by Michael Bullock

Beware Vendor Pressure in Data Center Relocations

Sep 11, 2009
Data Center

Service and storage vendors are using F.U.D. to sell you services you don’t need when it's time to relocate your data center.

If you’ll be moving your servers to a new location during the next couple of years, I have some advice for you: Before you buy more servers and storage systems from your current vendor, find out what impact a relocation will have on your warranty and maintenance agreements.  A little forethought in this area may save you a bundle down the road.

Now while most vendors work in a reasonable and collaborative manner, and take into account the heterogeneous nature of data centers, some do not.  My company does about a dozen data center relocations a year and I’ve found that my customers report that some top service and storage vendors exert a lot of pressure when it comes to signing up customers to services they don’t really need.

Make no mistake: Data center relocations are complex undertakings, full of business and technical risks, and every vendor would like to get a piece of the pie when you relocate. That’s their business and there’s nothing wrong with that. And many vendors provide reasonable value for the fees proposed. But you really owe it to yourself and to your enterprise to apply some due diligence and a measure of skepticism when they start tacking on services and fees that don’t make business sense.

Here’s a scenario I’ve seen repeated often: 

1. After the vendor is notified that its systems will be moved, the customer is told that he can’t use third-party movers for the vendor’s gear. In fact, the customer even may be told he must use the vendor’s own moving vans. If every vendor took this position, moving day would turn into a logistical nightmare as one would need to manage multiple vendors and multiple trucks at the loading docks on both sides of the move.

So if your vendor demands that you use its men and equipment to relocate, ask it show you where this is spelled out in your purchase and maintenance agreements. These agreements are highly customized but a requirement that you must use the vendor to move is rare. So if it’s not there, just say no. But after you do, be prepared for the vendor’s fallback position.

2. You’re told that if you use a third-party mover, you will void the warranty/maintenance and you’ll need to have your systems recertified. Again, check your agreement. The truth is most likely to be that if the system operates at the new facility for 30 days without failure, then it will be returned to warranty/maintenance status. Even if you do pay for recertification, you’ll still be on the hook for labor fees related to any failure during the 30-day window; recertification invariably only covers hardware components, not labor. If you dig into the details about recertification, you’re likely to find that given the cost, the benefits are minimal.  Most companies are better off self-insuring their servers or simply asking their relocation partner to take on this risk on their behalf.

3. You may also be told to expect a very high failure rate (as high as 20%) when you power on your servers at the new location. If you hear this from your vendor, you owe it to yourself to press for details.  Is there any data to support the assertion — which certainly should raise concerns about the system’s fragility, no? But don’t be alarmed; the failure rate caveat is pure moonshine.  Having relocated thousands of servers over the last 12 months, I have only seen two failures — and these were very old boxes caked in dust before the move. Now if you have some servers that have been in service for years without a power cycle, yes, there’s risk. But there’s also a simple solution to shake out the outliers.  Prior to relocation day, you should power cycle all systems (and maybe clean them at the same time) to make sure they’re not just a power cycle away from a failure. If some of the systems do fail, this can be fixed under your current maintenance plan before the relocation.   

4. If this pressure doesn’t work on you, then don’t be surprised if the vendor goes to your CEO or CFO.  But by doing your homework, you can explain to your executives how you can save the company a lot of money while avoiding unnecessary and non-value added service fees.

Certainly, some large, monolithic systems are best moved by the vendor, but applying that thinking to general purpose rack and blade servers is a mistake.

Finally, a well-executed data center relocation will improve reliability, not degrade it. Since most data center relocations are undertaken to solve underlying problems with power, space and cooling, moving into a properly designed space will eliminate hot spots, reduce power spikes and improve system reliability.

I welcome your comments and feedback.  Have you had similar experiences with your server and storage vendors during a data center relocation?  

Michael Bullock is the founder and CEO of Transitional Data Services (TDS), a Boston, MA-based consulting firm focusing on green data centers, data center consolidation / relocation, enterprise applications and technical operations.  Prior to founding TDS, Bullock held executive leadership positions at Student Advantage, CMGI and Renaissance Worldwide.