Can George Slessman Change The Way We Compute?

The IO CEO is betting that his modular concept for data center management is going to change the face of computing. But it needs to happen fast.

From writing code in the bedroom of his condo with his brother, George Slessman’s gone on to found (and exit) several technology businesses that invented and delivered disruptive technologies for enterprise customers. For the past nine years, he’s been an executive in the data center industry, directly overseeing the development of over 100 megawatts of data center capacity. Now at the helm of IO, he’s recently presided over the launch of the first customer modular data center in New Jersey—a process that took just 90 days.

Slessman hasn’t become a household name—yet. But the enterprising engineer is betting that his modular concept for data center management is going to change the face of computing. But it has to happen fast.

george slessman IO

Cloud computing, exploding data volumes, and e-commerce are driving the need for increased data center capacity, Slessman tells Fast Company. In fact, according to a Uptime Institute survey, 36% of data center facilities will run out of space, power, or cooling, or all the above in 2011 or 2012. A recent Digital Realty Trust survey found 83% of large firms in North America plan to expand their data center facilities in the next 12 to 24 months.

However, the traditional real estate-based data center model is crumbling. It takes too long to deploy and is too costly to keep up with infrastructure demands. Slessman believes part of the problem is that no one thinks about how much energy is used by applications such as Google searches. He says that unlike getting in a car and knowing exactly how much gas will cost for a 1,000-mile trip, no one really thinks about the energy consumption of a simple Google search, for example, which is about .3 watt hours per search per user. "The application has no way to understand how much energy it’s going to use and consumers at work assume there is no cost to energy of clicking on that icon," he says.

But it isn’t free. As the cost of that energy continues to rise, Slessman says CFOs of Fortune 500 companies are no longer willing to fund $100 million construction projects that will reach capacity too quickly. IO’s modular concept aims for what Slessman calls "intelligent control."

"Our solution provides two cost savings," asserts Slessman. One is on the initial capital purchase of the data center. In a plug-and-play environment, data centers are viewed as hardware and software (like other IT purchases) to allow organizations to only pay for what they use and grow as needed.

The standardized modular concept can also run lines of code to provide metrics on energy use. Slessman says this allows the centers to consume dramatically less energy than legacy data centers, a huge cost savings when you figure that power chews up about 70% of data center costs.

While Slessman knocks out answers to these big problems with a one-two punch, he's just as much at ease with the looming threats of natural disasters. Cloud computer data centers are typically like massive fortresses and IO’s newest New Jersey facility is no exception. A 43-acre site is home to an 830,000-square-foot building which was recently pelted by Hurricane Irene.

Slessman says he was able to rest easy knowing that IO’s modular product is both water-tight and resilient to security threats. "If the roof blew off and the water blows in there is no issue with permanence, safety, or durability." He also points out that IO’s change management software component has the ability to manage every level of the system during natural disasters.

People, on the other hand, are the "biggest threat to a data center. They show up every day and we sweat every day. In the annals of data center mishaps it’s 95% human mistakes," says Slessman. That’s why he’s just as focused on hiring the best operational team for each center as he is on innovation.

What’s next for IO? Stay tuned. Slessman says one unfortunate by-product of the economy flirting with a double-dip recession is that companies are not investing in research and development. "The flip side that we consistently see here you give [our engineers] a problem and they figure it out. One problem is not having enough capital, but there is plenty of innovation going on."

Read more from our Innovation Agents series.

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