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Not a Swiss Army Knife

Not a Swiss Army KnifeHere comes Christmas and I can’t contain my enthusiasm. This year my son asked for a new Swiss Army Knife. It’s called “The Handyman” and it’s got everything: a couple of knives, bottle opener, scissors, file, pliers, corkscrew, toothpick, a saw—in case your building a house or something and your big saw breaks—and a couple of things that I’m not even sure what they do. Yes sir, this is the Cadillac of utility knives. For a nine year old boy there will be nothing that he cannot accomplish with this knife. As I was contemplating this, I was struck by how many data center providers have chosen to adopt the Swiss Army model.

It seems like most wholesale providers today just don’t want to say no. I knew a kid in high school that had the same issue, but that’s a story for another day. Everyday it seems like we see a new announcement from one of our brethren announcing that they provide:

a)    Modular facilities
b)    Build to suit custom
c)    Colocation
d)    Cloud support
e)    Managed hosting
f)     Proprietary DCiM
g)    All of the above
h)   Even more if you asked them

Now I understand the concept of the customer is always right, but I think the bigger issue is whether the provider’s solution is right for the customer. Let’s face it, now matter how hard we try, it’s impossible to excel at everything at the same time. For example, I’m sure that saw on my son’s soon to be received knife is great, but he’s not about to cut down a redwood with it. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to celebrate your weaknesses by focusing on your strengths.

Trying to do everything for everyone may be a way to try to cover all aspects of a market, but it typically proves to be a bad way to run a company and service customers. Just ask Kodak. What appears to be a natural line extension often turns out to be a mismatch of skill sets, objectives, and customer bases with the end result being that everyone winds up unhappy. In terms of data centers, a company that provides modular facilities probably isn’t the best choice to handle your managed hosting needs even if they say they can do it. Although both involve data centers, the skill sets to build a facility and run MEP are just a wee bit different than those required to manage your network and servers.

Compass has been founded on the principle that we want to offer a product that addresses apportion (50-60%) of the market. For those of you who remember your statistics, that’s roughly the area that fall within the bulk of the Bell Curve. We’ve chosen to offer a product that addresses the three most common demands of data center customers:

a)    Geographic independence
b)    Enhanced control
c)    Simplified capacity planning.

Our model is built on our ability to consistently deliver a product that meets these requirements through standardization and replication. The benefit to our customers isn’t that we can meet their every data center need, but is found in the ability to reliably meet their core requirements. Of course, this strategy means that we readily admit that we are not the best solution for 40% of customer applications. We don’t want to waste those organizations time or deliver an inferior product, so we will happily route prospects that have needs that are outside our scope to other providers (our competitors) who focus on those areas.

Often times the best, and the hardest, thing a company can do is admit what it’s not good at. This isn’t a negative admission if you understand and focus on your strengths. Saying yes to every customer request diminishes a company’s ability to continue to do what it does well and means that a customer is using a solution that another company can perform much better. A Swiss Army Knife is nice to find in your stocking on Christmas morning, it isn’t a gift from your data center provider.