Data center consolidation: Lessons learned along the way

Data center consolidations are a daunting task for any organization, much less the federal government.

Initially presented as a strategy for improving data center efficiency, the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) was designed to promote the use of green IT and shift IT investments to more efficient computing platforms and technologies. Its goal is to reduce the overall cost associated with delivering IT services by closing and consolidating many of the existing facilities.

Private sectors organizations have similar goals as they look to streamline their data center operations. With more services being delivered to a broader range of users, organizations are demanding more computing power and storage resources from IT. This has led to data center sprawl and added complexity as IT has built out data centers around the world.

As organizations rationalize their data center footprints they should take a moment to contemplate the lessons learned from those who have already gone down this path.

Establish clear metrics for success

Success cannot be defined simply by dollars saved and the number of data centers closed. While these metrics are important, organizations must also look at optimizing their data centers for performance and building a flexible foundation that can scale as future demands dictates. Earlier this year, the federal government announced that the success of the FDCCI would no longer be measured solely by centers closed. The government is now focused on its identifying its application inventory and ensuring that data centers running critical applications are optimized to deliver taxpayer services.

It’s critical that business leaders and IT agree upon the success metrics. More and more, business leaders want service level agreements (SLAs) tied to specific application and business requirements because they want assurances around application response times. Establishing and maintaining performance-based service level agreements (SLAs) for the data center is a good way to ensure the consolidation is meeting business needs.

Measure before you migrate

As any good combat leader knows, when putting together a battle plan intelligence and situational awareness are key. The same holds true when organizations are consolidating data centers. It’s important to establish a baseline of the environment and audit the existing workloads. That means understanding the data center assets, such as servers and storage, and getting a baseline of their capacity, utilization and performance.

According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in August 2009 the average utilization rate for servers was between 5 and 15 percent. The goal is to improve server utilization to 60-70 percent. Once the capacity, utilization and performance baselines are established, the organization now has a starting point by which to measure progress and success.

It’s also important to baseline the requirements of each application and classifying, or tiering, them based on their importance to the business. For example, tier-1 applications are the mission-critical ones that organizations need to keep up and running at all times. Once IT has identified tier-1 applications they can provision the right storage and compute resources to ensure the performance and meet the SLAs associated with the application.

Monitor as you migrate

Problems can arise during the migration process that can impact the performance and availability of IT resources. To minimize any disruption during this process, it’s important to have a solution in place that enables IT to quickly diagnose and correct issues before they impact the day-to-day operations of the business. 

Monitor for performance and availability

With the consolidated infrastructure in place, there are now a greater number of users and applications residing in a more dense footprint. As a result, outages and performance issues can have a more significant impact. Persistent performance monitoring that provides a real-time view into the infrastructure can help mitigate risks and ensure greater uptime and availability.

A recent report “The FDCCI Big Squeeze” found agencies are realizing benefits from their data center consolidation efforts. Sixty percent of federal IT professionals report better use of IT staff, 57 percent report reduced energy consumption and 47 percent report increased use of new, more efficient computing platforms and technologies. By almost any measure, this sounds like real progress!

Data center consolidations can provide real value to users in both the public and private sector. Thoughtful and strategic consolidation can enable better agility, improve asset utilization levels and drive significant cost savings. While the federal government still has a ways to go with the FDCCI, IT professionals in the private sector can begin streamlining their data centers and realizing the benefits that accompany it sooner than they might have thought. 

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