Data Center Project Euphoria vs Reality of Ownership

25 Feb

Building a Data Center equals Big Project Euphoria – It’s addictingNew house

The excitement of building or acquiring something new is real, and it’s a thrill. You could be building a new pool in the backyard or a new data center for your company, but the story is the same. The thrill of working on something with an important and well-defined endpoint is palpable, and when you combine that with the narcotic of vendors and contractors worshiping you while you spend money, it’s downright intoxicating. Building or buying a data center is the “easy” part; “owning” it is what’s hard.

To “own” is more than to possess—like “owning” a car—there’s a little more to it:

-          Owning a car means more than buying it. Owning means you must also insure it, clean it, service it, repair it, evaluate it for safety or sustainability, and eventually recycle or retire it.

The Question

I was speaking on a data center panel for Bisnow in San Francisco on Feb 20, and a question from the audience was tossed my way. I don’t remember the exact wording (so I’m paraphrasing), but it was something like this;

“What advice would you give to someone looking to build their own data center?”

Great question with an answer that’s potentially a mile long, but here’s how I responded:

“95% plus of all companies have failed to create the appropriate organization to build, operate, protect, monitor, sustain, and lifecycle a complex system like a data center.”

Then I went on to say:

“I’ve worked with some leading technology companies, and without exception, even those companies that should have known better, couldn’t or wouldn’t accept the fact that data centers deserved a different ownership model.”

I continued:

“Most companies fool themselves into believing they understand and have planned for the ramifications of owning a data center because of project euphoria. The siren song of the big project is just too much for most IT folks to walk away from.”

Temporary high

During the project, everything seems great—cats and dogs (facilities and IT) working together, finance helping out, the CFO chatting with you in the cafeteria, the CEO mentioning the data center at town hall meetings or to investors. Can you feel it? I can feel it, and all I’m doing it writing it down. We haven’t even started talking about the draw of having all these big vendors/partners fawning over you, treating you like you’re a king or queen; your wish is their command.

The problems start six to twelve months after the project’s completion. The glow has begun to fade, day to day responsibilities and priorities come creeping back, and what do you expect happens next? As the glow fades, the teams focus on owning an expensive, complex, and critical facility begins to fade as well. Gone are the cross functional meetings where everyone sang (past tense) Kumbaya, also gone are the pats on the back from the CFO. The CEO has gone back to forgetting your name, and what do you think happens next? You guessed it: focus shifts. Cost savings assumptions are missed, but not captured. Efficiency guarantees are faked or avoided. Operational performance might even start to lag. It’s no one’s fault; it’s basic human nature. When we fail to capture the human equation in projects, leadership, friendship, etc., we will eventually fail at whatever it is we’re doing.

Additional Color from the next panel of experts

John Sheputis, the CEO and Founder of Fortune data centers, was on the panel after mine and after referencing my “euphoria” answer, he went on to add some additional color to better illustrate the original point. John basically said, “The type of work and focus needed to run a data center effectively is very different than running a short-term project. A data center requires day in and day out focus on being perfect and making marginal improvements, while avoiding risk to production operations.”

If it’s not already clear

What I’m trying to say is that owning a data center is a huge responsibility, and the bottom line is that few organizations are designed, measured or rewarded appropriately to also run the data center effectively. So think long and hard about why you really need an internal data center. If after thinking it through you still believe that owning is better than renting/leasing, then by all means build a data center. However, before you do, be sure to get corporate financial and organizational support lined up and guaranteed so that you can continue to own the facility effectively for 15 years after its completion.

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  1. Paul Richardson

    February 27, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Love the “Euphoria” reference, I can see the light in everyone’s eyes, the excitement, all of the “toy” acquisition.

    You’re right though, running a data center is a lot of day in and day out work whose scope is far more incremental than bleeding edge…

    Nice work

     
  2. Mark Mac Auley

    April 14, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Spot on. I have often equated building a data center to having a blind date at the altar. Sounds like a risk worth taking, but the data says otherwise.