Data center consolidation strategy can benefit from ITIL lifecycle

Data center consolidation projects can be complex and risky, but if IT organizations use the ITIL lifecycle to document the process, it can help smooth the transition.

Many organizations have looked to data center consolidation to reduce IT costs and increase capacity. The rationale is that newer technology and fewer data centers can cut operating expenses. However, data center consolidation is complex and risky, and cost reductions are not guaranteed.

Some IT organizations have mature data center processes that can support the transition of services from one data center to another. There are many dependencies to take into account during a data center consolidation, and an experienced IT staff understands that a holistic service perspective is needed to analyze what must be moved.

When IT delivers a service, there's more involved than just hardware and software. For a successful migration, all crucial elements must be taken into account.
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In contrast, the majority of IT organizations tend to lack the experience and process maturity to undertake consolidation with predictable outcomes. These groups need to develop their capabilities quickly.

For organizations that are constrained by deadlines, it may not be possible to spend months designing and implementing full-blown integrated processes; instead, tactical processes must be rapidly assembled. The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) can be beneficial as a source of reference to identify key considerations during the movement of services, even if the consolidation is done in an accelerated manner.

One reason that ITIL is relevant to data center consolidation initiatives is the concept of a service. When IT delivers a service, there's far more involved than just hardware and software. For a successful migration, all crucial elements must be taken into account. Everything may not be replicated, but management must at least understand the requirements and make well-educated decisions.

If we look to the ITIL lifecycle, the processes that underpin each lifecycle phase can be used to suit the needs at hand.

Service strategy
It is important to understand the objectives of the data center consolidation. You must identify the candidate services and make sure you understand the business processes that each service supports. From there, you can design a roadmap for the services from a design and capacity perspective. Then you can create a prioritized list of services to move, taking risks, opportunities and dependencies into consideration.

Service design
Each candidate service must be thoroughly understood. This includes configuration item relationships between hardware, software, people, documentation and facilities. It also means that knowledge about the services' design and operation must be captured, codified and transferred. Organizations cannot afford protracted learning curves while site personnel in the new data center become familiar with transplanted services. Instead, supporting knowledge for design and operating specifications must transition as well. It's equally critical to understand service-level expectations (even informal ones), capacity requirements and events related to each service.

Service transition
The candidate services need to be project-managed and governed by change management. Production releases must be carefully coordinated, with dependencies and risks taken into account. You must undertake proper testing and validation to help ensure that services will run as expected in the new data center.

Service operations
Technical operations, service desk and resolution-process staff, as well as relevant stakeholders, must have the training to support the technologies and ready access to repositories such as the service knowledge management system that identify how to maintain the services. If there are challenges, engineering must be engaged to revise procedures and checklists in a controlled manner.

Continuous improvement
There must be a formal method, based on lessons learned during the data center consolidation, to improve the transitioned services and update the processes that support consolidation and production. If the previous site had improvement plans, those need to become part of the transition as well.

The above considerations are examples, and the main point is that the ITIL lifecycle can teach us a great deal and we can use it as the basis of expedient processes for data center consolidation. The initial discovery-related processes will need to identify and document the current state of the data center, where there are opportunities to improve, what needs to be done to transition each service and how to operate the services in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: George Spafford is a IT management consultant, author and speaker with over 20 years of experience helping IT organizations improve their strategies and processes. He can be reached at gspaff@hotmail.com.

What did you think of this feature? Write to SearchDataCenter.com's Matt Stansberry about your data center concerns at mstansberry@techtarget.com.

This was first published in October 2009

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