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3 steps for a successful data center consolidation plan

A data center consolidation plan is usually riddled with questions. But careful forethought is key for the successful centralization of software and servers.

Data center sprawl is common in most enterprises. As businesses expand, the locations of servers, applications and data may no longer make sense. Organizations can take three steps when creating a data center consolidation plan to conceptualize a successful centralization of digital services to their chosen data center or data centers.

Step 1: Take stock

First, as you tackle your data center consolidation plan, figure out what you have. The key here is to identify applications, data and services and understand who uses them. Determine where external people and machines access services from and for what purpose.

In some cases, apps and data are deployed in specific data center locations to help eliminate problems such as network latency or to reduce expensive WAN throughput requirements. Be sure you understand the ramifications and potential costs involved when moving data and services to different geographic locations.

In this step, you might also discover aging or severely neglected network systems. A few end-of-life systems or apps, for instance, are usually hanging around and need to be addressed. Legacy hardware and applications are often the biggest challenges in any consolidation. Determine the importance of the apps and data ahead of time and retire them or perform the necessary upgrades before making any moves.

The key to a successful data center consolidation plan is to prepare everything so it's as easy to move as possible.

The key to a successful data center consolidation plan is to prepare everything so it's as easy to move as possible. While this can be a time-consuming process, it's essential to the success of the project.

Step 2: Select locations

Choosing what data center -- or data centers -- you want to manage after the consolidation is far trickier than you might think. Many IT decision-makers fall into the trap of selecting a data center based on its price, current availability or simply which one offers the most benefits today, without thinking about tomorrow.

Instead, data center locations and facilities should be viewed from a data flow perspective. Start by asking questions such as:

  • What will my east-west data flows look like in this data center?
    • Can the data center handle inter-data-center flows now and in the future?
  • Who will be accessing the apps, services and data?
    • Will any geographic location issues affect performance?
    • How much bandwidth into and out of the data center will be needed today and in the future?
    • Can the data center provide both internet and private WAN connectivity if needed?
  • If this data center were to fail, what do I need from a business continuity and disaster recovery perspective (BCDR)?
    • How will it affect the performance of end users if a failure occurs?

In any data center, connectivity from your end users to the apps and data is going to be the biggest challenge. Be sure to choose locations that offer scalable and redundant WAN and internet links, power, cooling, and rack space, as well as data and physical security.

Sometimes, the best data center consolidation plan is to rid yourself of managing data centers in the first place.

If you end up planning to consolidate distributed data centers into a larger data center that already exists, you'll likely need to bolster the resources that handle the extra power, cooling, data connectivity and ongoing support needs. You may also need to further consolidate existing servers and applications using technologies such as hyper-convergence and virtualized network appliances. The more space you can free up, the more that can be reallocated.

At this point, you should consider using a third-party public cloud provider that will manage the underlying infrastructure for you. You may find public cloud provider infrastructures are a lower-cost option compared to retrofitting existing data centers to handle the extra capacity required after a consolidation. Sometimes, the best data center consolidation plan is to rid yourself of managing data centers in the first place.            

Step 3: Plan your move

Once you're ready to consolidate your applications and data and you've selected your data centers, the final step is to perform the necessary moves. The details of this step will differ vastly from one consolidation project to the next.

Generally speaking, IT administrators must determine the following:

  • How will we physically move apps and data? Options include:
    • Data transfers
    • Sneakernet
    • Both?
  • How can we limit outages? Possible tasks include:
    • scheduling migration windows around critical business times;
    • training end users if access to apps and data will change; and
    • performing BCDR testing post-consolidation.
  • How will we monitor servers, applications and data post-consolidation? Possible tasks include:
    • considering application performance monitoring; and
    • monitoring and baselining new north-south and east-west data flows.

Spend now, save later

One of the biggest misconceptions when businesses start a data center consolidation plan is there will be no upfront costs other than time spent planning and performing the moves. Yet, consolidation can be surprisingly expensive. You may need to upgrade data centers to handle the consolidation, upgrade apps and servers so they're ready to move, and potentially sign cloud provider contracts if you're consolidating to a public cloud provider.

That said, if the proper upfront budget is available, the long-term cost savings from consolidating can be tremendous from both a hardware and operational perspective. Thus, this is an excellent example of spending some money now to save a lot in the future.

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