Flexibly growing data centers and the cloud by Doug Mohney
One of the more interesting tidbits I heard at the Verne Global data center tour was Colt's idea that you could take its modular data center platform and relocate it to somewhere else if customer demand within a region/area had shrunk or consolidated. It's an intriguing idea, but I'm not really sure if it's going to happen any time soon.
Expanding a modular data center is pretty straightforward. Take empty space, order the modules, turn everything up four months later. The limits to growth are an available, empty, usable physical space, affordable power, and bandwidth; don't have one of those three and there's no further expansion.
If you believe in the power of cloud computing and virtualization, relocating work within the data center via consolidation and moving work between geographies due to processing load or other factors is a snap, assuming there's nothing that locks in work to a particular server or geography. Lock-ins may come from things like regulatory issues or security concerns.
In actual practice, businesses and governments have typically consolidated servers and data centers when they construct new facilities, abandoning old data centers because they are too small, too old, too energy inefficient. It's an attractive thought to think Colt's modular data centers can be reused, but the skeptic in me wonders if second and third generation designs might end up being more energy efficient and more sustainable. This would effectively mean taking the pieces of a first generation design and sending it off to a big recycling bin to be reprocessed into a newer modular design.
I don't expect we'll have any clear answers for a while -- maybe at least another five years or more before anyone looks at a first generation Colt modular design to move it somewhere. We're so used to thinking about rapid changes in hardware, software, data center processing models that if we slow down and think about how quickly the physical bits at layer zero (the building and physical infrastructure containing layers 1-7) change, it really doesn't change that rapidly.
Yes, it's easy enough to add more data center space during a period of rapid growth, but it has traditionally been a lot harder to shrink and move physical space due to lease commitments and organizational inertia. In the past, companies that typically have to shrink space rapidly are those who end up doing so due to bankruptcy proceedings. Colt may find it does have a reason to move modular data center bits, but that may be because it can repossess them due to failure to pay by the company that originally bought them!