January 31, 2017
Does anyone remember crop circles? For those of you who don’t, crop circles were these large elaborate geometric configurations that would mysteriously appear overnight in large grain fields across the globe. Turns out that the whole thing was started by two guys, with way too much time on their hands, who thought it might be fun to go out into someone’s cornfield in the dead of night with a fifth of Jameson’s, a two by four and some rope to trample the stalks into an interesting design. Since no one seemed to be able to catch the perpetrators, and their many imitators, in the act, speculation as to their origin naturally ensued. Although a number of theories were put forward, popular consensus coalesced around the idea that aliens were the true culprits. While it stretched the imagination to believe that superior beings would fly a billion miles just to etch a bull’s eye into Mr. Green Jeans’ wheat field, it gave the locals something to discuss and ponder. “Where are they from?”, “What do they want?”, “Do they come in peace?” and “Who has the T-shirt concession licensing?”, provided a welcome diversion to everyone’s hum-drum existence. Well, the same type of thing is happening right now in Nebraska, only with much less crop damage and extraterrestrial activity.
In December, the Sarpy County Economic Development Corp (SCED). announced that a 610,000 square foot mega-data center was going to be erected in their little corner of the Cornhusker State. This, of course, is exciting news in any community, but when the good folks of SCED were asked for the company name of this latest arrival to their thriving metropolis, they could only respond with, “We can’t tell you”. While not exactly crop circle-like, the combination of a largely rural area (Sarpy County has approximately 173,000 residents) and an anonymous benefactor is as good a way as any to kick-off a speculation sweepstakes.
Now Sarpy County is no stranger to data centers as multiple companies, including Yahoo and Travelers Insurance, have facilities there, but, as best as anyone can remember, this is the first time that a data center will be built before anyone knows whose name is going to be on it. In Sarby County, like pretty much the rest of the country, the post-holiday period isn’t known as a particularly festive time of year, and the volume of conversational topics tends to drop dramatically. So, trying to guess the identity of their newest neighbor is a welcome respite for the average area resident. Since the whole crop circle thing has long since become passé, no one is talking about any alien involvement in the project, as interesting as that might be.
The more pragmatic, and perhaps less imaginative, speculators lean heavily toward the usual suspects, Google, Apple, Microsoft, et al, and they may be right, but, fortunately, there are alternate hypothesis. As always there are those who think it’s a new federal government facility to monitor and record every keystroke we’ve ever made, and, based on what we’ve learned over the past few years, these folks can no longer be immediately lumped in with the tin-foil hat crowd. Still others support the prospect that it’s being built to keep track of all of Warren Buffet’s financial holdings and transactions, but since he still lives in the house he bought in 1958, he probably has more pressing construction projects on his agenda. A third faction has come to the conclusion that the whole data center thing is just a diversion and that the building is actually the new football facility for the Cornhuskers. A good guess in the new world of collegiate sports where universities now seem to exist for the benefit of the football team, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.
In the end, the mystery company will probably turn out to be relatively unsurpising and life will return to normal in Sarby County, but I don’t think we can underestimate the marketing value of this anonymity strategy. If anything, company X should have milked this a little more heavily including contests, a big reveal and prizes, but maybe next time. Perhaps the real lesson here is that when it comes to generating speculation and conjecture, if it can’t be aliens, then a data center is a close second.