Data center consolidation strategy: creating a plan to lower opex, improve efficiency, and bolster data security.
After the inception of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative in 2010, “19 of the 24 agencies reported achieving an estimated $2.8 billion in cost savings and avoidances from fiscal years 2011 to 2015.”
In addition to cost savings, another major factor driving data center consolidation is the outsourcing of enterprise IT workloads to the cloud to enable greater efficiency and scalability. As enterprises migrate their data centers, IT infrastructure processes, and computing platforms to the cloud, many seize the opportunity to realize cost savings by consolidating on-premise data center equipment and space.
Data Center Consolidation: Getting the Business on Board
For a data center consolidation to be ultimately successful, the organization needs to be one cohesive unit with every involved department on board, as every department will likely be affected; a consolidation is a business-wide project. To get everyone on board, the decision to move forward must be communicated such that the implications for the organization as a whole are made clear. If everybody knows why the operation is important in the first place it will make it much easier to deal with potential issues if they arise. Thankfully, there are plenty of benefits to data center consolidation that you can excite your organization with.
Benefits of Data Center Consolidation
Physical locations – Consolidating multiple physical locations can reduce operation expenses through lower energy consumptions, lease reductions, and lower maintenance costs
Procurement – Consolidation can reduce the quantity of necessary equipment such as servers, storage, and networking equipment, which saves the organization significant procurement expenditures.
Software – Consolidation of software onto less systems can reduce software licensing costs as well as maintenance costs
Environmental benefits –It’s no secret that data centers are massive energy hogs and a large contributing factor to global warming. Data center consolidations reduce total energy consumption significantly, greatly reducing the footprint of the organization
Security – By having fewer points of entry and reducing the total number of programs and systems to secure, avoiding vulnerabilities becomes simpler
Reduce errors – Data center consolidation can reduce errors by simplifying system processes like system discovery and network services.
Avoiding the Risks of Consolidation
Data center consolidation does inherently carry some risk if executed improperly. Luckily with the right tools, planning, and assistance from partners the risks can be avoided almost entirely. Some of the common issues that enterprises can experience from poor execution are:
- Disrupted employee productivity
- Inaccessible or lost data
- Operational downtime
- Lost customers
To avoid these pitfalls, we’ve put together a framework to follow along with actionable insights, breaking down the process into smaller steps to help ensure a seamless data center consolidation.
Steps for Data Center Consolidation
Before beginning a data center consolidation, it’s important to evaluate your current environment(s) and gain an understanding of your hardware and infrastructure. The data center consolidation project team should conduct assessments of all the physical locations, and not only evaluate the equipment but also the staff. This will help plan out present and future needs for equipment and human resources, as well as help to lay the groundwork for getting rid of unneeded servers, processors, networking, memory or other hardware.
Items in the environment to be mapped out:
- Number of servers and percentage of virtualization
- Total server capacity and utilization (GHz/MIPS, Peak/average%)
- Storage Capacity by type and % used (Flash, Disk)
- Storage systems (SANs, NAS, All flash arrays)
- Networking Equipment (Switches, Firewalls, Routers, Hubs, etc.)
Facilities & Energy Usage
- Power Supplies
- Cooling Units
Geographic Location & Real Estate
- Leases and costs by sq ft
- Data centers by tier
- Total square footage
- WAN Management
- LAN Management
- Help Desk Services
- Cyber Security Services
- Data Privacy Services
- Identity and Access Management Services
- IT Inventory and Asset Management Services
- Application Hosting
- Website Hosting
- Collaboration Tools
- Email Services
- Electronic Records Management Services
- Business Support Services (e.g., HR, Payroll, Acquisition, Budget)
- Video Teleconferencing Services
- Telephone Services
As you inventory your assets, you may find it valuable to take action on easy wins throughout the process. You may come across servers which haven’t been in use for some time and could save space and energy costs after decommissioning. You may notice faults in layout or obstructions which when removed improve data center functionality in the interim period before the consolidation is finalized.
As with most data center operations, like data center migrations, data center decommissioning, and data center liquidation, a consolidation involves significant risk. Nearly every aspect of a business is tied into its data center, whether that be in a public cloud or the company’s own data center. Common potential complications include:
- Inadequate power supply and cooling capacity in the new location for the consolidated equipment
- The inability of legacy applications to run on the new equipment
- Lack of in-house skills to manage the consolidation process and post-consolidation facility
- Physical security shortcomings in the consolidated site
Taking a data center offline and moving multiple sets of servers is an undertaking that requires just as much finesse as any complex medical operation. As in the medical world where they avoid costly mistakes with checklists and comprehensive planning, so too should a data center consolidation have an effective plan.
It’s also necessary to have an ongoing plan and long-term strategy for how system infrastructure should be consolidated. Otherwise, it’s likely that data center sprawl and more system silos will continue to be a problem.
Data Center Consolidation Disaster Recovery Planning
Thorough disaster recovery planning becomes even more of a necessity in the context of data center consolidations. When there are 50 small data centers, losing one of them isn’t necessarily a big deal. When there are only a few data centers and disaster recovery sites however, the loss of even one can be, well, disastrous. Unfortunately, it’s just not terribly viable for most companies to build a disaster recovery site for each consolidated data center. A commercial disaster recovery solution would be great for this, but the solutions currently on the market are geared more towards smaller use cases, and wouldn’t be viable in the case of a large scale consolidated data center.
