The Home Depotization of the Data CenterI am not the most handy guy you’ll ever meet. In fact, I consider a trip to the local Home Depot to be the equivalent of Dante’s fifth circle of hell. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t attempted a project or two around the old domicile, but it does mean that each one ended up in a state of disaster. One time, I needed a new door, and since I didn’t have one handy, I headed off to the home of the men in orange aprons to get one. Things started off well enough as I told the guy that I needed a 78” door. Unfortunately, they only carried 80 inchers. This was no problem the helpful hardware man explained, “Just cut off two inches and viola”. Naturally, since he wanted to make sure my experience was an enjoyable one, he inquired as to whether I owned a power saw. When I said that I didn’t, he happily helped me select one that could do the job. Next he pointed out that for the saw to be most effective I should purchase a blade to go with it. “I couldn’t agree more”, I answered and he recommended one that would cut both wood and concrete. Since you never know when you might need to cut up a few cinder blocks, I tossed it in the basket. He then asked if I was planning on adding a knob to the door, and that struck me as a pretty good idea—was this guy on fire or what? Apparently knobs require you to drill a hole in the door so, in short order, I was the proud owner of a new drill and an assortment of bits. $250 later I went home with my new testosterone fueled “toys” and promptly cut the top off the door in a diagonal line thereby rendering it unusable for the task. My handyman ultimately replaced said door for $200 and I recently sold the tools—“Only used once!”- at a yard sale. The moral of this story is that, often times, when we let other people recommend what we need it turns out to be (a lot) more than necessary. Other than door hanging is this any more true than with data center management software?

Recently I read an article about what we can expect to find in the data center’s of the near future and it didn’t take long for the Home Depot flashbacks to start. Apparently, no self-respecting data center operator would even think about showing up for work in anything less than a Software Defined Data Center (SDDC). Apparently, this would be comparable to showing up to your cousin’s wedding in an “Olympic Drinking Team” t-shirt; the shame alone would be almost too much to bear. I think a read a variation of this article a year or so ago only it had DCIM in place of SDDC, so maybe this might not be as imperative as you’d originally think, and how much do you really like your cousin anyway?

Next, on the list for the well-appointed computing facility of the future was multi-layered data center control. According to the article this must be extremely diversified, the saw blade of the facility, if you will, with the ability to allocate things like Big Data, data manipulation and resources standing in for wood and cinder blocks.

Naturally, no savvy operator would be caught dead in data center that didn’t possess its own operating system. Possession of a DCOS will allow folks to control everything from chips to chillers. Because you know, everyone has degrees in computer science, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering, not to mention a whole lot of experience in system integration. A DCOS that “controls” everything is like me tying to drive my car by telling the seat belts, breaking system and the airbag what to do when I wreck (the equivalent of an outage in the data center) – good luck with that.

I know, I know, if you’ve been thinking ahead, you’re afraid that even with SDDC, multi-layered control, and a DCOS if you don’t have an agnostic infrastructure you going to be the guy standing out in the cold. While I’m not sure why anyone has to bring religion into this, you can be sure that this one is destined for everyone’s check-out basket. The article finished up by stating that the truly state of the art facility just won’t be state of the art without robots to dynamically provision and de-provision users and intelligently (as opposed to what?) load balance. I’m betting this is going to cost a lot more than $250.

Articles like these always tend to strike me as a little “Home Depotish”. Home Depot is a great spot for the professional, like the guy who built my home, and the avid hobbyist, like my buddy Mike aka McGyver who could build a tree house with three sticks of gum, duct tape and some wire. But most of us are not pros. The problem is, is that the market for these types of systems require two things: (1) data centers are the business of the company – like google or facebook and (2) scale to justify the benefits of this level of automation. Otherwise, these types of systems become a black hole money pit with no return on investment. They tend to make you wonder how anybody could run a data center without them and provide you with a great way to pad next year’s budget request at the same time. No doubt some combination of these tools may find their way into your next data center—or the one after that, but I would advise caution. Unlike, my saw, drill and other assorted accessories, if these don’t help you do the job, they are going to hard to sell at your next yard sale.

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