Reducing data centre costs without compromise

Find out how to cut data centres costs in three areas without compromising data security or quality of service. According to experts, organisations should focus on infrastructure consolidation, OS and application rationalization, and virtualisation and green IT.

Richard Blanford of Fordway

Given the current economic climate, IT departments are under pressure to reduce costs. But can they do this without compromising on data security or quality of service?

I believe they can cut data centre costs, provided that they focus on three key areas. As a matter of urgency, they should address hardware consolidation and centralisation, rationalising operating systems and applications, and virtualising as much of their IT infrastructures as possible.

All of these take capital investment to achieve, but in all cases -- and particularly when combined -- the operational cost savings and business benefits will easily mitigate the outlay.

Our return on investment studies show that in three to four years, organisations achieve 25% or more in annual savings against their current IT infrastructure costs, even after the capital cost of the changes. If done correctly, they can also significantly improve data security and the quality of service that IT departments can offer their organisation.

Infrastructure consolidation 
Using data centre resources more effectively means using fewer but higher-performing hardware devices rather than standalone distributed servers. The average server in most corporate IT environments is less than 10% utilised and has at least 80% spare disk capacity. Savings arise from better utilisation of central resources as well as reduced systems management and administration.

Data centre infrastructure consolidation reduces the number of physical servers and other devices required, and typically replaces them with a smaller number of larger or more modern units. These should be able to run at considerably higher utilisation, particularly where virtualisation or partitioning is used to allow multiple workloads on one piece of hardware.

The typical corporate Wintel server runs at less than 10% utilisation, consuming around 500 W. Running that server at 60% utilisation, which is easily possible using virtualisation, draws 550 W, does not decrease the server's useful life and means five or six times fewer servers are needed. These are real, realisable savings.

We enabled a local authority client to consolidate the workload of 84 standalone servers onto four new servers and obtain better performance and availability, saving over £150,000 in server replacement costs alone. Another client is saving over £80,000 per year in reduced electricity costs alone before factoring in savings in other costs for data centre space, reduced cabling and other infrastructure.

Operating system and application rationalisation 
Operating system and application rationalisation reduces the number of software elements to be supported, hence the complexity of the infrastructure and the number of devices required to deliver it to users. Fewer software elements also mean reduced user training and support and fewer interfaces between applications to manage and maintain.

We have seen several organisations who maintain three or more separate email systems and multiple enterprise resource planning, financial, and reporting systems, each requiring a bespoke interface to the other systems to be monitored, managed and maintained. Clearly this provides significant opportunities for improvement.

Virtualisation and green data centres
Data centre virtualisation separates the application or service from the physical hardware, increasing flexibility, allowing multiple applications and services to run on the same physical hardware and greatly increasing utilisation. It enables common pools of hardware to be shared and resources to be dynamically assigned as required, whilst providing considerably faster recovery times in the event of a disaster.

Addressing green IT can also provide genuine business benefits. I believe the concepts behind green data centres and green IT are actually just sensible business practices that every organisation should support and adopt -- consolidation, reducing power consumption and increasing sustainability.

I have already discussed the benefits of consolidation. Reducing power consumption comes from better design, both of the IT hardware itself and the data centres housing it. One of the measurements we use is the power usage effectiveness, or PUE, rating system from Green Grid IT industry consortium, which measures power consumption against the computing output of a given facility and gives excellent guidelines to reducing consumption, many of which can be retrofitted to existing data centres.

Another key issue is rapid hardware turnover of the hardware. We advise clients to install modular and upgradeable systems, so that when replacements are needed they simply replace a small number of components inside the unit rather than the complete unit.

Thus, by focusing on three data centre strategic issues and the need to become greener by reducing consumption, IT departments can reduce operational costs and generate significant business benefits without compromising the quality of service.

Richard Blanford is the managing director of reseller Fordway. 

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