Beyond Server Consolidation: Data Center Consolidation - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management
06:36 PM
Roger Smith
Roger Smith

Beyond Server Consolidation: Data Center Consolidation

Innovative global companies like Emerson are increasingly consolidating their underutilized computer server resources in order to overcome server, storage, and application sprawl.

Innovative global companies like Emerson are increasingly consolidating their underutilized computer server resources in order to overcome server, storage, and application sprawl.With sales that topped $22 billion in fiscal 2007, Emerson is a leader in network power, process management, industrial automation, climate technologies, and appliance and tools businesses. CIO Steve Hassell is spearheading a global data center consolidation effort at Emerson that will integrate the operations of more than 100 data centers into four facilities.

Since joining Emerson as VP and CIO in 2004, Hassell has seen his company garner numerous awards for its technological developments and commitment to continuous improvement. Last year, Emerson was ranked 30th on our InformationWeek 500 list of the 500 companies that are the most innovative users of technology in the United States. Emerson also was chosen by CIO magazine as a recipient of its CIO 100 Award, given to organizations exemplifying the highest level of operational and strategic excellence in IT. Construction began Sept. 3 at Emerson's corporate campus in St. Louis on the first of the planned four data centers. Set to open next summer, the 35,000-square-foot data center will support the company's global network, including more than 250 worldwide manufacturing and engineering operations. The new building will have three layers of redundancy, with dual utility feeds, redundant UPS protection, and on-site generators. Fox Architects, the project's lead architect, estimates that the design will provide Emerson with an energy savings of 17.5% as compared with a traditional data center. Energy-saving attributes include daylighting features, a reduced building footprint, and one of the largest roof-top solar arrays used by a data center, which will provide 100 kW power to the IT load.

InformationWeek senior editor Roger Smith talked with Hassell about what he expects the risks and rewards will be for this large data center consolidation project, as well as lessons other companies might be able to learn from Emerson's project. Here are excerpts from that discussion:

InformationWeek: Is Emerson's data center consolidation project primarily motivated by a desire to reduce energy usage?

Hassell: The goal behind the data center consolidation project is to create the most effective and cost-efficient hosting environment for the applications used by Emerson. Since energy usage is one of the major cost elements for a data center, it is certainly a factor in the overall equation, but not the only one. Security, reliability, and better quality of service also played heavily into the decision.

InformationWeek: What strategic advantages do you think this data center consolidation project gives Emerson?

Hassell: The ability to get information quickly, securely, and efficiently anywhere across the planet is essential in today's hypercompetitive global environment. The heart of the ecosystem that delivers that information is the data center, and the processes and technologies we are employing in this project will have positive effects on the speed, security, and cost of delivering information to our businesses where the real benefits are manifested.

InformationWeek: Were you able to estimate before you started the project, over the next five years, what kind of annual growth rate in either data centers, installed servers, or growth rate of online storage Emerson would experience without the project? What was the pace of data center building before you started the project?

Hassell: Like virtually all companies, we have been seeing tremendous growth (~20%) in both server capacity and storage. While that growth had not directly led to the construction of any new data centers, we were looking at a scenario where several were going to be at or over capacity within the next few years if we did not take action. We formed a cross-Emerson team to look at the problem and came to the conclusion that consolidation into a few centers using the latest technology was the best move.

InformationWeek: How many total servers are we talking about in Emerson's global data center consolidation effort for your 100-plus data centers? How many physical servers? Virtual machines?

Hassell: About 5,000 total servers in the Unix and Intel spaces.

InformationWeek: Of the total servers, can you estimate many were application servers, file/print, database, directory, e-mail, Web, unclassified?

Hassell: Without getting into the specific inventory, we're estimating about 70% are candidates for consolidation. The rest are spread across categories (file/print, shop floor manufacturing, etc.) that make them poor candidates.

InformationWeek: What other benefits of data center elimination do you see, i.e. reduction of IT staff workload, consolidation savings that can be applied to other projects?

Hassell: It's really all about resource efficiency -- staff, energy, space, and hardware. By doing the consolidation, we'll be freeing up vital resources that can then be applied to higher-value uses. We're also using this opportunity to increase the reliability and security of the base computing infrastructure so we'll emerge from the project not only with better efficiency, but also better quality.

InformationWeek: What risks do you see to data center elimination?

Hassell: I think the two biggest risks to data center elimination are business disruption during the transition and reduction in service after the move. Clearly, the first risk would result in the sharpest pain, but can largely be eliminated through careful planning and proper risk management. The second is tougher because it's easy to get so focused on chasing efficiency that you let customer service suffer. Well-defined service levels and active communication are the best weapons against that risk.

InformationWeek: Virtualization certainly presents the largest opportunity for reducing the total number of data centers as well as the number of physical servers in each data center. What you see as the benefits and risks of virtualization?

Hassell: Clearly, virtualization provides tremendous opportunities. While a lot has been written about the physical footprint reduction and potential energy savings due to higher utilization, I am as excited about the speed and flexibility gains that come from being able to rapidly provision and deprovision services based upon demand. Most of the risks are around making sure your processes and tools are optimized for the environment. Licensing and support for software running in virtualized environments is coming along, but can still pose significant issues if not thought through.

InformationWeek: What do you think other companies (either Emerson's size or smaller) can learn from Emerson's data center consolidation project?

Hassell: I think the most important lessons (although I'm sure we'll discover more along the way) surround the design process. A key first step is that this project has always been an IT project with requirements centered on the ultimate data center operations rather than being presented with a building we had to stuff with servers. Because of that, and the fact that we had the benefit of having experts from Emerson Network Power with us from the beginning, we were able to conceptualize a data center environment based upon where technology was headed, rather than relying on what someone did in the past. That knowledge allowed us to be a much better customer when we sat down with Fox Architects, and all of us working together were able to come up with something pretty special.

Speaking more specifically, in a lot of ways, the key lessons are the same as if we were discussing IT upgrades, infrastructure purchases, or data center expansion. In short, it's important to make decisions today with tomorrow in mind. When considering something as significant as a data center consolidation, that becomes even more critical.

We know our data center requirements today will not be the same as our requirements next year. Business growth and technological advancements will make our "perfect" data center a moving target. With that in mind, we are striving to make every decision with consideration of flexibility. That starts with the basic facility design and layout and includes everything from server selection to the best approach to power, cooling, and monitoring. This data center will be flexible and scalable in a way that serves Emerson's current business needs while supporting future growth.

Along those same lines, it is no secret that data centers are significant power consumers. Whenever an organization builds a new data center, energy efficiency should be a key consideration. It certainly has been in our case. In fact, we utilized our own Energy Logic approach, so you could say we are practicing what we preach. Attention to energy efficiency not only is the right thing to do, it can provide significant savings and measurable ROI.

All of these decisions -- planning for flexibility and scalability, incorporating energy-efficiency strategies and design decisions -- help ensure the lowest possible total cost of ownership for a new data center. In some cases the initial costs may be greater -- they likely will be -- but the front-end investment will pay off with an energy-efficient data center that seamlessly supports the growth and evolution of the business. In our case, we're confident the decisions we make today will lead to a facility we'll be proud of for years to come.

For more information:

Increasing requirements for processor cycles, memory, and storage as well as higher electricity demands mean your data center is consuming more power -- which means you're spending more -- every day. This InformationWeek Analytics report explains how to design a modular data center that will future-proof your investment.

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