Planning for the future
Data centers are evolving, and there's a need to plan accordingly.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to figure out that today’s data center might look very different a few years down the road. It might be larger and contain completely different equipment. And depending on its configuration, cost and use, it might need to be housed at a different location and with a different provider. This might not sound appealing, especially to CIOs who often view moving to a new data center “as a controlled disaster in that it is high risk and requires a minute-to-minute plan for execution,” according to Info-Tech Research Group.
However, as internal data centers age and the number of applications and users grow, the impetus to consolidate and migrate is definitely there for many organizations, said Beth Cohen, a thought leader at the Advisory Council, a technology and advisory service in Salem, N.H. “A big problem at the state and federal levels is that a lot of the data centers were built 10 and 20 years ago, so many don’t meet the specifications for power density,” she said. “If an organization’s data center is 10 years old, it should be seriously looking at an upgrade.”
The good news is that moving to a new data center might not be as difficult as it seems, Cohen said. In fact, the process can be simple and painless as long as it is executed with careful planning and good communication — both internally and with the data center provider.
Before a single server can be migrated, organizations must go through a pre-migration assessment. This process includes an evaluation of the current site — what the current data center contains, how it is used and the business problems it solves. Just as important, experts say, is an assessment of which transformational trends and technologies the organization wants to support today and tomorrow, said David Hill, co-founder and principal at the Mesabi Group.
There are three that require serious consideration. “The first is information infrastructure transformation, which is most often represented by but not limited to virtualization, including server, storage and network virtualization,” he said. The other options are application development transformation, including the use of agile development methodologies, and consumer-level device proliferation, which allows consumer access through tablet PCs and smart phones as well as more traditional devices such as desktop PCs. Each poses some challenges and will affect the organization’s choice of provider, he said.
Next, the organization needs to take stock of its governance and compliance goals and make sure any prospective data center provider is able to help it meet or exceed them. IT managers also need to take into account risk management, including backup, archiving and disaster recovery. This step requires the most due diligence because every data center provider can support virtualized servers but only the best will handle a move so that the business is not affected and ensure that documentation and privacy mandates will be met.
“Data center planning must be part and parcel of an overall organizational IT governance and information governance process where not only the future needs of the internal ‘consumer’ constituency have to be taken into account, but also risk management such as data protection strategies and compliance what regulations does the data center have to ensure are met,” Hill agreed.
Finally, organizations must create and document the entire migration process, which — depending on the size and location of the original data center — could take one to two years, Cohen said. “Usually, what happens is you start digging into a can of worms that can take some time to sort out,” she said. This includes creating a migration team, which will be charged with the technical aspects of a move as well as managing the relationship between the organization and the data center provider, Hill said. This team is crucial to the success of the migration, he added.
“Although there are always a number of things to consider — such as cost, data protection, security and scalability — the fundamental rule is this: You can delegate, but you cannot abrogate,” Hill said.