Data Centers and Sailboats- “ Separating Wants vs. Needs”

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

By Mike Hagan

I have been sailing for over 20 years, mostly on other people’s boats. Early on in our marriage, my very cool wife supported my goal of buying my own sailboat. So in 2000, I set a goal and started to save. That said, I was determined to buy a 5-7 year old 30 footer, which I considered a cost effective solution to my “capital restricted” wallet. Besides, a 30 foot boat was all I really needed, right? Five years later, it was time to purchase. My, how things changed. I quickly found a way to justify, to myself and my wife, that a 36 footer would better meet our needs and our “future” requirements. So began the failure to separate “wants vs. needs.” Ever the salesman, I could convince myself (and anyone else that would listen) that all the bells and whistles on the big boat were now necessities. By the way, if you aren’t already, now is a good time to start relating this story to data center design.

Needless to say, my desires won, and I now have an awesome 36 foot boat. Less than 12 months after purchasing, buyer’s remorse set in.  Here’s how it works:

When we I take my friends and family sailing, I hear lots of Oohs and Aahs, and I stand proud and smile. Then reality sets in: I have a depreciating asset that is significantly underutilized. It sits in a slip more than anything else, and I really don’t use all the bells and whistles. But, my gosh, it is a really cool boat! Then, my guests ask questions about how much it costs to own such a toy. My response? “Can I get you another beer?” I’m too embarrassed to discuss the facts…

Maintenance is no joke. There’s a famous saying about boats: “It is a hole in the water that you dump money into.” Here is a list of maintenance items from season start to end:

  • Pay an enormous amount of money to rent a slip to hold your underutilized depreciating asset.
  • De-winterize the HVAC and water systems, sand and paint the boat bottom and pay the boat yard the winter storage fees.
  • Set up the electric service and cable TV fees so you can be comfortable when you are parked in the slip.
  • Check all systems: rigging, bells, whistles, and electronics. Fix what’s broken.
  • Start sailing.  Oh, what do you know? Something broke. Fix what’s broken.
  • Pay someone to scuba dive under your boat monthly to clean ocean growth off the bottom.
  • Finish the season. Winterize the engine and fresh water systems and pay to have the boat hauled and stored for the winter.
  • Other stuff:  This year I had to spend money on a new canvas cover to protect the sails I don’t use that often, HVAC repairs, new batteries and dock lines

It is a never ending cash dump.


So, how do you like that for a case study of the “Total Cost of Ownership” death spiral? I paid too much for something I don’t use (CapEx) and spend a ton of dough taking care of it (OpEx).

So, if you have not drawn the parallels between data center builds, sailboats, and “wants vs. needs,” let me conclude. Data centers are cool. We all want one with bells and whistles so we can show it off proudly. But justifying high CapEx (in a capital restricted world) is tough, especially when bells and whistles may not be used and OpEx is high.

It’s time to start thinking differently about building or expanding your next data center.

  1. First, please stop only thinking Tier Level. Do you really need a Tier III or IV? Do you know their impact on your operating costs?
  2. Secondly, don’t convince yourself that 300 plus watts per square foot is a need. Did you know that 80-90% of all users only need 6KW per rack?
  3. On a final note, let’s talk about containers. I believe in them. They will absolutely change the data center landscape and will progress business forward. More importantly, they are a huge strategic advantage for your data center.  But, did you know….most containers today feature 20 to 30 kW per rack –that’s 3-5 times more than the vast majority of users. You may want containers but do you need that much capacity? Or really, do you want to pay for it – up front and later down the road?

When is the last time you took a big picture look at your data center strategy? And be honest, when’s the last time you looked at a radical approach to building a data center – one that truly separates wants from needs, and saves you a load of green (pun intended) in the process?

We’ll be releasing a white paper soon that discusses some of these revolutionary approaches, and what they can do for your business. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, take a look at two of our white papers on the top mistakes of planning and top mistakes of operating data centers, you might be surprised at how your data center stacks up!



  • Christian Stolte

    12 years ago

    really like the sailboat allegory? can you mail me the article please? I think it s great to customers to show, how their systme is underutilized and how an on-demand infrastructure can save them money on the maintenance side.

    Thanks a lot and best regards from Germany.


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