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ITIL expert gives advice on data center relocation

Moving your data center inevitably demands vigorous infrastructure scrutiny beforehand to ensure a smooth swap. But don't let such a mammoth task be valued only as a means to relocate, said Fred Latala, director of data center relocation services at Forsythe Solutions Group, which aids moves with partners such as EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, StorageTek, and Sun Microsystems Inc. Latala, a consultant during relocations involving plenty of potentially messy IT scenarios, says using the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) can help turn a relocation event into an opportunity to improve your network and ability to manage. Since the mid-90s, ITIL, a customizable framework of best practices that's "more descriptive than prescriptive," has been promoted as a standard and is generally considered the most widely accepted approach to IT Service Management. When it comes to relocation, Latala says, you're putting in the work anyway -- why not take the opportunity to make it repeatable?

How does ITIL affect a data center relocation?
Having implemented the concept of ITIL will make [an organization] far more mature and ready to take on this type of project. Change management and configuration management are two of the key processes in ITIL service support and those are two things that most customers don't do really well.

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 Why is change management key?
Use any example you want, say e-mail. E-mail is made up of many components on the backend from an IT perspective -- everything from the Outlook client to servers and storage and network and people that support it.

Do I know what all those components on the back end are? Do I have them stored somewhere that can be maintained for process? Do I understand the interrelationship between all of them? The configuration management is the storing and maintaining of all that information. So now when I do change management, when I do the risk and impact analysis of implementing that change, I have that information at my fingertips to do that effectively.

Most organizations don't have that information stored. They may have a spreadsheet of all their components, but the real value is how they interrelate, how changing one impacts another. Those concepts are so critical to doing something successful, whether it's a data center move or any other major change. If they're not very good at change and configuration management, it's going to be hard -- the move is harder to make successful and they should improve on those processes, before, during and after a move. Could you give an example of the repercussions of being under prepared?
The customer that does not have a good understanding of the interrelationships of the assets to the business can make mistakes. They'll take a server down, and they don't understand the impact to one business area. They think it primarily supports finance but, lo and behold, manufacturing needs some of that information. They bring that down during a time where finance perhaps has an ability to have an outage, but manufacturing is still running. Or it could be something more complex. They mistakenly take a piece of the infrastructure down that supports all of their systems. Maybe it's a DNS [domain name server], maybe it's something in the monitoring and management system. Understanding the multiple layers of IT, how they fit together and how they all correlate is really a critical, critical piece of this. Do you find there's much of a difference between industries, or does it depend more on individual data centers?

I do believe there's a layer of commonality across all industries for IT, and that's what ITIL is really about; best practices, the best way to run regardless of the industry. By taking that up a layer, there are special requirements. If you're in the pharmaceutical industry, that's highly regulated by the FDA, you have to go through very special processes to ensure no changes have been made to any systems that are related to the manufacture or distribution of drugs.

In the financial industry, or anybody that deals with public information, there has been an increased level of scrutiny as far as security of data during relocation. Who has access? How do you ensure that you don't lose data? During these types of projects, you're going to be bringing in a significant number of people that generally are not on site that have access to your systems. There's a lot of diligence that needs to be played. Making sure there's traceability of everything throughout the entire event. All the way down to, in some cases, applying special seals to the trucks to make sure that we can prove that the doors were not opened and nothing could have been touched. What are some common mistakes or factors people might overlook more than others?

It comes to communication, inevitably. A customer will have one phase of a plan that was used for the electricians to layout a data center. Subsequently, rack locations have changed, things move around, there's no communication. Moving day comes, everybody gets there, everything's put in place, they go to plug in and the connector is six feet short from where the plug is. That effective communication, change management of a project and attention to detail comes into play. The same thing occurs with networking. It's all about preplanning.

Another thing that bites people is logistics. Not understanding that there are inherent choke points in an environment. Like 'Wow, hey, if I bring a lot of people in to do this work, we can get it done a lot faster.' But then they don't understand you can't have all the cabinets open at the same time and have all these people in the same rows. If you don't take things out in a proper sequence, it's like a Tetris game. How do you keep the momentum after the move?

You need sponsorship and support, and defining it as a project, laying out a plan. If you can start that before and during the process, then once you go through this event, you are going to have a wonderful set of perspectives on your environment, up to date documentation about your assets and how they're interrelated, everything about how you physically set this environment up. Don't fall in the trap of not maintaining that.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Joe Spurr, News Writer

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