Datacenter Consolidation: Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Utilizing virtualization to consolidate servers and storage arrays is becoming an especially hot topic among mid-sized and larger organizations.  As IT teams update older, legacy systems, virtualization gives them the flexibility to more efficiently utilize existing assets as well as reduce the number of total devices in operation.

Virtualization shifts dispersed, often single purpose application servers to a centralized resource of computing power that typically requires a smaller number of total devices.  The widespread availability of fiber networks and cloud infrastructure has accelerated this trend.  But, just because consolidation is a viable architectural alternative, does that mean IT managers should take the plunge?

Well, as a politician once said, where you stand depends on where you sit.

Typically, datacenters become fragmented for one of the following reasons:  a company has completed one or more acquisitions and left the acquired organization’s datacenter in place, an organization has grown significantly and simply created a new datacenter every time it opened a new facility, or an IT realizes their datacenter is running out of space and/or electricity and decides to open another one.

 As with any major IT initiative, to maximize ROI on the project, IT teams should have a clearly defined set of goals.  The most frequently cited goals and their rationales are below:

  • Greening the Datacenter – Consolidating multiple datacenters can translate to a smaller overall carbon footprint, less energy consumed and less heat produced that requires air conditioning.
  • Minimizing TCO – Bringing multiple datacenters into one or a few locations enables IT teams to better manage server and storage costs; e.g., a smaller number of larger storage devices are less expensive than multiple smaller devices.
  • Ensuring Up-to-Date Computing Platforms – IT teams are better able to manage migration from old to newer technologies in a consolidated environment.
  • Enhancing Security – Reducing the number of datacenters cuts down on the number of entry points for malware.  It also enables IT teams to more easily ensure all datacenters have the most robust security procedures.
  • Improving Service to Employees – IT teams can better manage the user experience and respond more quickly to error messages and other issues in a consolidated environment.

 To help ensure the success of the project, below are 10 tips IT teams should think about when planning a datacenter consolidation project:

  •  Determine Required Resources – Outline the capacity needed to support the move, the time and skills required and inventory the current software and systems in place to determine which assets will and will not function correctly in a consolidated environment.
  •  Create Specific Project Metrics – Map out goals of the project in terms of capabilities, time and resources required, and desired performance results.
  • Communicate with Other Disciplines Affected – IT teams should talk to facilities managers and others involved with a consolidation to understand any possible opportunities and constraints.  For example, facilities teams are often responsible for power consumption, the IT team must be clear on power needs for a consolidated datacenter. 
  • Minimize Changes Once the Project Starts – Unless there are technical or other “deal breakers” do not make changes to the project plan once it is started.  It’s too easy to miss the impact of changes on performance, security or another important metric.  
  • Add Experience Where Needed – Ensure there are people on your consolidation team with previous datacenter consolidation experience. 
  • Identify Best Practices from Similar Projects – Invest the time necessary to study datacenter consolidation projects at organizations in a similar situation to your in terms of locations, network architecture, how teams work and the types and sizes of files shared. 
  • Test and Test Again – As you complete elements of the consolidation, test and test again.  To the degree possible, test elements of the network under heavy operating conditions and look for any failures in performance. 
  • Use Datacenter Consolidation as anOpportunityto “Clean House” – As IT teams plan and implement the consolidation project, there’s an opportunity to address other IT issues as well.  Among these are activities such as removing legacy hardware from the network, either delete or move inactive data off of life applications, and determine what data must be stored on the network and what can be stored in the cloud.

 As IT teams consider data center consolidation projects, it can often be valuable to turn to a third party for an outside assessment and recommendations.  When reviewing these outside resources, IT teams should make certain they have datacenter consolidation experience in organizations such as theirs, as well as carefully check references.

Datacenter consolidations can provide many benefits, but IT leaders must be careful to define clear goals, continuously seek out and implement best practices and create a definitive, measureable timeline.


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