Premier 100 Q&A: HP’s CIO sees ‘lights-out’ data centers

Randy Mott talked about the company’s plans to consolidate 85 data centers into six

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- Hewlett-Packard Co. CIO Randall Mott says HP’s planned IT consolidation will deliver lights out data centers and system administrator-to-server ratios in excess of 1-to-200. In an interview today at the Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference, he stressed that HP will be open about its progress and the lessons learned along the way as the company works to reduce the number of data centers from 85 to six. Mott also spelled out some of the approaches he plans to take with the consolidation. Excerpts from the interview follow:

Where are you in terms of accomplishing HP’s plans to consolidate 85 data centers to six? We’re in the process of identifying all the sites [for the data centers]. We have some identified; We have options on real estate or buildings in the case of a number [of them]. By the end of March we will have all six of them identified and announced.

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Will they be geographically disbursed around the world? No. Where it’s looking like right now is Houston, Austin and Atlanta.

What is it taking to consolidate HP’s legacy systems and what kinds of platforms are you putting those systems on? It is really across a number of platforms, depending on the application. Some are Windows-based, some are Linux-based, some are HPUX-based. But then another important part is standards within those particular platforms: what’s the standard hardware configuration, software stack, middleware stack, around those applications. There is not a single one, but there are very clear standards in each key space.

You’ve talked about a “lights-out data center.” Are you talking about that in terms of these six data centers? Yes, I am.

Can you explain just what you mean by that? Literally, in order to run the data center inside the data center you only have personnel required for security and not for IT operations. IT operations really end up being something that can happen anywhere in the world.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) CIO Randall Mott
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Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) CIO Randall Mott

Image Credit: Asa Mathat

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HP wants this to become a customer showcase, so what kind of pressure does that put on you? It’s certainly pressure to talk about things before they are finished. That’s probably the biggest pressure, but on the other side, it actually affords a lot of support and help out of the product and R&D community because they see it as being important.

The typical system administrator-to-server ratio has been described by HP as 1-to-20, but company officials have said 1-to-200 is possible. What kind of ratio will you be running? I don’t want to comment on that, but I think we will exceed 200.

In terms of making this a customer showcase, how forthcoming will you be as this is accomplished? Will you also share your lessons learned, things that went wrong, the things you could have done better? I think part of our responsibility as being part of Hewlett-Packard is to be very forthcoming on ‘here’s what we started with, we decided there were problems with this, we changed course.’ There will be certainly lessons learned along the way and I don’t know what the right milestones will be. But my guess is it will be multiple times a year. Certainly, one of the things you do by making a public statement like you do in a forum as widely followed as this [means you’re] going to have everyone asking: ‘Where are you at now?”

When do you see the data center consolidation being completed? Our goal right now is to getting to our end of [fiscal year] ‘08, which is literally Oct. 31, 2008. A lot of it will happen, quite frankly, into next year. We will get some consolidation done at the end of this year; A lot of the heaviest lifting will happen in FY 07 for us.

HP has said it increased capital spending by 40% this year to $2.8 billion. What is this allowing you to do? Capital expenditure really gives us the freedom to move quickly -- and too many times that’s where these initiatives tend to fail, because they don’t get enough capital approved, [or it’s] not approved the next year. And what you do is you end up ramping up the cost because you put in part of the infrastructure you need but you don’t actually get to the end state that actually drives you to a lower cost of operations.

What are going to be some of challenges that you face? Quite frankly, it’s just the overall size and coordination of it. So we’ve done a number of workshops with every application team going through the whole planning process. It’s a huge planning coordination challenge inside, and that’s probably the biggest element. I think, again, having everybody take the same approach, doing it at the same time, actually gives you a lot of flexibility and planning. For example, if you only had one application team that was moving and the rest weren’t, then you don’t have that kind of thinking about the integration because none of these applications [is] an island. Having everybody doing it at once, even though that’s a complexity factor, I think it’s an aid because everybody is thinking about what does it mean, everybody is asking the same questions, everybody is doing the same detail of planning.

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