Data Center Consolidation Benefits Security, Efficiency, and Environment

    January 29, 2016
    avatar

    By Per Bauer

    In response to the growing number of options for physical, virtual, and cloud-based data centers, companies are consolidating older systems to reduce overhead, boost output, and improve their bottom line.

    In years past, the only real way to meet the expanding IT needs of a growing company was with basic addition — buy more servers to increase capacity. It was a simple, linear model, but it’s left many companies with cumbersome data centers filled with rapidly aging technology. Looking back, the method seems nearsighted at best, inefficient at worst.

    Today, companies that need more storage tend to tack in the the opposite direction — they shrink their data centers. Solid state drive (SSD) technology, virtualization, and cloud computing have allowed businesses to do much more with less. Processes are consolidated or virtualized onto a relatively small number of servers, outstanding needs are shifted to the cloud, and older hardware either remains as a disaster recovery environment or gets the boot. It’s more efficient, secure, and budget friendly.

    The Way of the Dodo

    One of the main arguments for consolidating systems and going virtual is flexibility. Critical market developments are now measured in months, not years, and companies need the option to suddenly ramp up their IT capacity when circumstance inevitably requires. Anything else is like raising a lion cub in a small apartment — you’re going to outgrow your space.

    In a virtualized environment, particularly with a cloud option, companies have immense control over businesswide IT processes and can allocate workloads efficiently, as needs arise. Combined with advanced management tools, those processes can be watertight. Of course, running fewer, more efficient machines also reduces the costs of IT, and a more highly concentrated network improves a company's ability to secure itself against threats.

    Naturally, most major players are on board with the trend. Wells Fargo is well on its way to consolidating 60% of its roughly 60,000 servers, as reported by TechTarget — they’ve been able to close 100 data centers and dramatically expand their consumer services. Reducing the bank’s data center profile has clear security benefits, but it has also cut their mainframes’ carbon footprint in half. In this case, becoming more efficient is the same as “going green” with your digital operations.

    Nor is this strategy limited to the private sector — the federal government has saved $3.3 billion with its own server consolidation plan since 2011. And many insiders argue that those savings are modest in comparison to the reductions that truly aggressive action could achieve, as the Federal Times reports.

    For any CIO seeking to increase the value of her data center strategy while minimizing risk, consolidation has practically become a given.

    Doing It Right

    But for all its merits, data center consolidation is rarely cut and dry. Simply replacing old servers with new servers, one for one, is easy. But to save money, companies must figure out how to efficiently distribute their current workloads to the minimum number of servers possible, with a clear path for future expansion in mind.

    Importantly, this requires a deep understanding of both current and historical IT resource utilization, as well as the application of predictive analytic models to accurately gauge future growth needs. On top of this, your new environment must be able to anticipate and handle service spikes to avoid downtime. After a solid plan is made, the next steps are as simple as selecting the right hardware for your needs and implementing the transition.

    Of course, companies are free to just purchase new hardware and a virtualization package, but this comes with virtually no guarantee that they’ll maximize their cost savings or that their new environment will cope well with consolidated workloads and demand peaks. The cost of server downtime is always higher than that of strategically sidestepping it.

    As technology predictably obsolesces, every company will have to make a consolidation effort somewhere down the line. This should be exciting — they stand to make serious gains in efficiency, security, and environmental responsibility. With an accurate and informed strategy in place, this process of controlled upheaval also grants companies deep insight into the limitations of their current processes and provides clear avenues for immediate improvement.

    (Main image credit: Intel Free Press/flickr)


    Category: data-security