The four steps to IT consolidation

Tell your spouse that you’d like to consolidate your neatly organised home storage to a single closet and the idea may be met with a startled face twisted into a smirk.

February 13, 2013

By Christo Briedenhann, Country Manager of Riverbed Technology, Africa

Tell your spouse that you’d like to consolidate your neatly organised home storage to a single closet and the idea may be met with a startled face twisted into a smirk. Why would you want to destabilise the status quo if what you have is adequate?

Similarly, broader IT consolidation initiatives in enterprises are often met with skepticism because of complexity, distance and latency, and the constraints of traditional IT organisational silos. And if things go awry, IT is in the hot seat to fix the problem and potentially backtrack on the project as executives and end users shake their heads in disappointment.

But progressive organisations are exploring ways to use the latest virtualisation technologies to move beyond server consolidation to deliver an efficient data center infrastructure and expand the benefits of consolidation enterprise-wide. The benefits of a well planned and executed consolidation approach can not only save money, but also mitigate risk while boosting efficiency and business agility.

The path starts with adopting advanced consolidation strategies that build upon a foundation of basic server virtualisation, deepen the use of virtualisation, and extend consolidation across the enterprise.

It goes without saying that any consolidation strategy requires careful analysis and planning before execution. The strategies below all involve the data center, which has been the focus of much recent investment, and serves as the bastion of cost-efficiency and control for IT branch offices.

1. Consolidate data centers
Returning to the closet analogy, wouldn’t it be great to store all of your tax documents, family pictures, and textbooks in a single closet? Imagine how easy and quick it would be to find your tax return in neatly organised and properly labeled drawers? The benefits of having such a “dream” closet at home are similar to having a consolidated data center in the IT world, where IT is completely centralised.

The big question is how to eliminate data centers without impeding performance and the productivity of employees. The first step is to analyse and plan with application performance baselines and dependency maps to reduce the risk and to brace for challenges, such as migrating data and applications so that there is no interruption to the business. With selected data centers outfitted to assume greater load and remaining data centers scheduled for closures, you must replicate applications to the surviving data centers and then transition users to the new host. You can use application delivery controllers (ADCs) to redirect users between facilities and increase the ongoing reliability and performance of those applications. ADCs have global and local load balancing capabilities that allow you to shift application resources between locations, manage and upgrade underlying infrastructure, and distribute application load between multiple servers and data centers, all without disrupting end-user access to applications.

The remaining data centers will have to support more users from further locations, so you may think that more bandwidth is required to support the increased traffic over the WAN. However, that may not be the silver bullet – and in many cases is not necessary. Latency combined with application protocol inefficiencies is the real culprit that bottlenecks WANs. By implementing a WAN optimisation solution between the remaining data centers and field offices before migrating applications, you can accelerate the migration of data and applications to the new location, as well as ensure that end users continue to experience consistent levels of performance.

2. Virtualise application delivery
Does the idea of a fully virtualised, highly automated, and highly efficient concentration of computing resources appeal to you? Then consider how the architecture underpinning the applications hosted in your data centers can be structured to realise this vision. Server virtualisation, storage provisioning, and deduplication technologies can drive greater efficiency from infrastructure investments, but they are largely agnostic to applications. That means applications remain as resource inefficient as ever. Spikes in user requests can cause many mission-critical application servers to become unstable and fail.

ADCs can improve the resource utilisation of an application by offloading compute-intensive functions, like compression, SSL decryption, and content caching. Virtual and software ADCs take it a step further to help with scaling and improving the end user performance of applications that become more distributed and virtualised. They can be deployed on demand anywhere, anytime, on any platform, physical, virtual, or in the cloud, and can be managed centrally. This gives you more choice and more flexibility on how and where to deploy ADC resources, which means more control over your virtualisation projects.

3. Centralise infrastructure
Whatever the reason, application infrastructure has found its way into makeshift server closets and micro-data centers in branch offices at many organisations. Address this complexity and improve security and data protection practices by centralising application infrastructure. Doing so will let you take advantage of even greater cost efficiencies at data centers, where virtualisation and automation have maximum impact. But note, relocating an application requires the same planning and analysis as eliminating an entire data center, as well as factoring new or increased dependency on the WAN. This means adjusting for the impact of distance between the central data center and distributed end users. Fortunately, you can use WAN optimisation solutions to accelerate applications for users in branch offices or remote locations, edge virtual server infrastructure (edge-VSI) to consolidate your branch office storage to the data center, and quality of service (QoS) to finely control the mix of application traffic across the WAN and make better use of scarce network resources.

4. Minimise branch IT
Local print, DNS, and DHCP servers are “edge” services that defy many infrastructure centralisation efforts. Such services can still benefit from innovations like server virtualisation. Leading WAN optimisation solutions now allow organisations to run these services on their appliances, so you can eliminate these redundant branch servers to further reduce hardware, software, maintenance costs, and complexity. It also helps to have an application-aware network performance management solution in place to passively collect network performance data and capture packet details from existing infrastructure, such as routers and even WAN optimisation appliances. This provides the visibility you need into branch traffic without introducing additional hardware or taxing the network. After all, you can’t control what you can’t see.

Consolidation projects have moved beyond beginner tactics. But the goals of advanced consolidation strategies remain largely the same – greater efficiency and the opportunity to streamline and automate IT processes. Implementing the four strategies discussed can help you realise a trinity of benefits: users in the branch get the performance they require, IT maintains total control, and the business enjoys a high return on IT investment.

As for a winning formula for consolidating your home storage without peeving your spouse…we’ll have to get back to you on that.