Today marked the closing lot of sessions for DataCentres2012 and my keynote session to the attendees. After sitting through a series of product, technology, and industry trend presentations over the last two days I was feeling that my conversation would at the very least be something different. Before I get to that – I wanted to share some observations from the morning.
It all began with an interesting run-down of the Data Center and infrastructure industry trends across Europe from Steve Wallage of The BroadGroup. It contained some really compelling information and highlighted some interesting divergence between the European market and the US market in terms of adoption and trends of infrastructure. It looks like they have a method for those interested to get their hand on the detailed data (for purchase) if you are interested. The parts I found particularly industry was the significant slow down of the Wholesale data center market across Europe while Colocation providers continued to do well. Additionally the percentages of change within the customer base of those providers by category was compelling and demonstrated a fundamental shift and move of content related customers across the board.
This presentation was followed by a panel of European Thought Leaders made up mostly of those same colocation providers. Given the presentation by Wallage I was expecting some interesting data-points to emerge. While there was a range of ideas and perspectives represented by the panel, I have to say it really got me worked up and not in a good way. In many ways I felt the responses from many (not all) on the panel highlighted a continued resistance to change in thinking around everything from efficiency, to technology approach. It represented the things I despise most about about our industry at large. Namely the slow adoption of change. The warm embrace of the familiar. The outright resistance to new ideas. At one point, a woman in the front row whom I believe was from Germany got up to ask a question if the panelists had any plans to move their facilities outside of the major metros. She referenced Christian Belady’s presentation around the idea of Data as Energy and remote locations like Quincy, Washington or Lulea, Sweden. She referred to the overall approach and thinking differently as quite visionary. Now the panel could have easily have referred to the fact that companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook and the like have much greater software level control than a colo-provider could provide. Or perhaps they could have referenced that most of their customers are limited by distance to existing infrastructure deployments due to inefficiencies in commercial or custom internally deployed applications. Databases with response times architected for in-rack or in-facility levels of response times. They did at least reference that most customers tend to be server huggers and want their infrastructure close by.
Instead the initial response was quite strange in my mind. It was to go after the ideas as “innovative” and to imply that nothing was really innovative about what Microsoft had done and the fact that they built a “mega data center” in Dublin shows that there is nothing innovative really happening. Really? The adoption of 100% Air Side economization is something everyone does? The deployment of containerized compute capacity is run of the mill? The concepts about the industrialization of compute is old-hat? I had to do a mental double take and question whether they were even listening during ANY of the earlier sessions. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to be an apologist for the Microsoft program, in fact there are some tenets of the program I find myself not in agreement with. However – You cannot deny that they are doing VERY different things. It illustrated an interesting undercurrent I felt during the entire event (and maybe even our industry). I definitely got the sensation of a growing gap between users requirements and their forward roadmaps and desires and what manufacturers and service providers are providing. This panel, and a previous panel on modularization really highlighted these gulfs pretty demonstrably. At a minimum I definitely walked away with an interesting new perspective on some of the companies represented.
It was then time for me to give my talk. Every discussion up until this point had really focused on technology or industry trends. I was going to talk about something else. Something more important. The one thing seemingly missing from the entire event. That is – the people attending. All the technology in the world, all of the understanding of the trends in our industry are nothing unless the people in the room were willing to act. Willing to step up and take active roles in their companies to drive strategy. As I have said before – to get out of the basement and into the penthouse. The pressures on our industry and our job roles has never been more complicated. So I walked through regulations, technologies, and cloud discussions. Using the work that we did at AOL as a backdrop and example – I really tried to drive my main point. That our industry – specifically the people doing all the work – were moving to a role of managing a complex portfolio of technologies, contracts, and a continuum of solutions. Gone are the days where we can hide sheltered in our data center facilities. Our resistance to embrace change, need to evolve with us, or it will evolve around us. I walked through specific examples of how AOL has had to broaden its own perspective and approach to this widening view of our work roles at all levels. I even pre-announced something we are calling Data Center Independence Day. An aggressive adoption of modularized compute capacity that we call MicroData Centers to help solve many of the issues we are facing as a business and the rough business case as to why it makes sense for us to move to this model. I will speak more of that in the weeks to come with a greater degree of specifics, but stressed again the need for a wider perspective to manage a large portfolio of technologies and approaches to be successful in the future.
In closing – the event was fantastic. The ability this event provides to network with leaders and professionals across the industry was first rate. If I had any real constructive feedback it would be to either lengthen sessions, or reduce panel sizes to encourage more active and lively conversations. Or both!
Perhaps at the end of the day, it’s truly the best measure of a good conference if you walk away wishing that more time could be spent on the topics. As for me I am headed back Stateside and to digging into the challenges of my day job. To the wonderful host city of Nice, I say Adieu!