Are Zombies Sucking the Life Out of Your Data Center?

If your organization operates its own servers and switches, it's likely that a percentage of them are zombies--steadily gobbling up resources but doing no work. Cleaning up a zombie server infestation takes good management and stringent documentation.

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Fri, April 20, 2012

CIO — Even if your organization has gone the virtualization route or is leveraging the cloud, chances are you're still operating at least some of your own infrastructure. And that means there's a good chance you're operating servers and other equipment that are achieving nothing but the consumption of resources. That's right; you've got zombies in your data center.

"This is a very expensive issue for a lot of data centers," says Paul Goodison, CEO of Cormant, an infrastructure management company. "A server can cost something like $2,000 a year, and somewhere between 10 and 30 percent of your servers are dead. In a 4,000-server enterprise, if 400 of them are dead, you're looking at a bill for servers that are doing nothing of $800,000 a year. That's a very significant amount of money."

Goodison points to one Cormant customer that thought it had 900 pieces of equipment. When Cormant performed an inventory, it found 1,300 pieces, some of which had no LAN connections but were still hooked up to power.

Reasons for Zombie Server Infestations

Goodison says zombies tend to happen for one of two reasons. The first is that a server is lightly commissioned by the business for a period of time and becomes a line item in a spreadsheet somewhere. Over time, the need for the application on that server goes away, but there is no tieback to any physical process to decommission it, or if the decommissioning process does take place, it is only partially completed.

"The decom doesn't happen because they're not absolutely sure it's the right server," he says. "They say, 'We'll leave that one for now and come back to it.' Then they never come back to it."

It is at least as likely that the user of the service on the server was never recorded. Eventually it just stops being used and no one knows. This is common when there's no IT management solution in place, Goodison says. Servers tend to be commissioned in an ad hoc fashion, especially as part of skunkworks projects. In time, the organization knows there's a server physically there, but they don't know what it does or who provisioned it.

Getting the Data Center Under Control

To get your data center under control, Goodison says you need to start with good documentation. And that doesn't mean just another spreadsheet, Goodison warns. It starts with an accurate record of your physical equipment, along with owner information and a record of network and data connections. Switches can be zombies too, so you need to include them in your records as well. But you also need a data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tool that provides a common, real-time monitoring and management platform across your IT and facility infrastructures going forward. And your records must be updated regularly, including owner information as new equipment gets added.

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