Data Center

When is a Data Center Not a Data Center?

I’d always thought that the term data center carried with it a sense of grand scale. This could, of-course, be the fault of our very good marketing people who are expert at segmenting all kinds of things so that they can analyse, target, message and do all the wonderful things they do. So as far as Schneider Electric is concerned, a room with less than 3 racks is called a wiring closet. Less than five racks and we call it a server room; more than five racks and it becomes a fully fledged “small data center” and so on.

This is all well and good, except that the moment you start stereotyping or using shorthand to describe customer requirements, you find out very quickly that most customers will defy any such attempt at segmentation, consciously or otherwise. So it was that I found myself visiting a customer the other day and being conducted on a short tour of his small server room. I say short tour because there was barely enough room for the two of us to be in the room at the same time.

Anyway, we were talking about the requirements for a data center upgrade. I confess that I spent quite a bit of the “tour” wondering when we were going to go and take look at this larger and obviously more impressive facility in need of refurbishment. And then it hit me – we were actually standing in it! OK, so that’s a bit embarrassing for me. Fortunately I don’t think I said anything which gave my confusion away… I hope 🙂

But it got me wondering whether we need an industry definition for the term data center? And if we do, what factors should contribute to the definition –what are most important attributes for a data center to be classified as a data center? At risk of inviting a few smirks, size has got to be important: A big facility will always be referred to as a data center. And these tend to be the ones which are publicised by their owners, written about by the press and showcased in industry awards.

But isn’t mission criticality as important, if not more important than size? Small form factor servers, virtualization and high density infrastructure mean it’s relatively affordable for the man in the street to put a supercomputer in the stair cupboard these days. And if he happens to run a hedge fund or make his money dealing in currency or stock (or whatever), shouldn’t that facility be termed a data center? In any event, many smaller facilities utilise big thinking in their design and operations and sometimes have overcome constraints you’d simply never encounter in a large space data center.

Why don’t we do a little crowd sourcing via this site? If you put your data center definition in the comments below, we’ll run a competition when we have a decent number of inputs and I’ll see whether marketing can provide a nice prize for the winner.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading your definitions!


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