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The possibilities and perils of data centre consolidation

Image: Adobe Stock / BillionPhotos.com

Matt Tebay, Sales Director at OVHcloud, discusses how to make the most of data centre consolidation to ensure environmental and performance benefits.

Albert Einstein once said that if he had an hour to solve a challenge, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution. This wisdom can also be applied to data centre consolidation – it’s a difficult, intensive and demanding process, and a considered approach is key.

Every organisation has a unique IT estate, and all have different objectives, priorities and corporate pressures. Some organisations have grown by acquisition and found themselves with server sprawl, others have avoided upgrading their infrastructure and have poor performance/price ratios compared to the newer cloud infrastructure on offer today. In fact, most organisations are looking for ways to achieve cost savings and improve security, and although consolidation can be a route to these, there are many paths to success.

And the benefits can be compelling: consolidation projects do show solid ROI when executed carefully. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2025, organisations using techniques to improve the ‘density’ of their data centres could see operating costs drop by as much as 20 to 40%. But the key thing is understanding – IT teams must evaluate current environments, plan carefully, spend time architecting solutions neatly, and then execute and build skillfully. Only then will they be in a prime place to realise the benefits and avoid the pitfalls. But what do they need to know first?

Reducing the management burden

First of all, bringing a data centre estate together does seem like an intrinsically worthy goal: data centres are expensive to maintain, power-hungry, and modern equipment is often more efficient and powerful than older kit – not to mention that bringing infrastructure together under one roof can greatly simplify management.

By their very nature, consolidation projects should make management easier. Bringing sites and servers together means fewer physical devices in fewer physical locations, and having a less distributed environment should – with the right planning and deployment – be easier to monitor and manage. At the same time, consolidation projects are an opportunity to revisit old processes and update them, helping teams to streamline and evolve how they work. 

The cost conundrum

Performance and price are also key benefits of consolidating data centres; unless organisations are consolidating colocated environments and moving their own kit around, changing providers usually means new equipment, often at a similar price. 

However, a new-for-old replacement doesn’t necessarily mean better efficiency, making it key not to over-simplify matters. For example, if we look at studies from the Uptime Institute, replacing 2019 Intel 8280 units with 2021 Intel 8380 servers 1:1 results in a 4% efficiency improvement, in terms of transactions per MWh. If the same organisation kept the same 2019 servers but upgraded the surrounding environment to improve the PuE from 1.5 to 1.3, the energy efficiency improves by approximately 9%. If this kind of sustainability and cost-effectiveness is your goal, then improving DC PuE may be a simpler and more worthwhile project, rather than starting a complex server migration initiative.

On the other hand, consolidation can bring major improvements under the right conditions. For example, when consolidating instances virtually with a 2:1 ratio, the same study shows a whopping 36% improvement in efficiency.

The sustainability solution

Price and performance are just a small part of the equation. Consolidation projects also need to take into account external factors like network bandwidth, proximity to customers, the security and suitability of the data centre for workloads – not to mention sustainability. Organisations are under increasing pressure to improve their sustainability credentials, and large companies in the UK already have to declare their scope one and two emissions by law; it may not be long before scope three emissions come under scrutiny as well.

Consolidation can also therefore provide a much-needed boost to a company’s sustainability approach. The discovery phase of a consolidation project will often find underutilised systems which can be put into more modest and appropriate environments for their processing needs. Moving systems into more modern facilities is more likely to come with better environmental processes, including superior PuE, WuE and CuE – and it’s important to remember that better power efficiency means lower bills at the end of the day.

Avoiding pitfalls

There are pitfalls to any large technical project where large amounts of data are being moved around, which makes it vital to work with the right partner, with the right skills, and choose the right data centre provider. Downtime, user and customer disruption and data loss are all very real and present dangers during consolidation projects, making careful planning, robust business continuity strategies and timely migrations crucial.

At the same time, consolidation may not be right for every company. For example, having data in multiple locations may mean a larger physical estate to manage, but a consolidated estate means that any single point of failure can have far greater impact. Similarly, although having fewer locations also means fewer endpoints to secure, the impact of any one breach may well be greater with a heavily consolidated data centre estate.

Consolidation factors

Cost

Potential gains: Higher performance at similar price – and savings from reducing hardware, software and maintenance expenses

Potential challenges: Initial investment and migration costs can be high

Efficiency

Potential gains: Better resource allocation and utilisation, improving performance

Potential challenges: Migration process can cause disruption and downtime, impacting business operations and users

Security

Potential gains: Fewer endpoints mean a smaller security estate; migration also presents an opportunity to revisit and implement stronger security measures

Potential challenges: Consolidated estate may mean that the impact of any outages or incidents will be higher; need for robust security and continuity planning

Simplified management

Potential gains: Reduced overheads and easier management from centralising IT resources and standardising process

Potential challenges: Large volumes of data can make application migration complex and cause issues if not done effectively.

Into the future

However, with proper preparation and evaluation, these hurdles can be managed. Even the most rigorous of academic studies have found very significant benefits to consolidation projects, but there is a great need for planning, care and due diligence. 

And with the right preparation and a laser-focus on specific objectives, most organisations can see benefits. As we’ve seen, consolidation can bring great improvements in terms of price, performance, sustainability and management overheads, but it’s vitally important to be aware of the risks and peculiarities of your own estate. Or, to return to Einstein again, everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler. 

Matt Tebay
Matt Tebay
Sales Director at OVHcloud

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