There are lots of complicated IT decisions to make. Buying hardware should be one of the easy ones. Most data center managers do make it easy -- for themselves. But way too expensive for their organizations.
Piles of money are spent on data center equipment
According to a recent Gartner report, more than $140 billion dollars will be spent on data center equipment this year. That sounds like a big number. It is a big number. But then when you read that IT spends more than twice that amount on enterprise software, and then three times that on IT services (nearly a trillion dollars), maybe it doesn't sound so big.
Getting back to reality, most of the companies I usually deal with don't spend billions, hundreds of millions or even tens of millions a year on equipment. But it's still a lot to them!
The Huge Spending is rarely examined
The smaller companies I'm closest to spend remarkably little time seriously questioning the huge (to them) amount of money they spend on hardware every year. Cutting the number by a significant factor can make a huge difference to them.
I see this curious lack of interest from the other side as well. Some of our companies have great equipment to sell that enables their customers to get more for less. While they love to go into details about how wonderful their stuff is and how hard it was to make it wonderful, the bottom line is simple: it delivers more and costs less. You would think this simple message would be easy to deliver, and quickly result in lines out the door to buy stuff. Not so! Getting more for less turns out to be pretty low on the priority list for most data center managers.
Bergdorf and Target
The fact is, most data center managers have no idea what they're buying, and their managers know even less. No one knows how much various things "should" cost, and it changes all the time anyway. If you claim you saved your organization money, it's hard for anyone to evaluate the truth of the claim, so you don't get much credit for it. Whereas if something goes wrong with stuff you bought, it's clear where the finger of blame will be pointing.
The trouble is that we all know about clothes. We have lots of personal experience wearing them and seeing them on others. We know what they mean and have an idea of what they cost. But when it comes to data center equipment, even most of the professionals are clueless!
The result is that they're petrified of making a mistake and taking the blame, so the default position is "buy more of what I already have." And above all, take comfort in big brands. This explains why the vast majority of data center purchases go to the computer equivalent of high-end, services-rich Bergdorf, while places like Target and Walmart remain tiny little places by comparison. The computer equivalent of Ikea, which requires assembly at home? Practically non-existent.
Computer people are supposed to be so smart!
Yes, the reputation is that computer people are smart, sophisticated folks. They deal with a deep, complex, rapidly-changing set of products and services. Their skills are increasingly at the heart of most organizations, both private and government. It certainly takes a great deal of skill to avoid embarassment with all the jargon, not to mention the realities of buying the optimal equipment at an optimal price.
There is a solution to the complexity. The buyers understand that very few people are in a position to judge how well they're doing at their jobs. So long as things don't break too often, they can spin how well they're doing. They understand that no one has a sense of what's expensive and what's cheap. The vendors get this too. They shower their clients with service and support. They're not like Target, they're like Bergdorf. They help you pick the right things, the things that will look great in your data center. If they cost five times more than you could get at one of those crappy, wander-the-aisles-you're-on-your-own stores, who cares? You come out lookin' good! And that's what matters.
It turns out the computer people are smart -- at advancing their personal careers. They've figured it out and are executing well on it, and who's to say otherwise?
That's the status quo among data center managers.
Along comes the Cloud
There are storm clouds on the horizon. It's called, oddly enough, the "cloud," which is just a modern term for an outsourced data center that's easier to use than the ones usually built by data center managers. It works. It's flexible. It's cheap! Most of the people who build successful clouds make decisions that are closer to Target than Bergdorf when buying hardware. And, guess what, it works just fine.
Smart data center managers typically "embrace" the cloud, which in reality is along the lines of "keep your friends close and your enemies closer." But that's a long story for another time.
Data Center Spending
Data center managers have jobs that are as complex and challenging as they get. It's hard to learn the basics of everything they have to know, much less keep up with all the changes. Most of the ones who keep their jobs have evolved simple, effective methods for buying equipment, in collaboration (collusion?) with the leading vendors. The methods guarantee that more will be spent on data center equipment by whole-number factors, but the stuff they buy mostly works, and they get to have great careers. While the future is looking a bit "cloudy," I suspect that these resourceful people will work something out so that their own futures remain sunny.