Minimize server-consolidation mistakes

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Jason Cooper, a consultant at C/D/H Technology Consultants in Grand Rapids, Mich., agrees that every consolidation plan needs to address scalability. "From the standpoint of server virtualization, it's very important to have a system that scales and meets the performance need of the load you're putting on it," he says. "We often run into issues with organizations that either didn't allocate enough storage, or simply didn't correctly anticipate the amount of server power that was going to be needed to facilitate their server consolidation project."

It's extremely common to overestimate the physical-to-virtual consolidation ratio, experts say.

Planning is particularly critical when managing a data center with outmoded equipment and a limited budget. The moment he arrived on the job, Latrell inherited a motley collection of servers, including converted desktop PCs and a mix of underpowered stand-alone and rack-mounted machines. He was determined, however, to streamline the collection into a uniform line of rack-mounted servers and, in the process, to winnow down the total number of units from 23 to 12.

"We understood we didn't have the budget to just go out and buy 12 new servers, so we decided to purchase the machines as we could afford them," he says. "We planned in advance to implement one piece at a time, and it's worked out well."

Understand the technology

Running headlong into consolidation without fully understanding the technology involved, and its requirements, is a good way to doom the project from the very start. "Most mistakes I've seen are made when someone goes out and buys a couple copies of virtualization software, implements two servers and then just starts migrating things onto them -- I call it willy-nilly deployment," says Nessen. "They're stuck with an environment that's less than optimal for migrating their data center into."

Nessen says that the key to an optimal virtualized environment is component compatibility and the use of widely recognized standards. "The biggest success is when you standardize your hardware platform and your software environment as much as you can -- the same hypervisors, the same underlying hardware and all those pieces," he explains.

Harvey R. Morris, president of BL&S Technologies LLC, says his company is currently working to consolidate 14 physical servers to just four or five. The IT consultancy's initial strategy called for an existing server to back up a new virtualization server. But that turned out to be impossible. "The [old] server was not 64-bit-compatible, which can be a problem if you're running a 64-bit operating system on the new server," Morris says. Fortunately, the mistake was caught in time and a different, compatible system was used.

Eric Mynster, IT operations manager at Mercy Memorial Hospital System in Monroe, Mich., says he was able to gather insight from colleagues at several other area health care facilities. "We talked to three or four hospitals ahead of time and learned some important lessons from them," he says. The two biggest tips he got: Use virtualization migration software, and use portable storage technology to quickly and conveniently move data from remote servers to the organization's on-site systems.

Mynster feels he was lucky, since his project began just a couple of months after the other hospitals had completed theirs. "So we already knew the pitfalls, and we wrote our plan around that," he says.

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