On my way home from the lake today, I noticed that my favourite location to obtain food, (the Morinville Hutterite colony) was finally open for the season. (Supper = Saskatoon-Cherry-Rhubarb pie. Huzzah!) I of course had to stop in to fill my fridge with excellent fresh veggies and various baked goods, and I spend the remainder of my trip home pondering the economics of being a Hutterite. More specifically, how these economics could be used to enhance business opportunities in the IT sector.
For you to understand my ponderings, you have to understand a little about Hutterites. Hutterites are a very religious group of extreme pacifists who live in a patriarchal communal society. Putting aside religious prejudice, and concerns about the dubious ethics of a strict patriarchy, the “communal society” bit is exceptionally interesting.
When most people think of Hutterites, they pretty much simply impose every negative Amish stereotype they can think of and then dismiss them from any further consideration. Nothing could be further from the truth. To start with; Hutteries most emphatically do not reject modern technology. It is true that depending on the variant of theirs, Hutterites may abstain from what they consider “intrusive use” of modern communications or entertainment technology, but their farming and manufacturing equipment has never been anything but absolutely top notch.
Huterites aren’t about “returning to a simpler way of life,” they simply are communal. They want to live in a big group and believe what they believe. What this gives them is the advantage of economies of scale. Hutterite colonies are multi-million-dollar enterprises. They generally own absolutely enormous tracts of land. More than an order of magnitude beyond that which any single family of farmers could possibly hope to manage. They buy lots and lots of the best farming equipment, which they can afford because they are running the equivalent of ten, twenty or even thirty farms off of this one set.
Larger, wealthier colonies get into manufacturing. The Morinville colony custom manufactures exceptionally high-quality garden sheds, among other things. We’re not talking just about the little shed you put in your back yard to house your lawn mower, but industrial scale sheds for other farmers to house their equipment and store their crops. We’re not talking about a few people knocking together some wood and tin; they are known to be among the best in the province at producing these units. Their work is in high demand and commands a premium price. In an agricultural province, that should say something.
So to recap, this one colony of perhaps two dozen families farms an area rivalled only by the largest North American commercial farms, has the spare labour to manufacture some of the best garden and equipment sheds in the province, and further still taps it’s labour pool to sell me vegetables, bread and pies from a little highway-side store.
In other words, even though they have only a dozen or two families, their communal lifestyle enables them to take serious advantage of economies of scale.
The closest analogue I can think of in the business world is a research park. An individual example could be a condo association. There are corporate collectives, most often count in the states, but these are entities where a worker’s collective owns the company. I am thinking here more along the lines of a group of companies undertaking a mutually beneficial sharing of resources in order to achieve economies of scale they couldn’t enjoy separately.
The example that floats to my mind is actually that of the modern datacenter. To get any real economies of scale from a datacenter, you have to be playing the game north of one thousand racks of equipment. Very few companies can do this on their own. You’re talking here about the Googles, Apples or Microsofts of the world. Amazon perhaps, or Yahoo!.
The company I work for has three racks of equipment that contain centralised hardware. (The non site-specific stuff.) If we were to eat sixty percent of the entire North American market for our industry, we might, (might!) require ten.
Currently, we house our centralised (head office) equipment in a merged datacenter with one of our sites, allowing us to put six racks of equipment into a single mini-datacenter. The costs of cooling, powering, maintenance, rent, etc. for this equipment is stupendously high. It’s about on par with taking it to a commercial datacenter and having it hosted for us.
How many other companies are in the same boat? Stuck either running inefficient and costly datacenter operations locally, or hosting their equipment in someone else’s for-profit datacenter? What I want is something akin to a datacenter research park. (Data park?) A group of companies get together and determine the number of racks worth of equipment they require. They start a private company in which each company owns a percentage based on the percentage of equipment capacity they require from the datacenter. They communally fund it according their number of shares, and build, maintain and operate this centralised facility. In this way, with enough companies, you could take advantage of economies of scale, reducing the cost per rack far below that of hosting it locally, or of hosting it in a for-profit datacenter.
Companies do this all the time by paying for certain communal services such as grounds keeping or janitorial when they reside in a business park or skyscraper. Why shouldn’t collectives of small to medium enterprises pool their resources to create data parks?
It’s something worth thinking on, and I would be interested in hearing from anyone who knows of any extant data parks.