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Bumping up against the life expectancy of your data center? Use these best practices to delay a costly expansion.

This year marks the 11th anniversary of the 1,200-square-foot data center at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering -- that means it's been in use four years longer than CIO and vice president of operations Joanne Kossuth originally expected. The facility needs more capacity and better connectivity, but Kossuth has been forced to put those needs on the back burner because of the state of the economy.

"Demand has certainly increased over the years, pushing the data center to its limits, but the recession has tabled revamp discussions," she says.

Like many of her peers, including leaders at Citigroup and Marriott International, Kossuth has had to get creative to squeeze more out of servers, storage and the facility itself. To do so, she's had to re-examine the life cycles of data and applications, storage array layouts, rack architectures, server utilization, orphaned devices and more.

Take the Pressure Off of High-Value Apps

Early on, Olin College purchased an $80,000 Tandberg videoconferencing system and supporting storage array. Rather than exhausting that investment through overuse, Kossuth now prioritizes video capture and distribution, shifting lower-priority projects to less expensive videoconferencing solutions and to YouTube for storage.

For example, most public relations videos are generated outside of the Tandberg system and are posted on the college's YouTube channel. "The data center no longer has to supply dedicated bandwidth for streaming and dedicated hardware for retention," she says. More important, the Tandberg system is kept pristine for high-profile conferences and mission-critical distance learning.

Here's what an audit is likely to turn up: Some 5% to 10% of hardware devices are either switched off or are supporting a single, rarely used application, according to Kumar. In light of the fact that servers consume energy and other resources at any utilization rate, either trash the application or virtualize it and retire or reuse the hardware.

"You have to make sure that every piece of hardware in your data center is doing productive work," he says.

At Citigroup, uncovering idle servers is a regular exercise for those who manage the financial services company's 14 data centers (the oldest has been in use for 20 years).

Data center managers should also require developers to use common databases and not the custom variety. "Again, it makes for a more optimized computing environment and reduces the strain on hardware and software," he adds.

Rearrange the Furniture

If a lack of floor space is your problem, consider moving IT equipment around. "What typically happens in most data centers is that once built and commissioned to a certain design specification, new equipment is added over the ensuing years with consideration to cabling and cooling requirements rather than an optimal floor layout," Gartner's Kumar says.

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