Identity Crisis Within the Data Center Industry

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In most economic reports, political agendas, even credit application forms, “data center” is not mentioned as an economy sector, community driver, or a recognized industry. Often data center is classified under Information Technology, Telecommunication, Facilities, Security, Real Estate and/or any other generic category that, by the common opinion, comes close. In reality, these alterations are misleading and inappropriate.

Question is, “Where would the biggest drivers of our economy be without their data centers? Where would Amazon or Google be? Where would any Fortune 500 or Government entity be without its data center/s” If they even existed, they would probably be nowhere near where they are today. Data centers are empowering our day-to-day lives, beyond our comprehension. However, the most critical industry in the world today has no name or category belonging to it. Why is that? Do we have a voice beyond our small but impactful community? If yes, do we even know the essential characteristics of our own industry? How/will this lack of recognition be changed?

It is inevitable that eventually the data center industry will be recognized just as any other industry. The world has no choice but to soon realize that we, the data center professionals, are a big reason they carry on with their day-to-day lives. However, every time there is a defect on the outer walls of our industry, we must look inward to see what is moistening and damaging our fortitude. If we look deeply enough, we will notice that we are facing an identity crisis within the data center industry. But what are some of the root causes of this crisis? What is rusting us from within, before we even mature? Here we pose some remedies and reminders, to us all:

  • Knowing our roots – In order to be proud of the industry we come from, we must first understand its history and background (roots). How did it all begin? What’s keeping us at work? What triggered the unofficial formation of our industry and what’s keeping us from becoming official? What were the achievements and shortfalls of our predecessors?

What triggered the unofficial formation of our industry and what’s keeping us from becoming official?

  • Going around – Visiting other data centers and seeing beyond our typical reach, will open our eyes to the broader data center community. Seeing other data centers, both within the vertical industries we serve and beyond will give see-through vision of our industry. The more data centers we visit, the more we connect with the nature of data centers, their stakeholders, their risks and their potentials.
  • Linking with peers – Going to exhibitions, training events, workshops, road shows, using social media and so forth is instrumental. Getting to know others who work in the data center industry in different capacities (engineers, technicians, operators, owners, and end-users from across industries) helps create the community that we must be a part of.
  • Going beyond borders – We are living in a global village where the only thing standing between us and the outside world, is our determination for discovery and exploration. There are vast possibilities beyond our physical borders, including but not limited to data centers of all types, experts with all kinds of talent and end-users with diverse needs with regards to availability, security, efficiency, innovation, etc.

The only thing standing between us and the outside world, is our determination for discovery and exploration.

  • Knowing the purpose of data centers – What are data centers? What purpose are they supposed to fulfill? Unfortunately, many people in our community don’t know the correct answer to these fundamental questions. In retrospect, knowing the true essence of any industry is essential in adjusting our expectations to that industry. I will elaborate on this in a different post.
  • Acknowledging the data center impact – Once we have a firm grip on the meaning and purpose of data centers, we can realize their impact. What is the role, value and impact of data centers to the rest of the world? How are data centers important to other professions and industries? Knowing this relevance is key in acknowledging and amplifying our own identity.
  • Having relevant job titles – Knowing our role in the data center and having proper job titles and descriptions is fundamental. For example, according to IDCA, a DCNM (data center node manager) is responsible for managing day-to-day operations of a specific data center node while a DCCM (data center cloud manager) is in charge of managing application delivery over a cloud of data centers arranged in a specific manner (the topology). Therefore, using generic titles like “data center manager” will not help our community.
  • Building confidence – Not having the right level of confidence in day-to-day involvements prevents individuals from possessing a sense of confidence in their own field. This can emerge from a lack of adequate education and training. In general, that lack of confidence weakens our role in the community. Subsequently, a community made up of weak members is a reduced community with weak principles, agendas and drivers.

A community made up of weak members is a reduced community with weak principles, agendas and drivers.

  • Spelling it out – To speed up and help in creating our data center identity, we should become more fluent in speaking about our industry. For example, when we are asked, “What is your expertise?” we should not respond “IT”, or “I’m an Electrical Engineer”, “I’m an Architect”, etc. Rather our responses should be “Data Center”, “Data Center Electrical Engineer”, “Data Center Architect” and so forth. Same principle applies in filling out application forms.

By building confidence, pride, acknowledgement, education and network, we can develop awareness towards the data center industry, which is becoming the foundation of practically all others. In short, if the data center stops working, healthcare, law enforcement, hotels, airlines, defense and nearly every other industry halt! Not to mention the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon and the respective services they offer would effectively not exist. Therefore, we should reach out and get to know others in the data center community and our potential colleagues from other industries. While doing that, we should not ignore the fact that we are all professionals in the same horizontal industry serving different verticals!

It should all start with us (the professionals in the data center industry) knowing the true meaning of data centers, including where they fit in the industry breakdown and what it means to the people around us.

In terms of definition, the data center is the infrastructure that supports the application ecosystem (AE). Again, I’ll elaborate more on this later. For now, note that if you define your work as anything less, you are shrinking your importance and relevance to the rest of the world. A data center is not a place filled with UPSs, generators and a bunch of electrical equipment; nor is it a place filled with pipes, CRAHs, chillers, etc.; or warehouse of core routers, switches, SAN, blades, etc. It is the infrastructure (both physical and virtual) that encompasses all of the above and more, for the sole purpose of delivering the “application”.   When you get that down, you know that you come to work every day so that the doctor, the policeman, the accountant, the clerk, the customer support agent, etc. do what they are supposed to be doing using the applications that facilitate their work. Therefore, you would know what you and your field means to the people around you.

In terms of knowing where data centers fit in the industry breakdown, it might be useful to note that data center is not an industry vertical. Data center is an industry horizontal.

According to Wikipedia:

horizontal market is a market in which a product or service meets a specific need of a wide range of buyers across different sectors of an economy.”

Data center, like other horizontals such as accounting and legal services, provides the platform for vertical industries to sustain growth and maintain business.

Not surprisingly, data center is becoming more and more the foundational service delivery agent, not just for verticals, but also for the horizontal industries that can no longer live without it.

DC - Bedrock of Industries

All said, to remedy our identity crisis, we must acknowledge the very ground that we stand on. To make a comparison to our national identity, we can’t possibly know our supposed identity as citizens of any country if we don’t know, for example, how our nation was established, on the basis of which values, how it evolved to this point and what being citizens of our nation means to us and to the rest of the world. We cannot possibly claim to be working in an industry in which its history, attributes, purpose and true merits aren’t clear to us.

We cannot possibly claim to be working in an industry in which its history, attributes, purpose and true merits aren’t clear to us.

The data center industry is at its infancy, well below the maturity line. It is undergoing a steep learning curve, possessing and buffering explosive energy with a wider tolerance for trial & error and risk acceptance than is welcomed in the mature markets that require its service delivery. Knowing where we come from and where we’re headed could resolve our identity crisis and make the maturity cycle shorter and less costly.

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