Politics in the data center: controversies and the fight for supremacy

By Jeff Bittner, Founder and President of Exit Technologies

In the world of data centers, recent times have been a whirlwind. And while data centers have always been plagued by controversies like data leaks and outages, recent years have seen a shift in the tone of news headlines in this field. This shift is indicative of a larger trend in the industry: Data centers and the hyperscale companies which run them have taken on a new, more comprehensive role in society, fraught with the same breed of politics that fuels our governments. This article will be a commentary on the state of affairs in the data center industry, focusing in on just a few of the recent events which reflect at least in part the trends defining our times in tech.

Don’t come near my town with your data center

In the process of finding optimal locations for a data center build, an expert might analyze factors like risk of natural disaster and cost of energy. As one might expect, ideal locations are often small, rural cities, which provide to data center construction projects in many cases.

While on paper it may seem like a beneficial endeavor, funneling much needed industrial resources and revenues into these towns, a brief conversation with leaders from these cities tells a different story. Though it depends on the purpose and size of the data center, most data centers do not employ many workers these days. Automation has taken care of many repetitious functions, and even the workers it does employ are usually very highly skilled and sourced from outside the city.

While a lack of jobs created may not seem like a terribly compelling reason to block a data center build, the opportunity cost of that data center very well may be. Once the data center is built and collects the power contract for the location, it’s no longer available to entice other potential operations which may have provided jobs and revenues for the area. As a result, real estate and political disputes between locals and enterprises are all too common.

Government and Military Contract Circus

This year saw the creation of a Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract to win the District of Defense’s cloud infrastructure business, to the tune of $10B. The bid has been a fierce point of contention among the hyperscale data center providers. Or at least, that’s been the discourse in the media. In reality, the DoD’s very questionable decision to award a single vendor the entire contract made Amazon the de facto frontrunner from the very start. This is in no small part because they’re the only vendor with the mandatory certifications thus far, despite assurances from their competitors.  Google may have provided a reasonable candidate, but they’ve dropped out of the race, “because… we couldn’t be assured that it would align with our AI Principles…” according to a Google spokesperson. Aside from whatever ominous portents that statement may imply, the contract was also steeped in controversy for being a single contract in the first place.

Different clouds are more effective for different use cases, and limiting the entire infrastructure to one provider removes the ability to employ the ideal provisions for each use case. IBM could provide superior artificial intelligence solutions, while Oracle’s cloud provisions could synergize with existing interfaces effectively. Pentagon CIO Dana Deasy’s argument was that the single-vendor bid would help propel much needed innovation faster, and that the Pentagon could adjust as needed past the initial phases of JEDI. However, shifting an entire enterprise’s infrastructure between vendors after years of commitment is no small task. Any cloud migration expert with tenure can tell you the absolute avalanche of logistical hurdles that must be contended with in these endeavors. To raise the stakes, corporate data isn’t the only thing held in the balance: the Pentagon’s infrastructure will form a backbone of national security in this digital age. Can we really afford a single point of failure with such a crucial responsibility?

Nearly all of the other hyperscale vendors provided significant protests such as Oracle in their statement: “This anti-competitive RFP violates law and regulation, and creates significant risk that DoD will award a 10-year, $10 billion contract to a company that will not offer the best value for all the potential JEDI Cloud users’ current and future cloud service needs. The DoD determination and findings oddly intimates that DoD will receive proposals for firm fixed prices to meet DoD’s future, unarticulated tactical cloud computing needs for the next 10 years and today can determine the single best value cloud computing technological leader over the next 10 years when some — if not most — of the impactful technology has yet to be developed.”

Beyond the protests from other vendors about the decision, there has been dissension among critics regarding the government’s growing ties to Bezos and Amazon after 2013’s CIA contract was awarded.

Beyond the classic issues in the data center space like energy consumption and data leaks, recent trends point toward new issues for data centers. Will we ever face monopolies in the data center sphere as hyperscalers continue to consolidate power? Will our data continue to play a crucial role in the political realm as we move into the future? Only time will tell.

 

About the Author:

Jeff Bittner is Founder and President of Exit technologies, an R2 certified, global IT asset disposition company (ITAD). Jeff is a serial entrepreneur and founded the company in 1989, to help enterprises cost-effectively liquidate their IT hardware. Jeff tweets at @ExitTech

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