Minimize server-consolidation mistakes

Joe Latrell, IT manager and lead programmer for, a real estate data services company in Lancaster, Pa., knows that it's all too easy for even a knowledgeable and experienced IT veteran to make mistakes while managing a complex server-consolidation project. "You have to think about everything," he says. "It can be a minefield."

Server virtualization projects are usually easy to justify on both financial and operational grounds, but that doesn't make them foolproof to execute. Pitfalls, such as inadequate planning, faulty assumptions or failure to quickly detect postdeployment glitches, can entrap consolidation project leaders and team members at almost every stage.

"Every time [we] felt that we covered every base, that every single thing had been looked at ... that's when the danger started," says Latrell, whose project experienced a variety of woes, including underpowered servers, configuration snafus and budget constraints.

Avoiding disaster while keeping a complicated consolidation project on schedule and within budget isn't easy. In fact, Latrell believes that making at least a few mistakes along the way is inevitable. "It will go wrong: Be prepared," he warns. "On the other hand, planning and learning from others will keep you from making the big and obvious mistakes."

Plan for success

While even the most thorough, painstaking planning can't completely eliminate project mistakes, building a detailed virtualization design and deployment strategy will help minimize the number of gotchas. "Planning is really key for server consolidation," says Justin Gallagher, senior IT consultant at KDSA Consulting LLC in North Andover, Mass.

Thorough planning creates a road map that helps managers gather the knowledge required to avoid most major problems. "I think people aren't spending enough time thinking about the issues of the existing workloads and how you migrate those into a virtual environment, and what does that mean in terms of , cost structure, ongoing expense and high availability," says Jeff Nessen, IT consolidation practice manager at Logicalis, a systems integrator in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Gallagher says that consolidation planning also needs to address an organization's future needs. "Look at what you're going to do a year, three years and five years from now," he suggests. Gallagher notes that servers, software and other system elements need to be planned with an eye toward anticipated growth. "You don't want to get yourself in a situation where you do this whole big upgrade and then you find you need more [server capacity] later on."

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