Determine Goals Before Launching Project

Determine where you're going with infrastructure consolidation before you start the journey.
"Don't start implementing consolidation before you have developed the future state architecture and roadmap and have mobilized appropriately," Curran says. "Whenever you reprioritize or consolidate, it's important that you have a target [infrastructure] into which the consolidated hardware, software and labor will be organized."

Diamond usually calls the multisystem end state an architecture design. "Many organizations use the term 'architecture' to describe the purely technical design of how boxes, wires and system software are installed and laid out," Curran says. "In order to do a proper software consolidation, the architecture design must also consider the business capabilities planned for the upcoming 12, 24 and 36 months, related business functions, gaps in existing application software, etc."

End-state systems architectures can serve as good visual tools to have discussions about functional and technical gaps, prioritization in consolidation efforts and infrastructure planning, he adds.

In addition to plotting out an architecture map for the consolidated infrastructure environment, it's a good idea to evaluate existing processes and organizational roles to see how they might be affected by consolidation.

Brad Manning, CIO at Quaker Chemical, a Conshohocken, Pa., chemicals manufacturer, says large organizations should look at organizational design and IT process flows before consolidating: "Ensure that the infrastructure organization is not fractured and reports up through a central vice president or director. Ensure that processes that need to be revamped are done alongside the infrastructure consolidation effort."

Deploy virtualization software as a way to eliminate physical IT components.
In recent years, few technologies have gained as much attention from IT executives as virtualization--perhaps with good reason. Virtualization can lead to more efficient provisioning of resources, increased flexibility, lower costs and reduced energy consumption. Organizations can apply virtualization to servers, storage systems and desktop computers--each of which can help with consolidation efforts.

With server virtualization, servers can be provided as "pools" of logical computing capacity. Virtualized servers are divided into multiple virtual devices and can run multiple operating systems and applications as if they were running on physically separate machines.

Storage virtualization lets organizations create large pools of storage, so several physical storage networks or systems can be used as one large repository of data managed from one location. And desktop virtualization allows desktop operating environments to be hosted on servers, so users can interact with the desktop remotely, usually through a thin client device.

"Virtualization is a significant component of the technical environment of the future," says Diamond's Curran. He adds that its successful implementation requires knowledge of how each application uses server and storage resources, because it allows a business to perform an impact analysis and minimize disruption to users.

Charles Christopherson, CFO and CIO at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, also cautions that virtualization requires doing some homework. "Many [USDA] agencies want to virtualize their network because they believe it will lead to lower costs and less work," he says. "However, as in all IT implementations, virtualization is not a quick-fix solution."

Once the systems are consolidated in a data center and applications are reviewed, Christopherson says, the appropriate applications can be moved to a virtualized stack using accepted policies implemented by highly trained workers.

The USDA is in the midst of a data center consolidation project that involves gradually consolidating systems (including application servers in more than 3,000 locations around the country that are used for farm programs) to four or five enterprise data centers. The key goals of the project--in which server virtualization plays a major role--are to increase security, reduce costs, improve IT support and reduce energy consumption.

Prior to the establishment of enterprise data centers, the key USDA metrics for IT were data center uptime and customer satisfaction. Now, all enterprise data centers are required to have security patches for vital equipment in place within a specified period of time; to conduct an annual inspection on the conditioning of power sources and the flow of air conditioning; and to maintain a certain level of protection for critical equipment.

Virtualization in the data centers will enable the USDA to improve server utilization rates and reduce the number of servers by 30 percent to 40 percent.

Virtualization technology has matured enough to make it a "no-brainer decision," says Quaker Chemical's Manning, who adds that he "would not consider a consolidation project today without using virtualization." He says the technology is mature on the server and storage side, but desktop virtualization is still evolving and should be closely evaluated in a consolidation project.

Quaker Chemical launched a virtualization initiative when its key servers were coming off a lease and it faced the choice of updating the servers or adopting virtualization. The move to virtualization helped the company achieve more efficient use of its server and storage resources and related cost savings.

This article was originally published on 11-04-2008
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