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Everything's Bigger At VMworld

One benefit of attending IT conferences, aside from reconnecting with far-flung colleagues, in person (yes, so old school) is the opportunity to witness technologies scaled to obscenely unrealistic levels. Think a wireless LAN capable of withstanding the onslaught of thousands of data hogs.

Beyond the sheer geeky glee, these demos shed light on how we should all be doing IT delivery. This week's VMworld 2011 provided several such object lessons, but none greater than a tour of the Las Vegas SuperNAP, home to VMware's Hands On Lab virtual infrastructure and gateway to the rest of the Internet.

While modifiers like "super" automatically trigger my hype-o-meter, in this case, it's justified -- few data centers match the SuperNAP's design prowess and resulting reliability, scalability, and security.

A survivor of Enron's delusional dreams of creating a broadband network marketplace, SuperNAP was born to be an Internet interchange, which accounts for its unequalled, if not unprecedented, 27 carrier-peering relationships that span thousands of fiber interconnects. These link to a shopping-mall-size (400,000-plus square feet) facility designed with one thing in mind: providing megawatts of uninterruptible power, load-adaptable cooling, and unlimited bandwidth to high-density systems. Need 15 kilowatts and dual 10-Gbps Ethernet pipes in a rack, with 100% guaranteed uptime? No problem. Worried about sharing your space with hundreds of other customers? Don't. Security, a function that accounts for about one-third of the NAP's employees, is tighter than Fort Knox. In fact, by the time I navigated the gantlet of Glock-toting, driver's-license-confiscating guards who monitored our every move through man traps and card-controlled security zones, I thought the place should have been named "Super Max." There was no way I could have laid a finger on anyone's hardware. For sure, these guys never worry about SLA rebates.

Great, so people build fancy data centers. What else is new?

First, the realization that a combination of factors makes the notion of owning and operating a private data center about as sensible as having your own milk cow in the backyard. Entities like SuperNAP, fueled by the Web 2.0 and cloud revolution, are raising the facilities bar to new heights. Server and networking advances make location irrelevant in terms of managing infrastructure and virtualization software, like that provided by the conference sponsor and many others. We've utterly decoupled the provisioning of application resources from both their physical manifestations and ultimate consumers. Unless you're an IT-heavy, multibillion-dollar enterprise like Apple or Microsoft, there's no way you'll be able to build and operate a facility with comparable resilience, efficiency, and scalability.

Which is particularly ironic given that VMworld's tagline is "Your cloud. Own it."

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about moving everything to public clouds. Rather, this is about situating your private cloud in IT's version of a high-end self-storage warehouse, which, by the way, has much better connectivity to public services you might choose to integrate into a future hybrid cloud architecture.

And lest you think places like SuperNAP deliver gold-plated service at budget-busting prices, think again. A better analogy is Wal-Mart. Economies of scale -- SuperNAP's power usage effectiveness averaged 1.24 last year; no that's not a misprint -- and a single-minded focus mean there's no way even your fully amortized costs could match the price.

So, whatever you think about the cloud, why not ditch the old server room and consolidate your data center to a few high-density racks sitting in Fort Knox? This rent-vs.-buy decision is a choice between buying a prefab cracker box and renting a suite at the Venetian.