Another consideration is that in any centralized disaster recovery solution, it’s unlikely to have enough equipment in a backup facility to be able to run all of the operations for every other potential consolidated site. While complete redundancy is impossible, consolidated data centers especially tend to be diverse as a result of the many different locations and sets of equipment that come together to form them.
For projects that will end with multiple consolidated locations housing similar equipment, one potential solution is to pair them.
For example: with two large scale, consolidated data centers, they could be synchronized to replicate the other’s environment. For organizations in a position to leverage heavy virtualization, this may be more feasible.
In those cases with widely varied capabilities between the data centers in addition to lack of virtualization, adding a separate disaster recovery facility on top of pairing may be necessary.
Once the evaluation and planning steps are complete, the company is ready to begin architecting the consolidated location. Depending on whether an existing location is being used, this phase will take on a different form.
There is no one size fits all way to architect a data center, but the fact remains that however you go about it, a data center construction blueprint will need to be created.
While designing a brand new data center blueprint from scratch would be a monstrous task, thankfully it’s not necessary. There are thousands of reference data center designs which can be used as a starting point and simply altered to meet the specific needs of your data center consolidation project. Using a reference data center design during this process saves valuable time and money for you and your contractors.
VMWare, Cisco, Juniper, Dell, HPE, and Extreme Networks all have freely available reference designs depending on your needs and business use case. Consult with your data center consolidation vendor, partners, and project management team to evaluate these among other vendors and decide which design makes the most sense for your enterprise. We also have an article that compares the benefits of HPE vs Dell servers.
The Power of Prefab
As a newer more novel option for data center consolidation, modular or prefabricated data center constructions are now available. These can be used as an addition or component of a larger data center architecture scheme, or as the basis of the whole data center design depending on scale, scope, and need.
Prefab data center designs can reduce infrastructure and lifecycle costs and time to deployment for data center consolidation projects as well as simplify the entire process.
For the smaller use case, micro data centers have grown in adoption to help reduce latency, costs, and keep end users happier with “edge” data centers. They house all of the elements and infrastructure in a typical data center, but in a micro format with low overhead and space requirements. Gartner estimated that by 2021, 25% of enterprises will have implemented a micro data center. Consider implementing them in your data center design or consolidation project.
4. Build and Commission
After a data center design has been finalized, it’s time to determine the logistics of transportation, procurement, and construction.
Before you can build the data center, you’ll need to build your consolidation project team.
For a smaller consolidation project to simply close down one facility and move equipment to an existing location, enterprises don’t necessarily need more than an ITAD vendor or the services vendor they contracted the design from.
However, for a data center consolidation of moderate size and up, construction contractors, subcontractors, commissioning agent(s), power/energy consultants, legal counsel, OEM vendors, the architect or design company, and your in-house IT department will be core team members.
Other project management consultants, ITAD vendors, real estate counsel, virtualization specialists, and other data center specialists may be brought on as needed.
For a project of this scale, it makes sense to bid out certain positions and not rush to fill team slots before vetting all possible candidates, deadlines permitting.
Finalizing the Data Center Consolidation Team
Before proceeding with a finalized team, it’s important to get everything in writing and outline key expectations, deliverables, and protocols for key processes for each group of the project team.
- How disputes will be resolved
- Labor expense projections
- Responsibilities of each stakeholder
- Insurance requirements
- Compensation logistics
- Grounds and procedures for termination
- Schedule and construction deliverables timetable
- Critical path activities
- Billing procedures
- Expected IT asset remarketing returns and profit share
- Data security and e-waste compliance documentation
- Reconciled asset lists for decommissioning and relocation
The construction team should consult with energy consultants and the design team to verify adherence to the original design and the viability of implementation.
Having every member of the team sign off on their responsibilities and expected performance helps to keep the project team all on the same page and avoid surprises.
With everything locked in place, the construction team is set to begin deploying the consolidation plan.
During the construction process, the construction team, auditors, and commissioning agent(s) should be putting together regular quality assurance and audit reports to ensure adherence to deadlines and expectations.
The construction team should also be laying the groundwork for operations by providing manuals, safety data, warranty documentation, and a punch list for anything not created to spec. In addition, hands-on training during or after the build process will be used along with the documentation to help determine emergency and operating protocols.
Before the new facility is ready for operation, having a commissioning agent put the facility through its paces is imperative to prevent unexpected system level issues down the line.
A commissioning agent will test the data center with similar operating conditions as it might experience with high workloads during standard operation. This helps find issues with the environment as a whole that might be missed when testing on just a component basis.
Trustworthy Data Center Consolidation & ITAD solutions
While there are many companies that provide ITAD services, few are family owned with over 25 years of experience like exIT technologies. We can be on site the next day and handle all the logistics of decommissioning and liquidating your data center equipment.
Contact us today to find out what you can get for your used IT equipment if you are consolidating your data center.