Minimize server-consolidation mistakes

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Stay in step

Failing to synchronize new plans with ongoing system life-cycle and business needs is guaranteed to mess up almost any IT project, but server consolidation requires even more attention to ongoing events, since servers lie at the heart of virtually all business-critical tasks.

Morris says he was careful to coordinate his initiative with his server replenishment timetable. "We had actually looked at the virtualization project about 12 months ago, but we decided to hold off until we were ready for the next server replacement cycle," he says. Morris also wanted pick the right time of year to begin the transition.

The accounting firm didn't want the changeover, or any systems work at all, to occur during tax season. "We have quite a time from January through April when we wouldn't consider making these types of changes," Morris says.

Mynster, meanwhile, worked to ensure that older servers, which were expected to perform flawlessly in a new, virtualized data center, would be up to the job. "About 50 of the servers were anywhere from three to 10 years old," he says. "Anytime you're talking about moving hardware that's been in place for 10, nine or eight years, you get a little nervous."

Before the changeover, half of Mercy's 200 servers were located on-site, while the other half were based at a third-party vendor located more than an hour away from the hospital. Mynster turned to Novell's PlateSpin Migrate to convert and transfer data stored on the 100-plus servers located at its hosted sever vendor to its in-house data center. A consolidation ratio of 18:1 allowed the on-site servers to absorb the extra load with no problems.

The software allowed Mercy's systems integrator, C/D/H, to effectively virtualize the servers ahead of time. The firm captured the remote server images onto USB storage, ran them through a synchronization process and brought the new machines live before the off-site servers were disconnected. The approach gave Mynster and his team the time they needed to check for any lurking operational glitches.

The process "allowed us to do a very fast migration," Mynster said. The work -- from finalization of plans to implementation -- took just under three months.

Watch for warning signs afterward

Not paying attention to error logs and other system-generated clues is perhaps the biggest postdeployment mistake made in consolidation efforts. Latrell recalls an incident at his shop.

virtualization

"We have lots of little programs that send e-mails out; some of those programs stay asleep for months at a time," he explains. One of those routines wasn't correctly updated during the virtualization conversion. "Somebody had used the domain name for the name of the server, and we didn't see it," Latrell says. One day, the routine woke up and began sending e-mail that was undeliverable. "It showed up in the error log," Latrell says.

The problem was an easy fix. "We went into the code, found the problem, pointed that particular set of code to the new server and then located all the mail that went out from that particular process and resent it manually."

With fewer servers in play, many enterprises make the mistake of cutting back on support and backup technologies when they should actually be reinforcing their safety net. "When you've got 10 machines running on a single physical machine, that power supply really needs to be at a good level and your cooling needs to be right," says Steven Meek, president of The Fulcrum Group Inc., a systems integrator in Keller, Texas. "There are a lot of foundational things that need to be in place before you consolidate your servers."

Finally, even as he worked to avoid mistakes, Latrell says, he kept one basic thought in mind. "If there's trouble, I'm the one the boss talks to," he says. "The buck stops here."

John Edwards is a technology writer in the Phoenix area. He can be reached at jedwards@gojohnedwards.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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