August 5, 2013
It’s mea culpa time kids. We at Compass Datacenters have made an error in judgment that we are now in the process of correcting. Now for you competitors out there, relax, we didn’t build our data centers with defective steel or anything like that, but we did decide to feature our approach to modularity in our marketing efforts. In case you didn’t know, we referred to our product as the “Truly Modular Data Center”. My marketing guy and I wanted to demonstrate that we had developed something that was radically different from all the other “modular guys” out there—hence, the “Truly”. We should have remembered the age-old axiom of “no body likes an adverb”. I don’t think we realized it initially, but we had fallen into a trap. Over time, this decision began to bother both of us. What did modular really mean to prospective customers? It seemed like it meant a lot because a lot of providers all seem to feature it, and most of the media and analysts that cover our business focus on the term to describe and categorize providers. I got my answer the other day when I was meeting with a prospective customer who expressed to me that they had reservations about working with us because we offered a modular solution. But when he actually saw one of our videos of a facility being built he was immediately relieved and said, “That’s not modular; that’s a building”.
It turns out that in the minds of many enterprise companies, the term “modular” conjures up visions illustrated by the pictures below:
Talk about your “aha” moments. As I thought about it more, it made a lot of sense. By focusing on the methodology we used to build our data centers, we were missing what was most important to the customer: the permanence of the solution. Although modular construction is an advanced in building development, we were promoting how we built the clock rather than telling people what time it was.
All constructed using modular components (courtesy: Xsite)
Let’s face it, for most of us, our vision of a modular anything is closer to what that prospective customer envisioned versus a building designed to last for decades. A building connotes the permanence, security and stability that most customers are looking for when they make their 25-year data center investment. The finish quality of a trailer home from Raising Arizona is not what you’re looking for when your Fortune 500 business depends on it. Unfortunately for our industry, the term modular seems to have become synonymous in the minds of many of end users with the “trailer-like” structures above. In a way we have contributed to this perspective by equating a method of construction with a deliverable that doesn’t provide the benefits found in in a building-based solution. Most “modular” data centers can be located anywhere but their geographic independence is outweighed by the temporary nature of their design. Their metal housings oxidize and rust, they aren’t resistant to high winds and seismic activity unless they are located within a bricks and mortar facility, and they are often rotated out every five years as part of the regular hardware refresh process of their enterprise customers. In thinking about that prospective customer’s statement, I guess I can’t blame him for his initial apprehension. I wouldn’t want to put a $1 million VBlock in what I perceive to be a glorified Quonset hut either.
So now that we’ve identified our mistake, what are we going to do here at Compass? First and foremost, we going to listen to folks like that prospect and focus on the deliverable product and not the methodology we use to build it. Oh, we’ll still let customers know that they can grow their operations incrementally, but we won’t be throwing the “M” word around with the degree of frequency that we used to. We’ll also argue strenuously with anyone who tries to pigeon hole us as a “modular provider”. Sometimes reality just has to hit you in the face to confirm what you suspected. So folks you can be sure that here at Compass we’ll never forget, “That’s not modular. That’s a building”.