A Digital Adieu

Those who follow the news from Digital Realty Trust closely may have recently read that I have decided to leave the company to focus a bit more on some personal work/life balance issues.  With this move comes a new role that I will talk more of in the coming days and weeks.

I would like to take a moment and talk about my time and experience at Digital and what I believe to be some industry ground breaking work that is being done there.   The first thing that strikes me about the company is the quality and dedication of the people.  The staff within the organization are incredibly committed to both providing the best product  (in terms of engineering and construction) along with an obsessive regimen around Operations.  In my role running all aspects of design, construction, and operations, this passion showed through every single day.    It was a delight to work with such motivated people. 

From the outside it might be difficult to gauge just how significant this operation truly is.   As many of you know I have run some large programs before, but they all pale in comparison to the size, scope, and complexity of the work happening at DLR.  Its one thing to be building a couple of very large facilities and quite another to be building out tens upon tens of data center construction initiatives across the world.   There simply is no organization in the world that has to construct, manage and operate more data centers, period.   In addition to these “block and tackling” items there is also a healthy focus on modularization and evolving data center design and prototyping.   This focus is not just about driving additional efficiencies in power and cooling, but also in cost, and time to deploy.  A true intersection of business requirements.  On top of all this you add the Pod Architecture Services program and Build to Suit program which additionally extend Digitals capabilities to those looking to build “Do it Yourself” (DIY) Data Centers.   In short, it was a ton of fun with incredible opportunities for growth.

In my time at the company I have focused on driving additional streamlining efforts and operational rigor across the board and have helped set the engineering direction of the company.   This work has already begun to pay some significant dividends and I am sure will likely continue well into the future.   But let me be clear – The success of these initiatives will be delivered by a top rate team with few peers in the industry.  

In short, Digital was a great experience and I feel blessed in having made some life-long friends there as well.   So as I start a new chapter in my life, a bid fond adieu to a Data Center Juggernaut and look boldly forward to what is to come, for me and for Digital.

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Changing An Industry of Cottage Industries

If you happen to be following the news around Digital Realty Trust you may have seen the recent announcement of our Pod Architecture Services (PAS) offering.   Although the response has been deafening  there seems to be a lot of questions and confusion around what it is, what it is not, and what this ultimately means for Digital Realty Trust and our place in the industry.

First a simple observation – the Data Center Industry as it stands today is in actuality an industry of cottage industries.   Its an industry dominated by boutique firms in specialized niches all in support of the building out of these large technically complex facilities.  For the initiated its a world full of religious arguments like battery versus rotary, air-side economization versus water-side economization, raised floor versus no raised floor.  To the uninitiated its an industry categorized by mysterious wizards of calculus and fluid dynamics and magical electrical energies.  Its an illusion the wizards of the collective cottage industries are well paid and incented to keep up.   They ply their trade in ensuring that each facility’s creation is a one-off event, and likewise, so is the next one.  Its a world of competing General Contractors, architecture firms, competing electrical and mechanical firms, of specialists in all sizes, shapes and colors.   Ultimately – in my mind there is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  Everyone has the right to earn a buck no matter how inefficient the process. 

After all, there is a real science to most of the technologies and application of design involved in data centers and the magical mysteries they control are real.   They are are all highly trained professionals educated in some very technical areas.   But if we are honest,  each generally looks at the data center world from their own corner of the eco-system and while they solve their own issues and challenges quite handily, they stumble when having to get out of their comfort zone.  When they need to cooperate with other partners in the eco-system and solve more far reaching issues  it almost universally results in those solutions being applied in a one-off or per-job perspective.  I can tell you that leveraging consistency across a large construction program is difficult at best even with multiple projects underway, let alone a single project. 

The challenge of course is that in reality the end-user/owner/purchaser does not view the data center as an assembly of different components but rather as a single data center facility.   The complexity in design and construction are must-have headaches for the business manager who ultimately just wants to sate his need to have capacity for some application or business solution.  

Now into that background enter our POD Architecture Services offering.  In a nutshell it allows those customers who do not necessarily want to lease (or cannot due to regulatory or statutory reasons) a facility to use their own capital in building a facility without all the complexity associated with these buildings.

Our PAS offering is ultimately a way for a company to purchase a data center product.   Leveraging Digital’s Data Center product approach a company can simply select the size and configuration of their facility using the same “SKU’s”  we use internally in building out of our own facilities.   In effect we license the use of our design to these customers so that they enjoy the same benefits as our the customers of our turn-key data center facilities.

This means that customers of our PAS product can leverage our specific designs which are optimized across the four most crucial aspects of the data center lifecycle.   Our facility design is optimized around cost, mission, long term simplicity in operability and efficiency.  This is anchored around a belief that a design is comprised of both upfront first time costs along with the lifetime costs of the facility.    This is an “owners” perspective, which is the only perspective we have.  As the world’s largest data center REIT and wholesaler, we need to take the full picture into account.  We will own these facilities for a very long time. 

Many designs like to optimize around the technology, or around the upfront facility costs, or drive significant complexity in design to ensure that every possible corner case is covered in the facility.  But the fact is if you cut corners up front, you potentially  pay for it over the life of the asset, if you look for the most technologically advanced gear or provide for lots of levers, knobs, and buttons for the ultimate flexibility you open yourself up for more human error or drive more costs in the ongoing operation of the facility.   The owners perspective is incredibly important.    Many times companies allow these decisions to be made by their partner firms (the cottage industries) and this view gets clouded.  Given the complexity of these buildings and the fact that they are not built often by the customers in the first time its hard to maintain that owners perspective without dedicated and vigilant attention.  PAS changes all that as the designs have already been optimized and companies can simply purchase the product they most desire with the guarantee of what they receive on the other end of the process, is what they expected.

Moreover, PAS includes the watchful eye, experience and oversight of our veteran data center construction management.   These are highly qualified program managers who have built tens of data centers and act as highly experienced owners representatives.  The additional benefit being that they have built this product multiples of times and have become very good at the delivery of these types of facilities based upon our standardized product.   In addition, our customers can leverage our significant supply chain of construction partners, parts and equipment which allows for incredible benefits in the speed of delivery of these buildings along with reductions in upfront costs due to our volume purchasing.

This does not mean that Digital is going to become an Architectural or engineering firm and stamp drawings.  This does not mean we will become the general contractor.  This simply means that we will leverage our supply chain to deliver our designs and facilities based upon our best practices on behalf of the customers in a process that is completely managed and delivered by experienced professionals.  We will still have general contractors, and A&E firms, and the like that have experience in building our standardized product.  We are driving towards standardization.   If you believe there is value in having each facility as a one off design, the more power to you. We have a service there too, its call Build to Suit.  PAS is just another step in the formal definition of standard data center product.  Its a key element in modularization of capacity.    It is through standardization by which we can begin to have a larger impact on efficiency, and other key “Green” initiatives.   

I have often referred to my belief that data centers are simply the sub-stations of the Information Utility.   This service allows for commercial companies to start benefitting from the same standardization and efficiency gains that we are making in the wholesale space and enjoy the same cost factors.

Hope that makes things a bit clearer!

 

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