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Q&A: Data center consolidation expert, Clay Ryder

Clay Ryder, president of Union City, Calif-based analyst firm The Sageza Group Inc., spoke at Data Center Decisions 2006 last week in Chicago. We caught up with Ryder before the conference for an email interview on the topic of his presentation, data center consolidation.

When should a data center manager consider consolidating an existing data center?

Clay Ryder
Clay Ryder

 When it leads to enhanced business, operational or financial performance. Keep in mind that equipment refresh is inevitable in any organization and refresh cycles are an excellent time to consider the value of consolidation to state of the art platforms. While hardware driven refresh can be a more optimal time to plan consolidations, however, software driven hardware obsolescence can demand strategic reconsideration of platform loyalty. Also, consider that power and real estate considerations are becoming key drivers for many organizations data center strategies. Does it make more sense to consolidate existing space or build out from scratch?
It depends upon the situation. Generally most organizations have too big of an investment in existing infrastructure and cannot justify developing a complete replacement infrastructure and then cut over once it is complete. Hence this can be an incremental process.

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Nevertheless, consolidation is a realistic option that generates benefits for most organizations of any size. Small firms may be able migrate/consolidate onto one server whereas mid sized and larger firms can reduce the number and complexity of all servers deployed. Standardization of platforms, either all at once, or over time has considerable benefit, especially for smaller organizations. How does a data center manager recoup the initial investments after a consolidation?
IT staff often spend a majority of their time and resources simply keeping things running-- and business disruption is a very significant threat. By consolidating and simplifying the infrastructure, personnel can be redeployed to more valuable activities. Now operational costs should be reduced which will help offset the initial investment but over time expenses should be recouped over the life of consolidated infrastructure. Additionally efficiency and simplicity can be used as competitive differentiators. Is there a different approach to consolidating servers vs. applications?
Yes, it depends upon the focus of the initiative. For an organization that is further along the path of service-oriented architecture (SOA), the focus is more likely on applications as opposed to servers. But the creation of virtualized environment with servers will aid the movement to SOA or provide opportunities for application consolidation. This is especially true if there were multiple servers supporting the same specific application workload. What should be the first steps when approaching a large scale consolidation project?
Assess present and future IT needs. Map needs onto an architectural strategy to choose the IT strategy for the next several years. What hardware and software has reached a mandatory refresh? Are there opportunities for optional strategic refresh?

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