A Challenge to the Data Center Industry: Get Off the Stick and Embrace The Millenials

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

A year or so ago, when my son was about 6, I took him to the local Lowe’s to pick up a few things for the house. While there we grabbed a build-it-yourself wood craft kit, in this case a bus. We got home and spent some time putting it together and he appeared to enjoy it.

I asked him, “Was that fun?” “Yeah,” he said, and I could immediately sense there was a “but” coming. “But next time can we just order some Legos from Amazon?”

That’s a small example, but I think it’s indicative of the generation that is now entering the data center work force, or trying to. They come with a very different mindset and life experiences as compared to previous generations because they were raised not just with computers, but with the Web and all the immediacy and convenience it connotes. Probably they would relate to my son. Why bother driving to Lowe’s for some silly wood toy when you can buy all manner of Legos from Amazon right from a smart phone?

As folks from this so-called millennial generation, or Gen Y (and even Gen X to some extent), enter the workforce, they are likely to bring with them new ideas about how things should be done – and data center operators should welcome that.

I’ve witnessed an interesting dichotomy in data centers the past few years. The IT side of the house has been taking significant strides, implementing technologies like blade servers, virtualization of just about everything, cloud computing and more. But on the facilities side – the infrastructure that the IT folks rely on – not all that much has changed.

Sure, many (although certainly not all) facilities folks have latched on to advances such as free / fresh air cooling through economization. That makes sense given everyone is naturally interested in conserving energy and keeping the power bill down. However, I’m struggling to think of another example where the philosophy behind the way we do things on the facilities side has changed as substantially as the IT side.

I’m sure that’s frustrating for Gen Y employees who want to be involved in leading edge projects at forward thinking companies. Unless you can get them involved in such things, more than likely they’ll take a pass on working with you in favor of someone who can. And where will that leave your data center a few years down that road?

It’s time for the facilities side of the data center house to get off the stick and make a concerted effort to do things better. One example is Facebook, which started down this path a few years ago with its now-famous Prineville, Ore. data center – often touted as the most energy efficient in the world, at least at the time it was built.

It’s well known that Facebook built much of the IT infrastructure that went into the data center with cost and efficiency in mind – and later shared its designs for all to see through the Open Compute Project (OCP). But it did the same thing with many of the data center infrastructure designs, including its electrical and cooling systems; and I’m involved with the OCP Data Center working group, where we are working on further advancements on the data center side such as reference designs for highly efficient facilities.

Where am I going with all this? The point is, if data centers are going to keep up with the demands of Generation X & Y employees, not to mention Lego-loving 6-year-olds, we need to make the kind of strides on the facilities side that the IT folks have been making for years. We should welcome that challenge and put the new generation to work on meeting it.

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