There will always be a cost associated with simplifying and consolidating an IT infrastructure. To some extent this can be minimised by prioritising the replacement of obsolete hardware and migrating from legacy applications to industry-standard solutions that will be more scalable, easier to integrate and cheaper in the long term. However it’s still a cost that, in the short term, can be hard for an SME to justify.
From a business point of view, therefore, it’s important not to view this kind of consolidation as a one-off, or short term, exercise. Rather, it's an ongoing change in the way IT systems are deployed, the benefits of which could take a while to be felt, and which can’t all be quantified in pure financial terms.
Naturally, cost reduction will always be cited as one of the main business justifications for consolidating and simplifying a company’s IT infrastructure. However, it’s not necessarily obvious where the cost savings will come from, or which change is likely to have the biggest impact.
There are exceptions -- especially when it comes to simple things like power bills, where big savings can be made by reducing the number of servers and storage arrays. Also, the latest rack-dense blade servers are designed to operate with up to 60 percent less power than the hardware they replace. And of course, you’ll be saving on floor space, which can be released for other purposes or given up to save on rental costs.
Simply reducing the overall number of servers and applications will also have a positive effect on maintenance and management overheads. And that -- as every cost of ownership study will tell you -- is where most of the IT budget goes, so just a small change here can have a major impact on the bottom line.
At one extreme, infrastructure simplification could allow you to slim down your IT workforce. Alternatively, existing staff might work more effectively with fewer individual systems to maintain at fewer locations. Staff may also be freed up for more advanced tasks, with no need for office managers to run backups or fix local problems.
Technical support staff can also be tasked with strategic planning and new system testing rather than fire-fighting all the time. And, that in turn, will make the job more interesting -- thereby, hopefully, reducing staff turnover.
Matching business processes
Less obvious benefits include the ability to manage backups and disaster recovery more effectively, and also to match IT systems to the business processes of the company, rather than the other way around.
The ability to support remote and mobile working, for example, is an increasingly important requirement; this is something that’s far cheaper and easier to do if you’ve designed the necessary services into the infrastructure from the start.
Note that broadband Internet connectivity is a key enabler here, allowing distributed branch office servers, for example, to be replaced by consolidated centralised systems, accessed over secure VPN-encrypted broadband links. Moreover, by migrating to this type of network it’s possible to reduce costs in other areas. For example, telephone bills can be slashed by using Voice over IP (VoIP) to route voice and data traffic over the already paid-for broadband connection.
Responding to change
Finally, it’s important not to underestimate the benefit of being able to modify and extend a simplified IT infrastructure in response to changing conditions. Not only is the hardware easier and quicker to deploy, but with virtualisation it’s possible to bring new systems online in minutes to cope with new projects, peaks in demand, company mergers and so on.
In fact, with some vendors it’s now possible to engineer in surplus capacity that you only have to pay for as and when it’s used, enabling SMEs to scale their IT systems on-demand to meet changing business needs with minimal upfront investment.
|Before infrastructure simplification||After infrastructure simplification||Business benefits||Business issues|
|Server topography||Multiple distributed servers and applications||Fewer centralised servers and applications||Lower power and cooling bills
Reduced maintenance and management overheads
|Large investment cost best mitigated by replacing ageing hardware and legacy systems first|
|OS & application homogeneity||Mixed legacy operating systems and applications running on under-powered hardware||Industry-standard operating systems and applications running on powerful hardware||More scalable infrastructure with fewer
compatibility and support issues
Better, more effective, service can be provided to customers
Enhanced backup and disaster recovery facilities
|Migration and re-training costs|
|Connectivity (WAN)||Expensive and slow WAN links||Low-cost broadband links with secure VPN connectivity||Enhanced security and system availability
Local staff freed up to do other tasks
Ability to leverage new technologies such as converged voice and data
|Careful planning required to ensure security|
|Server & storage hardware||Dedicated server and storage hardware||Multiple virtual servers running on the same hardware||Easier to match infrastructure to business processes
Deploy new servers and applications on-demand in response to changing conditions
|Good management tools required|