“In Praise of Raised Floors in Data Centers”

OPINION – If you’re a parent you know that the leading zeitgeist amongst the educational community is bullying. More specifically, anti-bullying, since who – other than that sixth grader who used to chase me home from school every day – is in favor of bullying?

Author: Chris Crosby, CEO of Compass Datacenters

Like many good intentioned efforts, the anti-bullying campaign hasn’t really solved the problem, but it has generated a lot of catchy slogans and cool looking posters. Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, there are always going to be bigger and meaner people walking around that want to push around those who they don’t feel will fight back. Sadly, each bullying victim must learn to deal with their tormentor(s) in their own way.

In my case I solicited the aid of a seventh grader to speak on my behalf to my sixth grade nemesis. Apparently his mode of persuasion was effective, as my path from school to home immediately became a “harassment free” zone.

Using Slab in the Data Center

Just like most of us, there is a prominent data center component that has become the object of derision and could benefit from some positive intervention. I speak, of course, of the raised floor, and my goal here is intervene in the attacks against its use within the data center.

Although the debate between slab and raised data center floors has been on-going, in the last five years or so slab supporters have begun to act a lot like that sixth grader in their treatment of raised floor advocates. For example, a well-known data center analyst recently asserted that he couldn’t see why any future facility would be built with a raised floor. To use the familiar terms of our childhood, this is tantamount to giving the raised floor an “Atomic Wedgie”.

Now we’ve all seen the technical arguments made in favor of using slab in the data center, but in stating the case they’ve missed the most important benefit of raised floor implementations: future readiness.

One of the axioms of the ancient military expert Sun Tzu is that, “an enemy’s strength is also its greatest weakness,” and this is the case with slab implementations. Slab implementations are excellent solutions in environments in which applications, and the equipment needed to support them, will be largely static for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, for many enterprises the data center environment is becoming more, not less, dynamic. Thus, the known strengths of raised floor usage that are typically viewed as individual attributes combine to make raised floor the superior alternative in data center facilities where regular moves, adds and changes are becoming the rule and not the exception.

Dynamic Data Center Environments

You see, this is not a technical argument, but one of operations for a move/add/change facility. For the same reason that Facebook’s open compute server has no cover – so the tech doesn’t have to take it off prior to beginning work – the raised floor does not require a duct change to increase or decrease airflow. Reconfiguring a rack layout with raised floor is easy, with slab, not so much. As is typical with most pundits who make broad assertions, actually having operated in both environments requiring frequent M/A/C would probably help provide a little better perspective. I guess the price of humility is just a little too high.

While no one can predict the future direction of the data center industry, end-users must factor in all eventualities in making their decisions. Ensuring that your next data center is optimized for your immediate and future applications is, perhaps, more important than ever before. While the technical benefits of slab implementations for static configurations have grown in recent years, the ergonomics of raised floor installations in increasingly dynamic environments now make this whole debate a much “fairer fight”. As was the case with my own sixth grade bully, I think slab advocates are going to have to find someone else to push around.

About Compass Datacenters, Chris Crosby

Compass Datacenters is a Dallas-based data center company founded in 2011. Last May, the company completed a new round of capital raising to support the company’s data center expansion into additional geographic markets, bringing Compass’ aggregated size of its credit facility to $110 million.

Chris Crosby, founder and CEO of Compass Datacenters

Chris Crosby is the founder and CEO of Compass Datacenters, with over 20 years of technology experience and over 15 years of real estate and investment experience. Previously, Crosby served as a Senior Vice President and founding member of Digital Realty Trust. During his tenure at Digital Realty, he held senior roles with global responsibilities for sales, marketing, design, construction, technical operations and customer service, as well as establishing the company’s operating presence in Asia and Europe.