Consolidation C. Cooper 855 words Doing More With Less Server and storage consolidation helps organizations gain better control over their IT environments. If a little is good, then a lot must be better, right? Well, not necessarily. Over the past several years, organizations of all sizes have been adding servers at an astounding rate. Many of these servers were purchased to support a single application, with little forethought regarding future capacity and management needs. Others were added simply to increase storage capacity — with direct-attached storage, a new server has to be added whenever a disk gets full. This proliferation of low-end file, print and application servers and their associated storage devices has created a complex and difficult-to-manage computing environment in many organizations. It also increases costs. Experts say that much of this server and storage capacity is wasted — sometimes as little as 25 percent is actually used. Although the cost of hardware has dropped dramatically in recent years, the total expenses can quickly mount when you consider per-server software licenses, backup and recovery solutions and other necessary add-ons. Multiple "single points of failure" boost the potential for network downtime, so disk subsystems and other components are often replicated on multiple servers to achieve an acceptable level of fault tolerance. It All Adds Up The increased IT staffing required to manage and maintain the complex environment further adds to the total cost of ownership (TCO) of distributed servers. Simply managing backups and distributing patches and upgrades can demand many staff hours. If the servers are geographically dispersed, on-site personnel may be required at each location. The massive number of distributed servers deployed in many organizations may also have strategic implications. A plethora of distributed servers can plague companies as they attempt to adopt new technologies, access information, integrate with partners and operate in a real-time global environment. Scalability — the ultimate strength of centralized host systems — is the Achilles’ heel of low-end servers. When the processing capacity of these servers is reached, more servers must be added, increasing cost and system management headaches. The explosive growth in the number of distributed servers has also caused serious storage management headaches. Individual distributed servers typically have their own direct-attached storage devices, creating "islands" of data and poorly managed storage capacity. Isolated, unintegrated storage devices require local storage management — a difficult and costly proposition. They also limit data protection options to local, potentially unreliable tape backup. Consolidate and Conquer As a result, the "more is better" mindset so prevalent a few years ago is being tempered by a growing trend toward consolidation of IT resources. Although it seldom makes sense to return to the “glass wall” environment of the mainframe era, organizations can benefit from consolidating or relocating some distributed systems. Consolidating servers, applications and storage devices can decrease IT costs dramatically. The greatest savings can be attributed to the benefits of reduced infrastructure complexity and improved responsiveness. Reduced server maintenance and application management burdens allow IT departments to do more with less staff — and better utilize staff skills throughout a unified environment. Server consolidation has strategic benefits as well. It improves the stability of business-critical information and processes, and simplifies security requirements. It allows organizations to more easily integrate new technologies. It also allows them to align multiple applications to aid competitiveness — such as meshing operational and decision-support systems to improve customer service or meet other goals. In today's data-intensive environments, storage is a key consideration in any server consolidation project. Storage can be centralized physically on a high-end server, or virtually via storage area network and network attached storage solutions. In addition to lowering staffing costs, centralized storage allows data to be managed with a single set of hardware and software tools. Backups, physical maintenance of storage media, logical protection of data and capacity management are simplified in a centralized environment. Greater integration of data resources also provides many strategic advantages to the organization. Do the Math The first step in any server consolidation strategy is to identify the hardware, software, processes and staff functions that could be combined. Under-utilized file and print servers are obvious candidates, but there may be others. For example, many organizations have applications that require substantial server capacity at certain peak periods — such as an accounting application at month-end — yet sit idle at most other times. Centralizing similar applications and data can sometimes ease the cost and complexity of other projects. Organizations deploying storage area networks or implementing business continuity plans can save time and headaches through server consolidation. IT managers facing the addition or upgrade of low-end servers or an operating system migration would also do well to consider the benefits of consolidation. Consolidating IT functionality onto fewer high-end servers can simplify an organization’s IT infrastructure, enable greater control of computing resources and lower TCO. The TCO justification for replacing a number of low-end or legacy servers with a high-end system is well documented. In addition to the cost savings associated with simplified management and maintenance, there's the simple fact that high-end systems have a longer life span than their low-end counterparts. If the performance of your IT infrastructure is waning, or if it is not proving to be as cost-effective as you’d expected, server consolidation can help. Just remember: more isn't necessarily better.
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