How to Move It

New technologies help speed up the transition process

An IT guy walks into a bar ...

No, it's not a joke, but Ken Jamaca, president of Silverback Migration Solutions Inc., can look back on this true story and laugh.

His team was moving a data center to a new location. "Since the move was happening after-hours, the loading-zone hours had long since elapsed, and that curb space was open to general public parking," says Jamaca. "When we arrived, the loading zone was full of cars parked by partygoers from a bar across the street. I walked through the bar 'shoulder-tapping' to find out who owned those cars and offered to pay for parking in a lot around the corner so we could park our truck in the loading zone.

"Forty-five minutes, over $100 in parking and three rounds of drinks [for bar patrons, not Jamaca] later, we were able to park our truck in the now-empty loading zone," he says.

In an era when there's absolutely no tolerance for system downtime, that's just one example of the great lengths that data center movers will go to on behalf of their clients.

"The biggest challenge is maintaining 100% uptime" when moving data centers, says Joshua Aaron, president of Business Technology Partners Inc. in New York. Five years ago, movers could pull the data center plug on Friday night, move it over the weekend and plug it back in on Monday morning. "Now, there is no real acceptable time," Aaron says.

But new technologies are helping data center movers speed up the process -- and improve efficiency at the same time. Here are three tips for a successful data center move.

Strive for Zero Downtime

With the cost of bandwidth becoming more affordable, "we can build a new data center in parallel" with the old center, Aaron says. "We're designing a network in the data center, and we're migrating applications between equipment in the new data center, then doing a cutover where there's no disruption," he says. That's possible because of the speed with which data can be moved without someone having to physically pick up equipment and relocate it, Aaron adds.

"There still is a chunk of equipment that gets relocated," he says, "but those tend to be systems that are backed up -- things that are not production or customer-facing."

Take Time for Improvements

Moving a data center is also a good time for cable upgrades -- an inexpensive way to improve the performance of existing systems, Jamaca says. "A lot of companies go from Cat 5 to Cat 6, or to 10 gig cabling from 1 gig cabling," he says. That's where planning comes in. A good migration takes months of planning for hours of work -- not only to determine the most efficient setup, but to find out how proposed upgrades will affect the data center from an operational and cost perspective.

Seek Professional Help

If you need to move data center equipment, Jamaca recommends hiring professionals who have the proper gear for handling fragile electronic equipment. As for the loading zone, he has this advice: "Ask the facility to put cones out [at the end of the day], or have your guys park their cars in the zone beforehand."

Collett is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at stcollett@aol.com.

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