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Data center consolidation projects pave the way for innovation in 2014

Enterprise IT is set to transition from older platforms to newer technology such as the cloud. Data center consolidation is a step in that direction.

As enterprise IT maps out its plans for 2014, one of the biggest infrastructure projects on the horizon is all about going smaller.

Data center consolidation is in the works for many in the enterprise, according to TechTarget's IT priorities survey with 4,151 respondents.

In the survey, 38% said they would implement some form of enterprise data center consolidation in 2014. Organizations have made it a priority to move forward with new platforms, such as cloud computing, hence why consolidation is back on the agenda.

"Virtualization brought in the first raft of true consolidation," said Clive Longbottom, co-founder and service director at Quocirca, an IT research company in the U.K. "Cloud brings in the new raft. After so many years of not spending, organizations now see that they have to move on."

In many cases, Longbottom said, the cost of keeping old systems up and running ends up being more than the replacement cost, leading enterprises toward consolidation.

In fact, despite their best efforts, many IT departments actually don't save nearly as much now as they did just five years ago, analysts said.

"A lot of the easy targets for cutting costs ... have harvested the low-hanging fruit and therefore are yielding less cost savings per year," said Wayne Kernochan, president of Infostructure Associates LLC, a research firm based in Wellesley, Mass. "Thus, IT may be revisiting tried-and-true cost-saving strategies that have lain fallow for a decade, like consolidation."

Analysts agreed that consolidation saves money in the long run.

"Data center consolidation is a way to reduce costs, [which is] important to those organizations that are still facing tight budgets," said Carl Claunch, an analyst with Gartner Inc. "It is also a useful project for all IT groups because anything that cuts the costs of operating and maintaining existing systems allows more of the budget to be applied to implementing new systems that innovate or deliver additional value to the overall business/organization."

Through his conversations with IT personnel, Kernochan believes the market is ripe for a new generation of consolidation strategies.

Data center consolidation approaches

How each enterprise goes about consolidating, however, varies wildly.

While virtualization continues to be the primary path to consolidate a data center, many other approaches have picked up steam.

After so many years of not spending, organizations now see that they have to move on.

Clive Longbottom, 
co-founder and service director, 

Of the respondents to the survey, 55% said they will use virtual server farms to consolidate their data center, 42% said cloud infrastructure, and 35% chose hosted servers. (Respondents were able to select more than one option.)

Enterprises often look outside their data center for something more flexible, where they don't have to continuously retrofit different power distribution and cooling systems in place to keep up with the increasingly dense equipment, Longbottom said.

"The move to hosted servers ... shows me that the issues around trying to second-guess the future has gotten to be too much for many," Longbottom said.

The cloud, meanwhile, presents another intriguing consolidation option.

"If public cloud can pick up the slack, some present in-house resources may not be necessary," Kernochan said.

Breaking down consolidation

Data center consolidation at its core can be stripped down to four different areas -- physical space, hardware, software and database.

In order for a physical consolidation to be successful, an enterprise must preserve remote disaster recovery to ensure each data center maintains good performance, Kernochan said.

"The most common strategies are to combine multiple centers, ending up with one or two data centers to handle the full needs of the organization," Gartner's Claunch said. "If the organization wishes to provide disaster recovery capabilities, the target is two centers; otherwise the goal is often a single center."

Hardware consolidation is an appealing option due to power consumption concerns, although Kernochan said the mainframe is really the only architecture that could support it.

While software consolidation may seem simple on the outside -- for instance, just use fewer vendors -- it's a bit more complex than that.

"It all requires careful planning, as well as care, to ensure that one is not too dependent on one vendor for business-critical software," Kernochan said.

Finally, database consolidation, or combining data stores or file systems of multiple servers into fewer stores and systems, is hardly used, and with good reason.

"It is unusually hard to migrate from one vendor's database to another," Kernochan said.

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