Data center optimization: Overhaul or incremental changes?

Moderated by Bill Detwiler | April 1, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: The opportunities for cost reductions and efficiency improvements are undeniable. But which approach best serves your organization?

David Chernicoff

David Chernicoff

Overhaul

or

Incremental

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

46%
54%

Audience Favored: Incremental (54%)

Closing Statements

Keep your options open

David Chernicoff

It’s clear that the choice, like many in IT, needs to be tailored to the specific needs of the business. Comments here and those I’ve received in email certainly make the case that incremental is often considered the safer choice. But safe doesn’t necessarily mean best.  When you’re spending resources in your data center you need to consider what the best overall return on investment is. Ruling out options because there is a level of risk or discomfort is not going to lead to the best business decisions.

Like the old saw ‘no one ever got fired for buying XXX” you can play things safe, but that adage became untrue when businesses realized that maintaining the status quo might not the best model for long term business success. As such,  the option to overhaul large components of your datacenter infrastructure should remain on the table, regardless of the desire to focus on safe, low risk choices.

Save time and money

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

If your server room is not stuck in the Flintstone days, then taking an incremental approach to upgrades could allow your company to save time and money. It will reduce the risk of downtime which is inevitably associated with any major overhaul.

Also, as long as your server room isn't creaking under the weight of its current workload, taking an incremental view to upgrading allows money to be spent on customizing the hardware to make it better suited to what is being asked of it.

And, if you're still not convinced about taking the incremental approach, consider the costs -- both direct and indirect -- of a total overhaul, and imagine running that past the CFO.

All of a sudden, incremental sounds great, doesn't it,

It's a draw

Bill Detwiler

We've had close votes before, but this was the first time in Great Debate history that the audience was evenly split. And perhaps, we shouldn't be surprised. Deciding when and how your company should upgrade its tech, whether in the data center or on the desktop, is a choice driven by the specific needs of your organization. There's rarely a one-size-fits-all solution.

As David argued, overhauling your data center can pay dividends through energy savings, improved processing performance, faster delivery of capabilities, and a shorter period to achieve measurable ROI. But even he acknowledged the higher upfront cost. Adrian outlined the benefits of incremental updates--lower upfront cost, less likelihood of a service disruption, and the ability to focus IT spending on the systems in most need of an upgrade. Yet, he still believes "that a time will come when almost every company will need to consider a total overhaul."
 
Given the audience's split vote and the debaters' acknowledgement that both choices can be correct given an organization's specific situation, I don't believe there's a "winning" side to this argument. I judge the debate a draw.
 
Updated April 4 3:15 EST: When I submitted my final thought at 11:30 EST on April 4, the vote was still 50% Overhaul and 50% Incremental. In fact, the percentages hadn't moved since the previous day.
 
Despite the "incremental" side taking the lead after a few late votes, my mind remains unchanged. As Adrian noted, if your datacenter looks likely something from the Flintstones' era, it's time for an overhaul. On the flip side, I don't know any company that rips out its datacenter and starts over from scratch every year.

Talkback

8 comments
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  • As a techy ... I'd like to take the overhaul approach but...

    It's expensive!

    Expensive! == The CFO won't like it,
    All new stuff == The staff won't like it,
    New usually means unstable == The clients won't like it,
    Unhappy client and staff == The VP won't like it,
    So I don't like it.

    Slow and steady with gradual and targeted improvement is the safer and smarter approach. IME, If you had a roadmap in play and generally have done your job, you will get at the same place Mr. Overhaul will. It just won't hurt or scare everyone nearly as much.

    Only the vendors will like you if you go the overhaul way...
    ydecelles
    Reply Vote I'm for Incremental
  • This is another non-sequitur debate

    It is not an either-or situation. Incremental changes can and do take place every day in IT but, every so often, the rat's nest needs to be cleaned out and replaced. The analogy which immediately comes to mind for me is Chicago's O'Hare airport versus Atlanta's Hartsfield airport. They are the two busiest airports in the United States.

    O'Hare is a hodge-podge of wings of gates added over decades. it is a rats nest to negotiate with multiple TSA check-points. Layovers are a nightmare and connections are often missed.

    By comparison, Atlanta's Hartsfield airport is made up of independent terminals (organized by carrier) connected via subway with a unified TSO check-point in a single location and used only by those who are coming form the Atlanta all others have been inside a TSA secured region since they boarded their inbound flight. layovers are well managed and connections are rarely missed.

    For years, we have watched software vendors come and go because they didn't realize until it was too late that it was time to re-write (instead of continuing to "patch") their flagship product.

    Well, it is exactly the same problem in the data center. One needs to plan for periodic facilities upgrades so that the massive funding needs can be available when it is needed.

    Hopefully, each upgrade includes room for expansion. (Don't just build what you need today, build to accommodate what you will need five years hence.)

    Otherwise, your data center will quickly become a rat's nest of cables without any coordination along with overlapping power and cooling systems which will sap away the efficiencies which were originally built into your data center.
    M Wagner
    Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • Overhaul where it makes sense; Incremental where it makes sense.

    There is a time for each and a time for both, depending on the data center and the business. I think this is a forum looking for a debate (in this case) rather than a debate looking for a forum.
    tr7oy
    Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • Of Course Incremental - Why Take Chances?

    I'm sure there are big, one-time funding availability situations were overhaul makes sense to some, but for the rest of us that need to preserve and protect important data and data center operations, incremental should be a no brainer. Why "bite the bullet" if it can backfire significantly?
    nevinhouse
    Reply Vote I'm for Incremental
  • This is funny.

    If your datacenter has any measure of complexity or size, migrations will be phased in conservatively whether you want it that way or not. Especially if you need to complete your migration without negatively impacting your core business. I pity the CIO/CTO who embarks on the rip and replace method for a large infrastructure.
    mikedees
    Reply Vote I'm for Incremental
  • I'm pretty sure it's not the first even split.

    "We've had close votes before, but this was the first time in Great Debate history that the audience was evenly split."

    I'm pretty sure it's not the first even split. It would be a pain to search through all of my talkbacks on the great debates (I'm pretty sure I mentioned it was evenly split) or through all of the previous great debates (the data for the older debates doesn't even seem to be available anymore), but I'm pretty sure it's not the first time we've had an even split.

    I should note that at the time of this writing, the audience seems to have changed towards "incremental." So apparently it's still collecting data.
    CobraA1
    Reply Vote I'm Undecided
    • Late votes haven't changed my mind

      CobraA1,

      You're right. It was a pain to go back and search through all the Great Debates that allowed audience votes. But I did, and I didn't find a single one with a 50/50 spilt. When I submitted my conclusion at 11:30 EST, the vote was still 50% Overhaul and 50% Incremental. In fact, the percentages hadn't moved since yesterday afternoon.

      Despite the "incremental" side taking the lead after a few late votes (not sure why the system allowed this), my mind remains unchanged. As Adrian noted, if your datacenter looks likely something from the Flintstones' era, it's time for an overhaul. On the flip side, I don't know any company that rips out its datacenter and starts over from scratch every year.
      Bill Detwiler
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • Not meaning to change your mind

        Not meaning to change your mind :). After all, I wasn't really in the debate and never cast a vote (not a datacenter guy). Just an observation.
        CobraA1
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided