Pushing the Data Center Boundary Blog: Comparing Data Center Management Software with Sporks

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Sporks are awful – bad at being a spoon and bad at being a fork. I think there’s a good argument to say that many datacenter management software packages are fatally flawed by trying to be “all things to all people” – a spork.

Anybody who has gone camping I’m sure has had the unfortunate experience of trying to use a spork. The spork is a mutant spoon that has some useless tongs on it to make it pretend to be a fork. The apparent advantage of using a spork is that it’s better because it’s only one utensil (because carrying a fork and a spoon must be too difficult) with the drawback that it stinks at doing both. Tongs too small to stab small morsels, but yet big enough to stab your mouth when slurping chili.

I use this analogy to describe the limitations of management software packages that are trying to be all things to all people – inevitably they are sporks that pretend they do ‘everything’ but in reality stink at all of them. Aren’t we better off with specific tools for a specific purpose that work well together?

At the risk of mixing similes, it’s like woodworking tools. I’ve had the (un)fortunate experience of renovating some houses. I look in my workshop now and I’m amazed by the number of saws I have. A sample inventory: radial arm saw, table saw, hand saw, hack saw, coping saw, scroll saw, miter saw, band saw…..you get the idea. Why do I have all these saws? Because when I need to do something, I want the tool optimized for that job. I dare someone to put up molding using only a table saw – good luck!

I view management software the same way. What you really want is the best tool to do the job when you need to do it.

In the case of our data center power and cooling infrastructure portfolio, we have a number of tools designed to do what they do very well – ION E for facility power management, Struxureware Central for managing the IT room infrastructure, BMS systems for handling cooling, Struxureware Operations Suite for asset and capacity management, etc. And while at a high level of abstraction they all appear to be the same (like all saws are meant to cut wood), there are significant differences between them that make them optimized for their specific jobs.

This argument doesn’t mean that you can’t use one tool to do something else – you can try to cope molding with a table saw (I think?), but it will take more of your time, the results won’t be as good, you will be frustrated, and you might lose a finger (OK – the last one is a stretch in the software world).

Perhaps it is human nature to try and minimize clutter. I go through an annual process of wanting to get rid of the clutter in the workshop but inevitably end up keeping all the tools. And I’m always glad I did.
In the same way, data center managers go through their ‘annual process’ and wonder what collection of management tools they really need. In the end, having lots of tools isn’t inherently a bad thing.

However, it is bad if you find yourself with three table saws and no miter saw – that is, too many of one tool optimized to address the same problem and missing a tool that you really need.

But like the utensil/spork analogy, you want tools that have a specific purpose and work well together. There’s a reason that after millions of years of evolution we have a knife, fork, and spoon. They work well together, it’s minimal overhead to have three, and it makes it easy to get my job done.

So, please, stop trying to get me to use a spork. I’ll take the overhead on the table space and go for the full suite of spoon, knife, and fork.


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About Kevin Brown:

Kevin Brown is Senior Vice President of Innovation and Chief Technology Officer for the €3.7 billion IT Division at Schneider Electric. In this role, he is responsible for driving innovation and managing the R&D portfolio for the IT Division as well as driving the overall Schneider Electric portfolio strategy for the Data Center market. Prior to this position Kevin served as Vice President, Data Center Global Strategy and Technology. Kevin has also held numerous senior management roles in product development, engineering, and software development in the power electronics and HVAC industries. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University.




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