December 13, 2016
From the history wasn’t invented yesterday file… If you’re like me, when you watch some movie, or show, about life on the American frontier your mind tends to drift to some of the underlying questions that these celluloid portrayals seem to gloss over. These perplexities range from the general: due to the lack of accessible bathing facilities, couldn’t the bad guys smell the posse coming from about a mile away? And, did Pa Ingell’s own more than one shirt, pair of pants and shoes? To the more specific: in a world of horse dominated transportation, how come no one seems overly concerned about watching where they step? And, last but not least, how did these people brush their teeth? Perhaps the most vexing of all components of these unexplained elements of manifest destiny is how did the erstwhile respondent to the siren’s call of “go west young man” erect, literally, their own “little house on the prairie?” Now some of you may say I’m over thinking things, but as one—and I know I’m not alone here– for whom the phrase “home improvement project” is just a euphemism for “trip to the emergency room”, how did these progenitors of subdivision development construct the family homestead?
On a recent vacation, I happened upon a house built in rural Wyoming that was originally built in 1908. Yeah, I know that this is a little later than the guys who, using just an axe and a few logs from trees that they cut down themselves, built their one room haciendas while raising domesticated stock and vegetables, fought off rampaging Indians and greedy bankers who said things like, “Ya ha ha, now I have the deed to your property” before tying a young damsel to the railroad tracks, but I ramble on… The turn of the century abode that I encountered was ordered from a Sears and Roebuck catalogue, and, when the prefabricated components arrived a telegram was sent to a superintendent who came and oversaw the construction, all for $10,000. Obviously, this was much more efficient than personally constructing your own log cabin, and many homes were built using just this same type of methodology. For those of you now asking yourselves, “Hey Chris, when do we get to the data center part?” let me say, “thank you for your patience”.
The key part of assembling your own home, is, of course, what you assemble to do it. Although building methods have obviously evolved in the past 108 years, the use of pre-fabricated components continues to be the most efficient way to construct a facility quickly and cost effectively. This same rule increasingly applies to data centers. Although speed of delivery has always been an important consideration in the data center selection process, the geometric increases of data intensive applications, and their associated data volume, in many cases has now escalated when the keys are handed over to make it one of the primary (along with capacity and expandability) factors in provider selection.
In every case, there is a high degree of flexibility offered to support specific requirements but the essential components of the facility such as the walls and power centers arrive on site ready to be incorporated into the building process. Just as was the case in 1908 component pre-fabrication was, and is, the only way to consistently construct facilities within abbreviated time schedules. It is important to note that pre-fabricated does typically does not mean the entire entity. A mobile home, for example, does not come with a projected life span of 100+ years. On-site assembly of pre-fabricated components is based on the concept of diminishing returns. In other words, the assemblage of prefabricated components incorporates the “macro” elements of the building. With both the house and a data center the rule of thumb is that you prefabricate where is makes sense and build what doesn’t. Pre-fabricating the walls of a data center for assembly on site addresses a common requirement, attempting to do the same to the actual layout of the data hall does not since it is unique to each customer.
Although the house in Wyoming and a data center are products of two vastly distinct eras, the principle underlying the construction processes used for both remains identical. New materials and purpose remain dependent on a foundation that is anything but. Time may march on, but oftentimes what it produces is predicated on concepts whose origins were “cutting edge” many years in the past. In a sense the phrase, “nothing new under the sun” shouldn’t be viewed as a pejorative, but rather, as a guarantee to the timelessness of sound principles.