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A Splash of Color

A Splash of ColorI just finished reading an article that documented five reasons for colored PDUs to be used in the data center. The thrust of the piece was that by introducing a color coded structure into the facility the possibility for human error is reduced. While I couldn’t agree more, since we color code and label things like the power centers and conduit throughout our facilities for just those very reasons, I think the author made only half the case for expanding the data center color palette. While avoiding human error is certainly a practical goal, I think the larger issue that these new ventures in interior design can address is that the vast majority of data centers have all the style and panache of your average DMV office. Yes folks, it’s time to introduce the old Sherwin-Williams color wheel to your local compute and storage facility.

While the austere nature of most data centers may have a certain appeal to the fan of contemporary design—you know, the same people who select their furniture from the Marquis De Sade collection–I think the whole white thing has been done to death. It’s too stark, too cold and don’t even get me started on that fluorescent lighting. I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d all like our data centers to be just a little bit more inviting.

Some providers have already attempted to liven up their interiors of their facilities, and I think they should be acknowledged for their pioneering efforts. For the most part these stylistic innovations have been characterized by the introduction of bold primary colors to accent certain areas of the raised floor, at least this is what Ottawa painters recommend. Some have even elected to use neon to create a dynamic atmosphere within the rack space. While I applaud these efforts, neon is just a tad, shall we say, gauche, and the use of bright reds and blues just seems a little too harsh. Personally, I prefer a blend of softer colors along the lines of the seasons—I’m an Autumn myself—to make the data center a more warm and welcoming environment. Something soothing and friendly, like a nice taupe with a terra cotta accent wall. Just a little something that says, “Welcome. C’mon in and take your shoes off and relax”.  Naturally, this is going to require equipment manufacturers to become a little bit more imaginative with their product lines. Even the best color scheme falls flat if you don’t have the proper colored PDU’s to tie everything together so we’re going to have to have a few more options than gray, off-white or that weird green to work with.

While we are talking about making the data center a little bit more hospitable would it kill anyone to put a chair or two in these places? A couple of overstuffed, non-combustible wing backs partnered with some matching ottomans tucked away in a quiet corner can become that special little hideaway for discussing things like how to implement that new private cloud. I’m not an advocate of bringing any type of coffee or end tables into the data center since folks are always forgetting to use their coasters and food and drink shouldn’t be allowed in these places anyway since that’s what break rooms are for. And for those of you thinking about adding a throw rug in here or there, don’t be ridiculous since even a loose weaved sisal is going to impede air flow, and as much as a nice Persian can really bring out that muted fuchsia stripe in the couch no one is going to want to rearrange the perf tiles to accommodate it.

We all know that the world of the data center is changing and shouldn’t their style reflect this evolution? Since most of these facilities still look like the ones that housed the Univac back in the 50’s, I think we can all agree that it’s time for a facelift. Certainly, color coded PDUs are a nice place to start, but we shouldn’t let this small bit of progress limit our stylistic vision. Support for mission critical applications and something that Architectural Digest would be proud of shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. I think this represents a liberating opportunity for all of us. After all, anybody can build a data center, but how many of us can accessorize it as well?