The horror: 'Ghost servers' that haunt your bottom line

They eat up real estate and electricity, but aren't doing any real work.

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Since customers are generally charged for the floor space they use within the data centers, the removal of unproductive equipment has allowed Fujitsu Services to reduce specific hosting charges for those customers. So, for example, if Fujitsu can reduce the footprint by 10%, Scott says that 10% savings can be passed along to the customer. The company is also developing the ability to invoice for the actual power required by individual customer installations, versus the current practice of invoicing for power based on the floor space used by the servers.

"We also found lots of badly installed equipment," Scott says. The poor installation processes had led to what he characterized as vulnerabilities that meant his company had difficulties meeting customer uptime requirements. "The result was really that we had actually built vulnerabilities into the operation. It was a real wake-up call. We now have a complete vulnerability check and can control installations from the beginning to end."

Alticor Inc., the parent company for such businesses as Amway Corp., Quixtar Inc. and Access Business Group LLC, handles IT demands for affiliates all over the world, says Randy Gast, supervisor of server technology at Alticor. The company uses a combination of management tools to keep track of its software and hardware assets, including BMC Software Inc.'s Remedy service management and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Systems Insight Manager.

Using the software, Alticor early last year found that more than 200 servers, or about a third of its 650 x86 processor-based servers, were running at utilization rates of 10% or less, Gast says. Even scarier, these underused servers had accumulated without IT knowledge, over the previous three years as new equipment was bought to handle individual applications or affiliate requirements.

Working with virtualization specialist VMware Inc., Alticor has embarked on an effort to consolidate the unproductive system and increase overall utilization rates to between 60% and 70%, Gast says. To date, Alticor has consolidated 150 of the unproductive servers onto seven servers using virtualization software.

Alticor has donated the majority of the servers it has taken out of operation during the consolidation effort to charitable organizations. Servers that were too old to be used by groups such as local schools and churches have been sold for scrap.

"Using Remedy, we can track the lease agreements for our hardware, when they start and expire, and use it to have automatic triggers that let us know we need to consider replacing certain equipment," Gast says.

That said, there is generally a great deal of inefficiency regarding how customers get rid of old gear. "A lot of businesses don't have a disposition strategy, primarily because it's easier to buy" new servers than dispose of the old ones, says Daniel Ransdell, general manager of IBM's Global Asset Recovery Solutions business unit. "Even if you've unplugged the equipment and stuck it in some closet or corner, the business is losing the opportunity to recoup value. Servers aren't like fine wine. They don't get better with age."

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