Brant Bernet: Shishito Peppers, Green Worms, and Data Centers

Brant Bernet

I am a gardener. If not for the long hours, back-breaking work, and sheer unpredictability of crops, I think I would have made a good farmer. Actually, probably not. I do love the idea of strolling into my backyard garden, pulling a carrot out of the ground, giving it a quick rinse with cold water from the well, and then eating it whole in all its earthy goodness. In that particular dream, the carrot even tastes good.

In real life, you can’t stroll through my garden—it is an 80 square foot patch of soil in my backyard), I don’t grow carrots (I don’t even like carrots) and I don’t have a well. I have tried cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, blueberries and many other frustrating vegetables. Squirrels, birds, bugs and the occasional rabbit, who all hate me by the way, must have a deal with the produce guy at Tom Thumb; I kept growing it and they kept eating it, forcing me to get store-bought ‘maters.

A few years ago, however, I figured out that none of my neighborhood enemies liked my peppers; for those, they stayed away, and my harvest was always great. I have grown jalapeños, habaneros, cayennes, bells, and many other varieties.

But this year was going to be special. This year I would plant seeds from an online seed company. This year I would try something new. Shishitos peppers are about the size of my little finger; they’re mild and taste great cooked in a hot skillet with olive oil and sea salt. I babied my shishitos. I lovingly started them inside, and then in mid-March, I ceremoniously moved them out of the nest and into the real world, carefully planting them in the garden. And they grew. The tiny white flowers became peppers and in early July I harvested my first crop. A week or so later, I harvested again, then again.

Unfortunately, the Texas heat was brutal this summer, and my poor shishitos kept growing smaller and smaller each week. In mid August, my fully ripened peppers were only one-tenth of the normal size and totally inedible. I was devastated, crushed. No, not really, but it did move me enough to go to my local garden center (Nicholson Hardie—the best in Dallas), where the nice clerk simply said, “No way to grow those in this heat. But, if you can wait until October, you should have a bountiful crop again.”

Of course I could wait, that is what we farmers do … we wait. And wait.

Then one glorious Saturday morning, a few weeks ago, I walked into the back yard and, behold, it wasn’t 90 degrees. Dallas was getting its first glimpse of fall. I ran to share the news with my beloved shishitos and … WHAT-THE? … WHERE? … WHO-THE?!

Every leaf on every plant was gone. Not most of the leaves, but every single, stinking leaf—gone. What could have done this? How could it have happened so fast? Wasn’t I just with them last night?

Then I saw it—a big, fat, green tomato horn worm. Then I saw another, and another. Four, horrible, evil death bugs had turned my lush green garden into a bunch of sticks, seemingly overnight. My shishitos had survived the hottest summer on record, only to be picked clean by an ugly worm.

Back to the garden center I went. This time my friend told me how to get rid of the worms: ”Pluck them off and step on them.” Way ahead of you, pal. I hoped they were burning in some corner of bug hell or wherever unrepentant bugs go when they die. Anyway, he loaded me up with high-nitrogen fertilizer and said I should see new leaves within a few days.

If you have read my blog before, you know that I tend to get off track now and again. I’ve never really had writers block; my problem is usually one of connection. Something reminds me of something else totally unrelated and I have to work to make the connection understandable to readers.

In 1992, I had been in the real estate business for six years. It was then that I had my first data center experience; it felt a lot like seeing those first sprouts poke out of the dirt. New, exciting, full of potential. Then in 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecom Act of 1996 and the floodgate opened wide. The act, which was the first major overhaul of U.S. telecommunications law in more than 60 years, allowed for open lines of competition in the industry.

Money for growth was easy to find, and our business went through the roof—like moving my shishitos outside and reaping the harvest. But then, just as we were thanking our lucky stars that we survived Y2K (whatever that was), the Texas heat and fat green worms crept into the industry. The dot-com bubble burst in early 2000, then 9/11 happened, and in 2002, everything that resembled normalcy in our industry had changed. Promised revenue had completely dried up, and the overbuilding and overspending was so monumental, massive companies like MCI WorldCom found themselves in a free fall.

By 2005 we were all asking, where is the nitrogen-laced fertilizer, baby?!

But guess what, the world didn’t stop turning; the industry took a breather (from someone on the front lines I can tell you the sector lost ALL its leaves); the industry had to catch up, it had to sprout new leaves, and it needed a gardener to study it, pay attention to it, and baby it back to health.

I think it’s safe to say we are back. The data center industry continues to evolve, and this time we are being much more cautious. Tenants will face a new set of rules and a new spectrum of options: outsource, in-house, managed services, cloud computing? A bit confusing, but extremely exciting.

My shishito peppers are healthier today that they have ever been. I am expecting my first fall crop in mid to late October. The little white flowers are bigger than they ever were in the summer, the leaves are greener, and the stem growth is more prolific. I will use the seeds from this healthier batch of shishitos in my garden next year and the cycle of new growth, stronger plants, and sweeter fruit will continue.

I, for one, am liking the analogy to the industry I love so much; how about you?

Brant Bernet is co-founder and managing director of Lincoln Rackhouse. Contact him at brant@rackhouse.com.

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