obtain is often dictated by circumstances beyond our control. I was thinking about this the other day when I read yet another study declaring the inevitability of pre-fabricated modular (PFM) data centers as soon as folks get over the whole “container thing”.

Folks, can we get just a little perspective here? Most pre-fabricated modular data centers do look like shipping containers—only nicer–so this is probably always going to be a problem. Isn’t this kind of like saying that the Mona Lisa would look really great if only that smile had been a little toothier? This doesn’t mean that these products are bad, they aren’t, but they do have their limitations.

Now many PFM providers, and supporters, say that the negative impressions of many potential end users can be eradicated with more education. I think this is true, but if you’re trying to convince someone that you’re selling a Ferrari wouldn’t it help if it didn’t look like a Yugo? In other words, large rectangular metal boxes do tend to look like something that is normally serviced by longshoremen or picked up and emptied into the backs of refuse trucks.

Not everyone ha the luxury of buying all brand new equipment that fits nicely into 42” racks. A lot of us have stuff that doesn’t quite fit the mold and refuses to draw 12 kW for the footprint it takes up. Also, when you consider that each unit has it’s own set of parts the potential for problems rises exponentially. As Bill Mazzetti pointed out in an Expert Opinion, complexity reduces reliability. Think about your own personal experiences. Does anything become more reliable as you add more stuff to it? Each new PFM unit added is another that must be maintained and supported with its own filters, belts, etc. As more things are added, so are the chances that something will fail.

The fact that these units also need to be housed within a building if they are to be a permanent solution tends to give prospective users pause. Aside from the whole “building not included” thing, most CIO’s tend to be reluctant to point to a slew of metal boxes in the parking lot and inform the CEO, “there’s our new data center”. In short, too many enterprises pre-fabricated modular alternatives just seem to offer an incomplete solution. To paraphrase Napoleon, in the minds of many CEO’s the thought is, “if we’re going to have to build a building, then build a building”.

All of this does not mean that PFM solutions are not growing in customer acceptance, it’s just that the bar is so low. Obviously, momentum is growing in the PFM business with more companies entering the fray and proclaiming their solution to be the one that will surmount all existing hurdles to land in the arms of mass-market acceptance. And we also cannot discount the ceaseless efforts of various industry pundits (you know who you are) to tell us all that PFM is the future if only we’d get over the whole looks like a container bug-a-boo. Surely PFM solutions will be great once the market reaches its educational tipping point. For PFM solutions, and most of us in general, the hope for greatness never dies. After all, my marketing guy still measures himself every day…

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