Considerations, Assumptions and Expectations

Consider consolidating data storage and implementing a storage area network prior to server virtualization and consolidation.
Before implementing a server virtualization strategy that would enable it to consolidate physical servers, Ruby Tuesday, a restaurant chain based in Maryville, Tenn., examined its data storage operations to see what could be eliminated and then deployed a storage area network to help reduce its need for SQL servers.

"If you don't need it, don't store it," states Nick Ibrahim, CIO at Ruby Tuesday. "You must have a very good data warehouse where you store only what you need for today and for the future."

The process of consolidating Ruby Tuesday's storage required a storage consolidation team to go through each department--including legal, finance and human resources--to see which data could be eliminated and which needed to be retained for regulatory or business reasons.

The undertaking was both time-consuming and labor-intensive, but it worth the effort, according to

Ibrahim. "You have to have the data purging process," he says, adding that anything kept should help the business or be required by law--otherwise data should not be stored in a storage area network.

Ruby Tuesday had acquired a large number of SQL servers over the years as the business grew. "With client-server, people used to throw in server after server after server," Ibrahim recalls. The company's subsequent IT managers were hesitant to remove those servers in case they might be needed at some point.

Following its storage consolidation, Ruby Tuesday installed a SAN, from which virtualized servers would boot. In a virtual environment, Ibrahim says, businesses have to be able to access the data in the same physical space in case a server crashes. Virtual environments balance loads in processing, so they have to be able to see the storage area network and share the processing. "If each server has its own space, it will not be feasible to use virtual servers," he explains.

About a year ago, Ruby Tuesday launched its server virtualization initiative in its data center using VMware software. That enabled the company to consolidate 130 servers into just four.

The benefits? Better performance and ease of management, according to Ibrahim. Furthermore, energy consumption is down in Ruby Tuesday's data center because of the drastic reduction in physical servers, and the company has greater flexibility because it can allocate server capacity as needed. "Virtualization allowed this, but you need to have a SAN to access data," he says.

Don't assume one technology solution or approach will work in all cases and for all departments.
Organizations might be tempted to emulate what others are doing to consolidate their IT infrastructure--by deploying some type of virtualization, for example. Yes, virtualizing servers, storage systems and desktop devices can help reduce the number of infrastructure assets, but the technology is not for everyone.

"Just because server virtualization is the most common means of achieving consolidation gains, it's not a hammer for every proverbial nail," says James Staten, principal analyst at Forrester. "Some workloads are better consolidated onto newer hardware but kept as physical deployments."

Virtualization is a key tactic for achieving higher resource utilization and a primary means of consolidation, Staten says. But it shouldn't be seen as the be-all and end-all. Other tactics--including physical consolidation, improved processes, standardization, and simply turning off and retiring applications and servers that are no longer needed--also should be used.

Also, CIOs should not assume that all business units or internal groups will automatically go along with IT infrastructure consolidation projects, even if these plans promise cost savings and other benefits for the organization as whole. "Some won't--and for justified reasons," Staten says. CIOs will need to win over these groups by demonstrating how consolidation will help the business.

Organizations should always conduct a thorough asset inventory and performance analysis so they can develop a complete picture of all the IT assets they have and how best to consolidate them, he says.

Don't set expectations too high.
To successfully pull off an IT infrastructure consolidation, CIOs will undoubtedly need ongoing support from senior business executives, line-of-business heads and other senior executives, such as the CFO. The best way to get--and keep-- that support is to meet established objectives.

In planning how long an infrastructure consolidation project will take, Staten cautions that IT must be careful not to set timelines that are too aggressive. "When you roadmap your consolidation timeframe, be conservative with business constituents so you set expectations that you can beat," he says. "This gets them behind you for later phases of consolidation, which you will need, because IT consolidation is often a very political change."

Another thing to avoid is overestimating the cost savings of a consolidation effort. Organizations can save 20 percent of more via consolidation, Forrester has found, but those savings often come with higher software costs, flat staffing and a big upfront investment.

Staten says that the most common type of saving organizations attain from consolidation efforts is cost avoidance, such as not having to buy as many new servers each year. "But, often, all the other cost categories are minimally affected," he says.

It's wise to lay out the potential benefits of consolidation at the beginning, Quaker Chemical's Manning says. Consolidation initiatives usually include a series of projects over multiple years, so it's important to get justification for the entire effort up front.

"As each new project starts, it's difficult to show a justification for that project by itself," Manning says. "The benefits are realized when all the pieces are in place, so you can refer to the original justification each time you go for funding after that point."

Manning tries to avoid using only a return on investment justification for consolidation. Instead, he uses an ROI argument combined with a risk management line of reasoning. That way, he shows that consolidation provides not only a cost savings benefit, but also a disaster recovery benefit.

"This can help keep the project alive in tough economic times, like the ones we have right now, when the ROI cutoff line gets drawn a bit higher," he says.

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This article was originally published on 11-04-2008
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