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Those Incredible Shrinking Servers

Those Incredible Shrinking Servers

Here's hot news from the consolidation front

Done well, consolidation and virtualization can cut computing costs while improving performance

You may be installing virtualization tools so that one server can do the job of five. You might be using configuration management tools to swap applications from one machine to another, depending on load. You may simply be looking to retire old hardware in order to run apps on new, more energy-efficient multi-core systems. But no matter what your strategy, your goals or your tactics, you still have a problem. How the heck do you even know what's out there to consolidate?

In large, dispersed environments, identifying consolidation opportunities can be a time-consuming job, requiring the combined efforts of engineers and systems architects working with everything from asset management tools to network discovery applications, to performance monitoring utilities, to home-grown spreadsheets, to big, old-fashioned whiteboards in order to determine what pieces of your hardware and software infrastructure might be better off someplace else.

But a new segment of products - sometimes called data centre intelligence or consolidation management tools - are promising to help you automate the consolidation process, freeing up the time of some of your most valuable employees while simultaneously providing the hard numbers you may need to justify a consolidation project. And while these tools now come primarily from smaller vendors, the big guys are gearing up to include these functions in their own business systems management suites.

Here's the hot news from the consolidation front.

A Consolidation Tale

Bell Mobility, one of the largest mobile phone service providers in Canada, had a problem. More accurately, it had one problem (or crash) after another. Recovering some critical systems could take hours, disrupting services and costing the company serious money - $US2.1 million per day for one system alone. So in 2005 Bell Mobility launched a study to find a way to speed disaster recovery. One of the recommendations that emerged was to consolidate applications and servers in order to centralize recovery efforts, with the hoped-for side effect of improving server utilization.

At the beginning of the study, Bell brought in a consultancy to evaluate its operations and offer suggestions for where consolidation made sense. Michel Tremblay, manager for OSS network engineering at Bell Mobility, thinks that's a good way to go. "If you support those systems, it's hard to say: I'm going to cut off my system by so much percent," he says. It's more likely, according to Tremblay, that an internal IT staff with relationships to the systems might be tempted to say: It's working, so why should I do this?

Disaster recovery benefits aside, estimates showed that if the company could consolidate its server pool by 25 percent (its goal for 2006), it would save $US1.5 million in hardware replacement expenses over the next two years - even without including ongoing support costs for the systems that would no longer exist. Numbers like those put Bell on a path to find a tool that could help it identify which systems were ripe for consolidation. Capacity analysis and asset management tools could do part of the job, but Bell found a product from a small vendor that seemed to address the heart of the issue.

Tool Talk

Bell originally had used start-up Cirba's Data Centre Intelligence tool purely for auditing purposes. But Cirba believed its tool could also do capacity planning and analysis. "They took it away and came back with a quick tool that could do just that," says Bell senior systems analyst Lou Fachin.

Cirba claimed that its new tools could provide data centre intelligence: detailed reporting of asset utilization in the data centre combined with cross-referenced information about what systems could be consolidated based on factors such as a server's operating system version, its utilization percentage, its available memory, or seemingly trivial but often critical details such as the time zone setting of the system clock. The tool generates reports that help users identify consolidation opportunities without resorting to extended whiteboard sessions or trial and error. "What I really like is the way they can set you up for consolidation," says Andi Mann, senior analyst at IT consultancy Enterprise Management Associates. "The Cirba stuff gives you some easy-to-use graphics and metrics on utilization and compatibility. You could probably achieve some of this with some of the high-level management-type tools from IBM and BMC, but Cirba provides sort of a one-stop shop for this specific functionality."

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