by Laurianne McLaughlin

Consolidating Your Data Center? Avoid These Pitfalls

Mar 24, 20083 mins
Data Center

Data center consolidations are complex. Watch out for these four common mistakes.

IT departments embarking upon a massive data center consolidation project, along the lines of what CIO Elizabeth Hackenson is doing at Alcatel-Lucent, must beware of four common pitfalls, says Forrester Research principal analyst James Staten. Don’t get caught in these traps:

1. Underestimating what you don’t know. “The number-one pitfall is what you don’t know,” says Staten. “When you have this many servers and server rooms, you don’t know a lot of times which applications are in use and which are legacy, going unused.” It’s not easy to sort out the dead wood, he notes. For instance, some financial apps may only kick on at certain times in the quarter, so typically, IT tends to be conservative and leave all the financial apps in place, Staten says. “This means people don’t get the efficiency that they could,” he adds. Two approaches make sense, depending on your situation: E-mail users a list of apps you’re about to close out and ask them to speak up or forever hold their peace. Or just turn off the apps and see if anyone complains.

2. Bungling the politics. This can be the most wrenching of the pitfalls, Staten says. What typical political mistakes do IT groups doing consolidations make? “Either you don’t get the right people at the table early enough, or you think they’re on board and then they block you,” he says. A centralized IT budget can help you avoid the blocking problem, he says, because it eliminates a situation where business heads with their own IT budgets stymie your plans in the middle of the consolidation when those plans affect “their” servers. Don’t underestimate the need to get HR involved early, either, he warns. “Often, consolidation means firing people or taking IT resources out of buildings where they’ve been for a long time,” he says. “This can really stir people up.” Solution: HR needs to over-communicate regarding IT consolidations and why they’re being done.

3. Failing to manage expectations. As a CIO, you will have to set and meet expectations about the consolidation project, both financial and time-related. If you promise 30 percent savings in three years and you can’t hit the marks, you’re going to have a problem, Staten notes. What’s the main way to avoid problems in this arena? “Bring a third party to the table,” he says, as Hackenson did by using HP Services as a consulting partner to help execute her consolidation project. “That way you have an objective third party with an objective framework for financial and time methodology,” Staten says. The third party also may help distribute some blame if the project goes south, he notes.

4. Not Being Holistic. For your consolidation project, you must think far outside the number of boxes, Staten warns. “You can’t do it all with server consolidation or closing data centers,” he says. Too many companies fail to closely examine the related issues such as the client PC environment, applications and infrastructure (such as power and cooling systems) in the site where machines will be consolidated, he says. You don’t want to run out of rack space or power when you’re only partially done filling your consolidated data center site—but this happens all too often in real life, he says.