“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”

                                                                        –Raymond Chandler

The Case of the Missing DensityI love a good mystery. Whether it’s Philip Marlowe, Harry Bosch, Aloysius Pendergast, Kinsey Millhone, or Elvis Cole, I’m all in as the story follows the sleuth’s quest to determine who did what to who, and why. In the spirit of these relentless seekers of truth and justice, I have a mystery of my very own. While it doesn’t possess intriguing elements like dead bodies, questionable alliances or femme fatales with hearts of gold, or appeal to as broad an audience as the latest Stephanie Plum novel—I think she’s up to “257 and I still haven’t chosen Ranger or Morelli yet”—it should be of interest to all of us in the data center industry. I think I’m going to call it “The Case of the Missing Density”.

The hero of the story is a world-weary industry analyst. He’s been there, and seen it all, and views the claims and projections of other data center industry “experts” with a jaundiced eye. In many ways, he is like all of us in that he began his career with innocence and the steadfast belief in providing accurate assessments and forecasts that would benefit his clients, but, has over the years, seen his youthful enthusiasm eroded by the ceaseless promotion of others within the business of technologies and innovations that have never lived up to the hype that they received. Almost a Quixote-like figure, his “frayed around the edges idealism” has recently cost him his wife and his children and his career arc has seen him slide from a trade show fixture to cubicle dwelling anonymity.

In many respects, I see this as a story of redemption. Our hero, in reviewing years worth of industry data, notices an anomaly that no one seems to be talking about, or wants to give the same exposure as things like SDDC and Big Data. In his research he uncovers a multitude of predictions and forecasts projecting rack densities in excess of 10kW to be commonplace by 2014, but in comparing actual figures he finds that the actual average is less than 5kW*. When he brings his findings to the attention of his superiors at a large, multinational research firm his draft report is rejected with extreme prejudice. His subsequent efforts to get his report published are met with resistance both within his own firm and the trade show/media cartel as well.

The story is replete with blind alleys and unsatisfactory answers. As he digs deeper, our hero is regularly confronted with conflicting information. Are these gross disparities due to the rise of new technologies like ARM chipsets and flash storage, or were these ambitious forecasts due to the mistaken belief that data center network architectures would become more centralized rather than distributed? Since things like industry reputations are at stake, our hero must navigate a gauntlet of nefarious characters whose efforts to squelch his investigation include suspicious methodologies and subtle attempts at character assassination. He is the classic “man alone”. Will he be coerced into dropping the case in order to publish yet another vapid analysis on hybrid clouds or will he continue to persevere even it irreparably damages his relationship with his estranged wife, kids, and their dog, Barney?

I don’t know if most mystery writers sit down with the end of their story already determined, but I can tell you that I’m not sure how this page-turner will end. Obviously, the plot is prime for any number of twists and turns, and I may even subscribe to a Raymond Chandler mystery maxim which says, “When in doubt, have a guy enter a room with a gun” to spice things up. While this probably isn’t going to be this year’s big “beach read”, I think that many in the data center industry will be interested to see how this turns out. I know the suspense is killing me.

* Per the Uptime Institute

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