Server Consolidation: It’s More Complicated than it Looks

The word “consolidation” summons visions of cost savings and operational efficiencies that leave enterprise execs salivating over their balance sheets. Industry analysts report that between 60 and 80 percent of IT departments are pursuing server consolidation projects.

Server consolidation is the process of reducing the number and types of servers that support a company's business applications.

“This is a more complicated issue than most people realize,” says Ivan Chong, VP at Informatica. "Lots of companies that have grown through acquisition find themselves with redundant infrastructure. The success of an acquisition can depend on how well the company lowers costs by eliminating redundancies and taking advantage of economies of scale.”

Informatica is a provider of enterprise data integration software. Its products are designed to allow companies to access, integrate, migrate and consolidate enterprise data across systems, processes and people.

Cost reduction is the primary driver of the consolidation projects Chong sees, with regulatory compliance coming in second, and IT governance, third.

“Companies can’t wait around until their mainframe stuff moves into SAP," he says. “So what we’re seeing is, while the consolidation is taking place, companies are also building out data hubs. They’ve got to do it, both because the consolidations usually take a while--years, in some cases--and because the shareholders aren’t going to wait around for them to finish that project before they get to their newly acquired customers.”

The most common mistake, Chong says, is underestimating the complexity of the job.

“They think that it’s a one-off thing, so they apply some programmers to it,” he says. “The problem is, server consolidation requires expertise across a number of areas. The semantics requirements and domain capabilities are so different that no single programmer is going to know how to do it all.”

Another common mistake: failure to provide adequate connections to the consolidated data.

"Suddenly, instead of having the server sitting 100 yards away from you, it's 100 miles away," says Amir Chitayat, president of Expand Networks. "Now you get into issues relating to latency, and the physical distance creates pain that many of the people we are dealing with didn't anticipate up front."

Expand provides multiple WAN services integrated into a scalable platform. The flagship product, an appliance dubbed the Accelerator, is designed to enhance application performance over WANs, providing close-to-LAN speeds.

Companies need to understand that, once the data has been moved, they are now fully dependent on the WAN, Chitayat says. They need a solution that can work independently on the WAN in case there is an outage.

"Suddenly now you are fully dependent on that bridge," he says, "and if it breaks down, even for a limited period of time, you will feel the pain."

Accelerator employs a caching mechanism that supports local needs with a virtual server capability in case of a WAN-out.

Companies often forget the politics of consolidation, Chitayat says.

"Consolidation projects are about cost reduction, which can involve reducing head-counts, and usually involves taking control from branch offices where servers once resided and transferring it to regional centers," he says. "This kind of change can ruffle a few feathers."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].