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Alcatel-Lucent whittles costs with data center consolidation

The consolidation will cut data center costs by 25% but introduced two challenges: scheduling application downtime and convincing employees that they didn't need servers nearby.

When Alcatel bought out Lucent at the end of 2006, the two companies had already begun planning data center consolidations of their own, but the merger changed all that.

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"We stopped them both and said, 'Now that we're going to merge, what's the right global plan?'" said Cliff Tozier, vice president of infrastructure for Alcatel-Lucent.

As it turns out, the merged company created a plan to winnow 25 data centers and 125 server rooms down to six data centers and just a few server rooms. By the end of 2008, the move will save 25% in operating costs, the company estimated. But still, the change hasn't come without headaches, especially in terms of arranging downtime and dealing with employees' attachment to their servers and applications.

The process started in 2007 and will take the company to the end of 2009 to complete. The two largest data centers, near Paris and Chicago, were finished last year. Alcatel-Lucent started with 10,000 servers and aims to reduce that number to less than 7,000, through a mix of virtualization, server consolidation and the phasing out of legacy applications. And with Hewlett-Packard Co.'s services and thermal dynamics software Alcatel-Lucent has made its data centers available and redundant.

When you can see [a server] and touch it nearby, having to move it to this distant location is difficult.
Cliff Tozier,
VP of infrastructureAlcatel-Lucent

Benoit Charon, a global client principal for HP, said that building a Tier 4 facility and avoiding downtime was one of the major difficulties of the consolidation. As defined by the Tier Performance Standards from the Uptime Institute, a Tier 4 data center is the most robust and typically includes fault tolerance with redundant capacity and power systems. The company was able to avoid downtime for its mission-critical enterprise resource planning and other applications and had a maximum of 36 hours of downtime for less critical applications.

Tozier noted that acclimating departments and employees to the idea of having servers farther away was a struggle.

"There's a great reluctancy from many organizations," he said. "When you can see it and touch it nearby, having to move it to this distant location is difficult. There's that ownership piece, and it's hard to have people get comfortable with that concept."

In addition, there was the challenge of finding the right time slots when applications could go down. The application team, for example, might not be able to migrate applications at the end of the month because it needs to close the financial books, while product development might not be able to do so at a different time because it's rolling out something new.

Undergoing server consolidation also meant that a lot of applications had to go to a new or different version of an operating system or database, further complicating the transition.

And of course, not everyone is going to be happy with everything that happens during a consolidation.

"Our business is under a lot of pressure in terms of time frames and under pressure to deliver a product," Tozier said. "Getting people's mindshare is a challenge. We had to get the most we could and recognize it wouldn't be perfect. It could be better if we had more time."

The progress so far
The largest of the new data centers is the one in Paris, a Tier 4 facility that has 43,000 square feet of data center floor space. At full buildout, the facilitity will be four times that size. How quickly it expands depends on which tenants the company can win; it will lease some of the space for server hosting and managed services. And despite Alcatel-Lucent's status as one of the major telecommunications companies in the world, it has never ventured into the managed services market before.

"In Europe there is a lack of high-end data center space available," Tozier said of the company's decision to become a services provider. "I would say that this is fairly new. This isn't a strategy of the company historically. In the past one to two years, it's been a strategy to move more into the services business: hosted services, managed services."

That data center will also have a mirror site about two miles away for redundancy and failover. On top of that, the company will have an additional 60,000 square feet of data center space in the Chicago area, Germany, Shanghai, Singapore and Bangalore.

Tozier said the last three of these locations are devoted mainly to handling the company's latency issues when transmitting data long distances.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. You can also check out our Server Specs blog.

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