When my wife tells me I have to go to a dinner party, I usually explain to our hosts that I do “marketing within the supercomputing and data center industry”......and that normally rules out a second invitation.
It’s probably fair to say the complicated realm of supercomputers and data halls isn’t high on the list of “most easy to market products” and I’ll admit to having days when I am envious of the marketing team at Guinness. Why? Because I’m envisaging that the 4P’s of marketing brainstorming SWOT session on how to sell Guinness in the run up to St Patrick’s Day isn’t going to be too strenuous on the grey-matter. That sounds like a task for a ‘work-from-home day’ doesn’t it?
So, working as I am within the fundamentally uber-technical world of servers, hot-aisles, HPC clusters, nodes, infinibands and GPU accelerator chips makes it ever-more important for the marketing people to keep their eyes peeled for the latest trends and great examples of pushing out infrastructure and solutions to this complex, technically demanding audience. Boiled down, this is the simple difference between what works and what doesn’t.
And that’s where - based on my observations across the last couple of years - I’ve struck gold and discovered a clear five-point plan on how to market your supercomputer effectively. If you’re a budding supercomputing entrepreneur I’ll save you a couple of years of marketing consultancy and wash-up sessions (marketing people love a "wash-up session"...) and give you my top five tips:
1. Location, Location, Location…
Firstly, you need to get your supercomputing location sorted. Marketing your data center on a grey, wind-swept industrial estate just off the M25 is going to be tough, so instead do something like the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, shown below, who transformed the former Torre Girona chapel, and turned it into this exquisite cathedral to high performance computing.
Arguments will persist that retro-fitting and installing a supercomputer in an old chapel is probably more expensive and less efficient than building it in that disused office block just off Las Ramblas, but this is Barcelona after all – the city that has given us Miró, Picasso and Antoni Gaudí’s ‘Sagrada Família’, as well as the footballing god’s of FC Barcelona. Efficiency and cost effectiveness don’t have to win every battle, well not in Barcelona. FCB’s famous ‘tiki-taka’ football may be less efficient than a long, English hoof-ball up the middle, but it’s certainly more pleasing on the eye and in the Torre Girona chapel, Barcelona Supercomputing Centre have created something as equally beautiful:
2. Build something Darth Vader would be happy strolling in…
So, you’ve found your location in that former Cold War nuclear bunker or in that cultural quarter of a beautiful European city, and now you have to decide what to make your data hall look like. Servers aren’t inherently sexy products so we need to make them collectively look impressive. To this end, it seems the trend nowadays is to aim for something that looks like it could be the kind of place Darth Vader goes for a pre-dinner stroll. White and light is so last year. Aim for the supercomputing Death Star look and you’re always going to look cutting edge and ahead of the pack:
3. Buy some blue lights…
Science has given birth to the Internet, split the atom, and successfully de-coded human DNA, but the scientific community is collectively still no wiser as to why blue lights in a data center look cooler than any other form of light. Check out the images below. Great stuff MUST be happening in these data centers. In my next life I’m going to sell blue light bulbs to data centers and I’m quietly confident I’ll have bought a Caribbean island by the time I’m 25. I even know of data centers that have the ability to turn on blue lights in their data halls for no other logical reason than to impress their customers. So, go large on the blue lightbulbs:
4. Go a bit NASCAR on the branding…
Blue light bulbs screwed in, the crew of the Death Star feeling right at home, your next task is to spice things up even further and make your supercomputer look like it could be about to line up on the grid at the Indianapolis 500. The examples below don’t just look like they’re supercomputers, they look like they got custom made, 850 horsepower, pushrod V8’s under the bonnet (or hoods for my American colleagues). What marketeer knew that stickers could be so powerful?
5. Lastly, call it something cool.
No one wants to work with a supercomputer called “Supercomputer#1” when you can become the envy of your technical community by telling people you press the switches and pull the plugs on the “DGX SaturnV Volta”! Wow. I mean WOW! That’s practically escalated you to being an astronaut, and the kind that walks down the landing craft steps, sticks the flag in the moon and says the clever stuff (sorry Buzz…). I mean who wouldn’t want to work on that machine? There are plenty of others – look at the selection I found below following a 5-minute Google search:
I’m no mathematician (I’m a marketeer after all, so we don’t draw the pie-charts, but boy we’re good at colouring them in) but even I’ve worked-out there is a direct, linear correlation between (x) supercomputing names, and (y) the call-signs for pilots on Top Gun.
So there you have it. Follow those 5 steps and you’re not going to go wrong.
Armed with those observations I’m really looking forward to attending the excellent ISC18 Supercomputing show in Frankfurt next month to amongst other things, see what the HPC and supercomputing industry comes up with next to make their products stand out. If you’re there come and visit us a Booth F-912 (someone in the ‘exhibition booth naming industry’ really needs to take heed of my advice on point 5 by the way) and we would be delighted to meet you and talk to you about our new HPCaaS product - hpcDIRECT.
So as I start to close this blog, it’s at this point that marketing principles dictate that I should start to twist (ever so carefully and quietly so no-one really notices it…) the discussion around to the strengths and features of own product and service. However, this time I’m going to by-pass that plan because when it comes to all the branding, marketing, and communications gizmo’s and tricks in the marketeer’s deck, we genuinely have the trump card – Iceland.
There should be annual survey for the coolest country in the world. Someone start that up. The only reason there isn’t (or at least I can’t find one) is because Iceland would wipe the floor on an annual basis. Iceland is to ‘coolness’ what Ferrari are to driving, Yorkshire Tea is to a fine afternoon brew, and Roger Federer is to hitting tennis balls. Place your HPC data center in the magnificent country of Iceland, power it up with 100% sustainable power, add in the technical and operational minds and talents from the Verne Global crew and it’s game, set and match.
And, if you’re sceptical of the marketing man, listen to someone else – Robert Swan, OBE, intrepid explorer of the Arctic, Antarctica and other similarly icy and dangerous locations I won't be setting foot in, and respected environmental campaigner and United Nations ambassador. In summary - a man who knows what he is talking about. He visited our data center recently to mark Earth Day 2018 and you can watch his summary here. (Note – there are no 18th century chapels, black carbonite servers, blue lights, sports car stickers anywhere to be seen, and he was standing in the imaginatively titled “Data Hall 1”).
After all, who needs blue light bulbs when you have Iceland’s northern lights dancing above your campus....