When it comes to operational complexity, few avenues of human endeavor rival the modern data center. While the prototypical image of monolithic rows of machines humming along at first conveys the epitome of orderly precision, a closer inspection reveals a separate reality. To be sure, one need look no further than the warren of confused cabling behind and underneath the rows to understand the depth of a data center's convolution. Its ultimate cost has long been apparent to insurance technologists who have struggled daily to force this heterogeneous mix of hardware and software to run in harmony.

One of the reasons for the baroque nature of the modern data center is that its primary physical building blocks-servers, networking equipment and storage arrays-are purchased separately and integrated on site. While this arrangement makes sense for many reasons, most notably cost and customization, it is harder to justify from an architectural perspective. It is somewhat akin to purchasing an engine from Ford, a chassis from General Motors and a transmission from Chrysler in order to build a custom car in your driveway.

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