A Language BarrierMy marketing guy recently went on a trip to France. So as to avoid appearing as an “ugly American”, he prepared for his journey by attempting to learn the native language via Rosetta Stone and listening to “French for Dummies” CD’s in his car. Although his French still sucks, he was happy to report that he was able to ask a native for directions to the Metro, and was able to understand the response well enough to actually make it to his destination. The important lesson here is that although he is far from bi-lingual, he realized that his romp around France would be made a bit easier if he attempted to address the obvious language barrier. In a sense, this is metaphoric example of the misalignment between the applications of many of today’s businesses with the role of their data centers. In other words, Parlex-vous des centres de donnée is too often greeted with Non je n’ai pas.

Historically many residents of the C-suite have thought of their companies’ data centers—when they thought of them at all—as the corporate equivalent of “black boxes” where all the “computer stuff” is. While not terribly enlightened, this perception does help explain the decline of some of the country’s leading corporations over the years. Unfortunately, while the CEO may now have a better idea of what a data center is—Those are the buildings were we keep all the computer stuff. Now can someone please tell me why my email isn’t working?—in many organizations a language barrier still exists.

While it is easy to blame the guys with the nice offices for this lack of communication, the folks in IT are hardly blameless. In other words, no one is wearing a white dress to this party. Unless it’s maybe the CIO, your average executive doesn’t speak in terms of chillers or terabytes, they speak finance. Unfortunately, finance isn’t typically the lingua franca of the folks in IT, so while they are attempting to explain and implement an effective data center strategy by talking kW/rack and concurrent maintainability, their C level audience is skipping to the last page to see how much all of this is going to cost.

If this language barrier is to be breached the onus must reside with IT. We must translate the corporate direction articulated by the CEO and his compatriots into a viable data center strategy where the benefits of its implementation can be expressed in financial terms. For example, building a new 3MW disaster recovery site in Dallas will only be seen a capital expense by the CFO unless he can be made to understand its value in terms of its ROI and the cost to the organization if it is not available in the event of a primary facility failure. Obviously, this is not an easy task as actions like hardware refreshes will always be viewed with skepticism in an environment where things like depreciation are viewed in terms of sweating an asset versus mitigating risk. Since today’s data centers serve a comparable function to the railroads of the late 19th and early 20th century in terms of comprising the underlying infrastructure for applications and growth, the success of many organizations will be based on the ability of today’s IT professionals to develop and express their data center strategies in terms that members of the C-Suite can understand and embrace as essential for the success of the overarching corporate vision.

Like so many things in life, the first step in breaking through this IT/C-Suite language barrier is recognizing that one exists in the first place. Those that can’t come to this realization will face great difficulties in competing in an increasingly information based economy, those that are able to learn to speak in a “common language” will reap the benefits of a data center strategy that tightly aligns with the overall corporate vision and goals. In other words, the CD’s you listen to in your car should probably be something like “Finance for Dummies” instead of Steely Dan’s Greatest Hits.

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