Chris Crosby is CEO of Compass Datacenters.
Although many enterprise end users view their data center requirements as unique to them, this is often a costly and time-consuming misconception.
In fact, if we eliminate considerations like vendor specificity for major components (ex: a preference for Caterpillar generators as opposed to Cummins), Tier certification, cooling methodology and LEED qualifications, the most unique aspects of a data center are typically found in areas related to the physical size or layout of the facility itself.
Unfortunately, the limited designs of most wholesale data center offerings coupled with their eagerness to be all things to all comers actually facilitate poor decision making on the part of their customers which manifest themselves in “custom” solutions that force the customer to unwittingly pay for the inadequacies of their own providers.
The evolutionary leap: industrialization to productization
In the late 2000’s the data center industry, led by companies like Digital Realty in the MTDC space, and to a lesser extent, I/O in the area of pre-fabricated modular offerings, began to incorporate fundamental industrialization concepts that have characterized other industries for years into their own operations. In some instances these operational enhancements can date their antecedents to the days of Henry Ford and are characterized by the following elements:
- Semi-standard design
- Accelerated schedules via simultaneous activity, in this case the off-site development of power room components
- Cost control via volume purchase agreements derived via large quantity purchases of major materials
Under these structures basic functionality (power and often cooling) is standard but other elements such as the physical size of the raised floor, component suppliers and reliability configuration are often left to the discretion of the end user.
The next step in this historical evolution process is productization. In a productized environment the customer offering has been developed to include the most commonly required site attributes within a standard product. This structure is analogous to automobile offerings in which attributes like air conditioning and power steering are included in the basic vehicle itself. By incorporating elements such as Tier III and LEED certification, hardened shell and cooling methodology into a replicable design the customer’s costs are reduced through the ability of the provider to precisely purchase required components and materials along with the ability of the company’s manufacturing partners to accurately plan for their labor requirements. By offering a standard product that features an easily replicable design and feature set the provider is also able to offer end users a more accurate delivery date coupled with an accelerated delivery schedule. In short, productization is defined by:
- Standard product design
- Comprehensive standard feature set
- Integrated supply chain
- Cost control via ability to order materials based on known quantities
The issue facing many wholesale providers at this point in time is that their business models are inhibitors to moving from industrialization to productization.
Customization vs. personalization
Customization and personalization are functions of industrialization and productization respectively. Due to the non-standard nature of industrialized offerings the customer is typically encouraged to work with the provider to incorporate their desired attributes into the facility, often times at additional cost and time to them.
Under the productized paradigm the majority of major customer requirements (typically those of 50-60 percent of the marketplace) are already incorporated into the product to enable the customer to focus on the elements of the data center design that reflect their unique requirements for attributes such as security system type, branding and color scheme. A mode similar to purchasing a car while only having to determine elements such as the color of the vehicle and whether to include a single or multi-CD changer.
As data center requirements continue to grow, so will the corresponding need for quickly implementable, reliable solutions. Due to its focus on standard feature sets and replicability, the principles of productization closely align with these next generation requirements as opposed to those of its industrialization predecessor.
From a historical perspective, one of the major questions facing the industry moving forward will be how will providers adapt to the need to make this evolutionary leap and who will remain standing in the future.
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