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The Data Center TCO Sherpa

hilary and norgay - Compass DatacentersMost people forget that when Sir Edmund Hilary reached the summit of Mount Everest he wasn’t alone. Although many people believe this to be the case–Sir Ed had a great PR machine behind him–he actually was accompanied by his trusty Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay. You see, even though Hilary had climbed a number of mountains in his life, he didn’t know Everest, Norgay did. Norgay’s knowledge of the terrain was essential for an endeavor in which previous attempts had made the term “dead” the correct prefix for “mountain climber”. In his role of Sherpa Norgay wasn’t there just to provide moral support—“C’mon Eddie, you can do it”—he provided the unique knowledge that guided Hilary up the mountain. I was reminded of Norgay’s role when I saw yet another provider-developed guide to calculating data center TCO.I realize that many of us have published a whitepaper, read about or attended a presentation on “how to calculate data center TCO”. Personally, I’ve done all three at various times in my data center career. The issue with all provider developed TCO tools is that customers tend to use them incorrectly.

The search for the perfect TCO tool is as old as our industry. Seemingly every provider in the market has produced a version of how this important metric should be calculated. These deliverables range from simple checklists of items that should be included to elaborate spreadsheets that would make even the most financially oriented CIO blanch. Unfortunately, these tools are positioned to the end user like “Calculating Data Center TCO for Dummies”. Through the use of the whitepaper/spreadsheet/presentation (pick one) of your choice you too can develop a TCO model that will earn you a lifetime pass from the finance department. Nice imagery but these models aren’t metaphoric “Hilary’s” but rather should be used as “Norgay’s”.

The real value in all of these permutations of TCO models is their ability to serve as useful guides (sherpas) to be used in conjunction with the customer’s finance department. Let’s face it these are the guys who determine how data center TCO will be calculated. Now I could wrap this up right now by saying that the best way to determine data center TCO is to ask your finance guy. However, that’s really not the case. Even though companies evaluate their assets and purchase choices using their own criteria, vendor supplied TCO models provide meaningful guidance into the considerations that are unique to data centers themselves. By using these models while working in conjunction with the finance department, data center managers can develop TCO models that reflect the unique considerations of their corporate policies. After all, behind every great TCO model stands its Sherpa, or as Hilary was heard to say, “Stand back Tenzing, you’re in my shot”.