Lighten up

Consolidation strategies can let you take best advantage from your servers. Antony Adshead explores how next generation servers...

Consolidation strategies can let you take best advantage from your servers. Antony Adshead explores how next generation servers are at the heart of such moves to create an IT infrastructure that deliver higher service levels at lower costs

Departments like having their own servers. They buy them with their own budgets, have them under their own control and run their
own applications. A box to run ERP modules for accounts or sales, for example, is cheap and relatively easy to support, and their applications don’t interfere with other departments’ servers. For the IT department it is an arrangement that works – support costs
are minimised as much is done indepartment.

All that is needed is a watching brief on the hardware and the network.

But apparent savings are illusory as it becomes easier for you to consolidate processing power between machines and make full use of CPU resources. The trend towards consolidation is sweeping IT departments.

The financial case is compelling, says Quocirca analyst Clive Longbottom. “People are becoming more aware that their servers are running at [low levels] of capacity. The business is getting a greater degree of IT savvy and often saying, ‘We have six or seven times more processing power than we actually need. We don’t expect servers to run at 100% but we want somewhere near 40% or 50%, so don’t go and buy new servers, make use of what we have.’”

By bunching applications together on partitioned drives and using virtualisation and server management software, you can pool processing power across numerous machines. Not only can you save money directly by reducing hardware costs but it can quicken your business’s response times.

Vice-president for Server Research with Gartner, Andrew Butler, says, “It is not just about saving x% but of improving the agility of the business, such as bringing new products to market quickly or carrying out acquisitions smoothly. This benefit is almost impossible to measure and has a greater value than just saving a few pounds.”

Before you contemplate IT infrastructure optimisation it is imperative that assets are audited and common management tools put in place. If you don’t know what you have, how will you know if the changes you make actually improve the situation?

Mark Blowers, Senior Research Analyst with the Butler Group, says that in the current economic climate, initially you should optimise what you can in your current infrastructure before making new investment.

“Enterprises need to work smarter with existing resources, upgrading the infrastructure as part of a normal replacement programme as and when implemented efficiencies free up budget for additional capital expenditure,” he says.

That’s just the start. Gartner’s Butler points out that the IT department cannot stop after just sweating assets.

“People think that if they carry out a consolidation project in nine months that’s enough. It’s not, it’s a neverending journey. You may get 2,000 servers down to 1,500 but technology trends will always drive you to ever greater levels of utilisation.”

Enhanced efficiency

There are other consequences of system consolidation to be wary of. Network bandwidth limits can quickly become an issue and potentially can have a big influence on whether the deployment is ultimately a success. It is no good having server resources that
can be utilised if traffic cannot flow between them.

Theoretically, server consolidation might promise enhanced efficiency but bringing a greater degree of unification to IT resources can also magnify problems.

“There is a tendency for consolidation to centralise systems, meaning that performance issues and equipment problems can now have a direct impact on all the enterprise’s critical applications. Downtime or bottlenecks will have a knock-on effect on a system’s service levels,” Blowers says.

Upgrade and updates can be more difficult too. Where it is relatively simple with single servers and single applications you need to take care that here are no knock-on effects in environments with multiple applications and data across a number of boxes.

With advances in technology promising a ‘never ending journey’ of infrastructure consolidation IT departments need to adopt an approach that suits a swiftly changing environment says Blowers. “Many consolidation initiatives are one-off projects focused only on cost containment, or reduction, with the main focus on cutting back the number of physical servers found in the organisation. A better approach is to adopt an evolutionary process involving the definition of a long-term consolidation plan integrated with an IT optimisation strategy.

Avoid one-off tactical projects wherethere is a possibility of reverting back to distributed deployments after completion,” he concludes.

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