SmartAdvice: 'Big Iron' Returns With Push For Server Consolidation - InformationWeek

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10/20/2005
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SmartAdvice: 'Big Iron' Returns With Push For Server Consolidation

Companies can save money by reducing the number of servers, but consolidation can take different forms, The Advisory Council says. Also, it's time to decide whether to just comply with RFID mandates or to invest funds to re-engineer and improve effectiveness.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected]


Question A: When and how can server consolidation benefit my business?

Our advice: Server consolidation is, in a sense, a reincarnation of the mainframe-server model for delivering computer services. Client-server computing has been around in one form or another for 30 years, but it keeps reappearing as the IT cost equations shift over time. Previously the largest driver behind pouring resources into a multimillion-dollar mainframe system was the enormous hardware costs; the current trend toward server consolidation is driven by a desire to cut administration overhead and on-going operational costs. No matter what the reasons behind the rediscovery of "big iron," major hardware vendors such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Unisys are promulgating a number of different approaches to server consolidation that suit different business needs.

While conceptually server consolidation is simply reducing the numbers and types of servers that support a company's business applications, it can take a number of forms architecturally. The details can be fundamentally different depending on a company's needs and business requirements.

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Wide Area File Services -- WAFS are file systems that are specially optimized or tuned for accessing data files in a wide-area-network environment -- WAFS let remote office users access and share files globally at LAN speeds over the WAN. The advantages of WAFS are truly self-healing data systems, more flexible data-resource allocation, and improved options for business continuity. Vendors are touting WAFS as the solution for reducing branch office support costs, offering the promise of centralized storage and applications while minimizing the need for costly administrative staff at the peripheries. However, there are still some significant technical challenges. Data latency and access transparency looks great on paper, but still have a long way to go in reality. WAFS will work in an environment where the branch offices already have high-bandwidth network circuits in place; otherwise, the bandwidth costs alone can easily wipe out any operational savings.

Machine Virtualization -- A number of software vendors offer server-consolidation solutions where software creates what looks from the users' perspective like a complete computer with a full set of applications. If your company has many applications that are difficult to integrate and require specially configured operating systems, this might be a good option. Combining a virtual-machine architecture with a screen-scraping or client/server application at the desktop can reduce bandwidth requirements.

Application Integration - Some companies have taken a more traditional approach to server consolidation. Rather than consolidating systems at the server level, they've chosen to replace their existing assortment of applications with a monolithic application package. While the side effect of doing this is a reduction in the number of servers, this really addresses a different business need. For companies struggling with a large portfolio of incompatible legacy applications and a need to rationalize and streamline business processes, application integration can offer substantial benefits.

Server consolidation can benefit companies with the right combination of centralized data centers, IT staff, and applications. It will only be successful if the reduction in on-going support costs offsets any increased software and hardware outlays. All the solutions assume high availability and large amounts of reliable bandwidth to deliver the data and applications efficiently throughout the organization.

-- Beth Cohen


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