When is the right time to consolidate your IT resources... or is there ever a good time?
ZDNet Australia brings you the second part of this IT Consolidation special report. For Part I, please click here.
Consolidation is in vogue. Replacing a mixed bag of old systems with fewer and more powerful systems can be an attractive proposition, but when is the right time to take that route, and what are the traps to avoid? Many aspects of the IT infrastructure are open to consolidation, from entire data centres through application servers, databases, storage, and even end-user CPU power.
"A lot of the costs here are tied up with management," says Gold, so automation can help control expenditure, but essentially the required operational parameters determine the cost. After that, it's largely a matter of storing data on the most appropriate class of storage device.
These lessons have been learned at the high end, and are now being put into practice by the mid-tier, he says; storage systems that cost millions of dollars a couple of years ago now costs hundreds of thousands, and in a couple of years time they will probably be available for just tens of thousands.
Jose Albe, professional services manager for Australia and New Zealand at StorageTek says the main triggers for storage consolidation are found in the procurement process, during a technology refresh or a data centre relocation, or while moving from a legacy application to a new system. Such changes provide both the opportunity for consolidation and necessary budget.
As noted above, new servers are capable of handling multiple applications, and the use of consolidated storage makes application stacking easier as the data has already been offloaded, says Christian. Devices such as NetApp's Filer take care of mapping files to blocks, reducing the load on the servers and possibly allowing even greater consolidation. "People are becoming more lean and streamlined about their server farms." Christian says.
Information has previously been stored at the edge of networks for performance reasons, says Gold, but the decision is no longer black and white. Some data may be centralised, and some remote storage may be managed centrally. For example, remote servers may connect to centralised storage over iSCSI, and remote NAS units used for file storage may be managed and backed up from a central facility.
Consolidation puts all the organisation's eggs into one basket, so it needs to be a strong basket--that is, one that does not have a single point of failure. Apart from high availability technologies such as mirroring and redundant components, it is possible to arrange things so that in the event that a local NAS unit breaks down, applications can be remapped to a central backup copy.
"Moving to networked storage can give mid-tier organisations a 15-20 percent cost saving."
Providing bulletproof access, for example with synchronous mirroring at a second location) "comes at a premium", he says, but at the other end of the scale you can guarantee no loss of data at modest cost providing you are prepared to accept that restoration might take two hours.
The time needed for backup and restore may exceed the available window after consolidation, warns Frank Favetti, Avanade's practice director for technical infrastructure, so it is important to reconsider the backup strategy, for example by using volume shadow copy for point-in-time backup or by moving to network-based storage that provides a similar facility.
Just as reduced maintenance bills can cover the cost of server consolidation, Christian suggests such savings can be sufficient to pay for consolidated storage.
Apart from the dollar savings, moving to consolidated storage can reclaim data centre real estate in the short term. Moving ahead, the amount of data being stored keeps rising keeps rising, but with consolidated storage, new and higher density drives--or even complete storage units--can be swapped in non-disruptively.
Simon Elisha, senior technical consultant at Veritas says "You really know when [it's time to consolidate] when you feel the pain." This pain may be felt in terms of overworked staff, excessive maintenance costs, or a clear need for back-end storage replacement.
Consolidation should make financial and functional sense, which is typically the case when moving from direct-attached to networked storage. Storage is the low hanging fruit of consolidation, he says, and is easy to do with tools such as Veritas Volume Manager. "It's a cool technical thing to do, and it makes good business sense."
Overconsolidation is a risk, Christian warns, and adequate redundancy should be retained to ensure that if one storage unit fails, the overall system will keep running.
Consolidation doesn't always mean purchasing new equipment, says Graham Schultz, strategic alliance manager Asia Pacific, Brocade Communications. Sometimes, it's possible to use existing gear more efficiently.
Despite the trend to storage consolidation through SANs, technical, geographical, political, and availability considerations may mean organisations do not want to completely merge their switching fabrics. Brocade's Fibre Channel Router gives such organisations the ability to share resources across multiple fabrics (eg, so an expensive automated tape library can be used from multiple SANs) without merging them. Such a virtual SAN (VSAN) is controlled from existing management software, so no retraining is required and the whole thing can be managed centrally if required.
With the required plumbing built into Brocade's platform, other applications such as virtual tape backup can be added later. Since Fibre Channel, iSCSI and Fibre Channel Router all run on the same box, "the customer will get ongoing benefits without having to change the infrastructure," for example by linking low-performance servers to networked storage via iSCSI. This approach can combine the best aspects of distributed and consolidated resources, Schultz suggests, claiming that operational expenditure can be reduced through better and more efficient management of resources, and capital expenditure can be controlled by providing better resource utilisation.
Before choosing this course, organisations need to take a broad view during the planning stage, including the cost of data traffic and any legislative issues such as the requirement for financial organisations to maintain offsite backups.
Many medium-sized businesses have shied away from storage consolidation, says Christian, due to confusion over SAN, NAS, Fiber Channel and so on, but NetApp provides SAN and NAS facilities in a single box, and "unified storage has really helped a lot of medium to large enterprises," he says.
Moving to SAN has delivered genuine benefits, says Elisha, though a lot of the savings weren't immediately apparent. Big benefits can be obtained if it is done properly, which means knowing how to put all the pieces together, how to manage the environment, and building in at least a degree of future proofing--"Today's new system is tomorrow's legacy system," he warns.
Page II: When is the right time to consolidate your IT resources...or is there ever a good time?