Thursday, December 4, 2008

What this recession means for your data center operations

Apparently the recession isn't deterring too many people from talking about how to improve data center operations. Attendance here at Gartner's 27th annual Data Center Conference is supposedly down only 10% since last December's conference (when, some experts now say, this whole nasty recession actually began). At least, that's the official word on conference attendance. At least one of our neighboring vendors in the exhibit hall here was a bit skeptical of that count. It was hard for me to get an accurate assessment: being right next to the bar kept a pretty big crowd streaming by us during the evening events. Ah, Vegas.

But after these ~1,800 data center managers finish their week here, what advice for dealing with data center operations in the current economic, um, free fall will they have to take home? (Other than, "you probably shouldn't bet your entire remaining '08 capital budget on black.") Here are some tidbits from a few of the analyst sessions I picked up:

Asset management. According to Donna Scott in her "IT Operations Management Scenario: Trends, Directions, and Market Landscape" session, many IT organizations don't have a good handle on what they have. Cassatt's experiences with customers back this up. Once you have this info, you can move on to the next item...

Get rid of things you don't use. As Scott also said, there are probably things in your data center you don't use. Do a bit of "license harvesting." Don't pay for licenses you don't need. Analyze the usage of the software and hardware in the data center and try to do some consolidation to reduce costs. We'd suggest using extra machines as a free pool of resources which can be set up to handle big demand spikes from any of your applications.

Policy-based automation to reduce your labor costs. Things like your build processes or failure replacement/re-provisioning can be automated, according to Scott. We often find that automation can be a scary word to IT ops folks, but in an economy like this one, it might be just the thing you're looking for. Or worth a test-drive at least.

Don't forget about longer term, big impact items like data center consolidation. OK, it may take five years, but it's a pretty strategic move that can yield "enormous" savings, according to Scott. Bill Malik cautioned in a Q&A panel today, however, that if you don't re-engineer your operations processes for your new, consolidated data center when doing this, you run the risk of not seeing those returns. (To me, this one isn't exactly low-hanging fruit.)

Some other ideas from Paul McGuckin and Donna Scott's keynote
Tuesday's second keynote was about "The Data Center Scenario: Planning for the Future" and Paul and Donna provided another list of ideas to deal with the Aging Data Center Dilemma: "The dilemma becomes," according to McGuckin, "how do you live with the data centers you have" if this recession means no money for building more or even expansion?

Their suggestions:
- Build only what you need
- What if you're out of power in your facility? "Virtualization and consolidation are your friend," said McGuckin.
- Locate and decommission orphan servers and storage. "You need to find these and get rid of them," said McGuckin. It may be 1% of your servers. It may be 12%. It's probably not 30%, he said, but it's worth it. (And if you need help identifying those orphans, let us know.
- Target five-year-old servers for replacement
- Move test systems (they are imaged elsewhere) and 50% of your Web servers off your UPS.
- Implement power-capping and load-shedding strategy. Some servers that are less important need to be turned off, McGuckin said. (Something else Cassatt knows a bit about.)
- Cold-aisle containment is "almost magic," said McGuckin, "allowing you to cool a lot more stuff with the equipment you already have in your data center."

By the way, how bad is it out there?
Not surprisingly, cost pressures have jumped to the top of the list of concerns for those running data centers, if the results here at the Gartner show are any indication. In the in-room polling Donna Scott did during her "IT Operations Management Scenario: Trends, Directions, and Market Landscape" session, she found the top three concerns for infrastructure and operations were cost reduction/management (48%), demonstrating business value (42%), and the pressure to move/change even faster (36%). Previously 7x24 availability concerns were at the top of this list. It would seem that it is, indeed, the economy, stupid.

A more positive sign, though, was the bell curve Donna got when she asked about people's infrastructure and operations budgets in 2009 in another in-room poll. Sure, 30% of the audience saw a 1-10% whack coming to their budgets, but 29% thought things would stay the same, and some non-zero number of lucky dogs are actually getting a budget increase.

Maybe it's that last group that's been filling the MGM Grand's high-rollers room.

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