Avoid the typical gotchas in a data center consolidation and modernization project

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Organizations struggling to modernize operations and control expenditures often consider moving to converged data center operations, and they key to avoiding mistakes along the way is doing a comprehensive data center infrastructure assessment upfront.

"Where should we start? What strategy is best? How much will it cost? How long will it take?" Every organization must confront these questions and the assessment process provides the answers. The assessment includes eight steps and is designed to lead to a fully modernized and consolidated data center, while avoiding the unnecessary mistakes that can delay and infringe upon the project.

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Step 1 -- Define the purpose and goals

In this step, it is important to work with all the key stakeholders in the project. In some organizations, this may mean working with business units outside a geographic region or country. Clearly define what the high-level goal(s) of the modernization project are and what the end result of a completed project should look like. Be sure to consider all technology enablers that may assist in solving key problem areas. For instance, determine if applications or services can be outsourced, cloud-based or eliminated altogether. In other words, take this time to clean house. Migrate older servers and operating systems to virtualized platforms redundantly attached to external Fibre Channel or iSCSI storage. Be sure to also consider desktop and application virtualization, as well as the physical assets located inside the data center. Moving to virtual desktops (thin clients), consolidating applications, or moving to a SaaS topology can also provide substantial cost savings.

Step 2 -- Conduct an equipment inventory and measurements of your existing data centers

In this step, the goal should be to catalog everything within the data center environment. This includes the organization's knowledge skills and abilities (KSAs). Document the roles, services and unitization rates for every server being used. Document the types and associations, as well as quantities of storage, network and security assets. Also, measure the floor space consumed by the equipment, number of racks, support gear and the total amount of power/cooling currently being consumed. Lastly, determine how services and applications are being delivered from the data center to the end user; i.e., type, method, bandwidth, thin, think or virtual.

Step 3 -- Develop detailed solutions to address project goals

At this point, begin to align the organizational goals against the current inventory of assets and data center locations. Working with all the stakeholders, strategize on what items can be modernized or consolidated first. Determine which data center locations can be closed, consolidated to or upgraded. And what servers, storage or applications can be eliminated or virtualized. Determine how best to continue to deliver applications and services to end users that are no longer geographically located near consolidated assets. Can these end user applications and services be outsourced, virtualized or eliminated? Do not worry about budgets at this point; the only objective here is identifying every potential solution that could address the high-level goals.

Step 4 -- Develop a projected budget for each possible solution

For every solution proposed, investigate the time and materials needed and the costs associated with implementing the solution. Be sure to consider the total amount of effort involved and the impact it will have on the end user community. How much downtime would be required? Do we have the skills necessary to complete the work? Do we have a back-out plan if something went wrong?

Step 5 -- Select the best solutions that meet both the goals and budget

Now that the solutions have been determined, it's time to decide what can actually be accomplished within the organization's time frame and budgetary requirements. This is typically the area in the process where the stakeholders interject that their desires are more critical than others. There will have to be give and take from everyone and it will need to be decided what can realistically be accomplished within the budgetary constraints of the organization. Always address the most critical high-level goals first. Postpone those that are secondary, but not within the current budgetary constraints. Be realistic; it likely won't be possible to do everything on the first go around.

Step 6 -- Draft a proposal for the leadership team

This is usually the hardest step to accomplish within any organization. Working together with all the stakeholders, management needs to be convinced that the cost is worth the investment. Explain in detail why the modernization and consolidation project is going to solve issues, future proof the data center and save money. Remember, if the project team is not 100% convinced it's worth the time and investment, chances are, neither will the leadership team.

Step 7 -- Assign a project manager and begin the project

Assigning the project manager is considered the most critical project decision since it influences the performance of the project, and eventually the performance of the organization. Make sure to chose a project manager who has actually seen and managed everything listed within the agreed-upon modernization project's scope of work.

Step 8 -- Testing and review

At this final step, compare the performance and utilization metrics assessed in Step 2 against the final completed project. Once the project's success has been verified, sit back, give a sigh of relief and enjoy the success of the completed project.

Most organizations are in the process of, or are actively considering, a data center modernization and consolidation project. Performing a comprehensive data center infrastructure assessment will ensure your organization has uncovered all the possible modernization options. Use the assessment to architect, and then select the appropriate solution(s) that fit your organization's goals. Demonstrate to the leadership team the cost savings that can be achieved and be sure to get buy-in upfront with all the key stakeholders. Organizations have to be competitive to stay in business. A data center modernization and consolidation project can help your organization achieve cost savings and increase energy and operational efficiency.

Bourke is responsible for assessing and designing data center solutions to meet the ever evolving requirements of today's enterprise organizations. Bourke has more than 13 years of experience designing and implementing cutting edge IT solutions. www.akibia.com

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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