Legacy Systems Get a Tuneup

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.

Rakesh Kumar, an analyst at Gartner, says he's been bombarded by inquiries from large organizations looking for ways to avoid the cost of a data center upgrade, expansion or relocation. "Any data center investment costs at minimum tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars. With a typical data center refresh rate of five to 10 years, that's a lot of money. So companies are looking for alternatives," he says.

While that outlook might seem gloomy, Kumar finds that many companies can extract an extra two to five years from their data centers by employing a combination of strategies, including consolidating and rationalizing hardware and software usage; embracing virtualization; and physically moving equipment. Most companies don't optimize the components of their data centers and therefore bump up against their limitations faster than necessary, he says.

Here are some strategies that IT leaders and other experts suggest using to help push data centers farther.

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