Most IT managers would kill to be where Golden Gate University chief technology officer Anthony Hill found himself a year ago. Thanks to rising enrollment and an initiative at the San Francisco school to move most classes online, Hill, unlike many of his colleagues these days, was overseeing an IT budget that was growing.
As Hill quickly learned, however, managing rapid growth brings its own challenges. To keep up, Hills group found itself buying servers and adding applications faster than they could figure out how to manage it all. Before long, 75 percent of his growing budget was going toward managing and building out the IT infrastructure, and only 25 percent was going toward application development.
Finally, faced with managing 12 production databases, multiple operating systems and three ERP (enterprise resource planning) suites, Hill decided he needed a consolidation strategy that would not only reduce the number of servers and associated maintenance but also eliminate the complexity of his computing environment.
Hill is now moving to reduce the number of servers his organization supports from 45 to 20 and to standardize on Linux and Oracle Corp.s Oracle9i database.
Driven by the need to lower total cost of ownership while improving service and availability, many organizations are, like Golden Gate University, now focusing on server consolidation. A recent survey of IT managers by Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn., found 69 percent of enterprises were trying to consolidate servers in 2001, up from 36 percent in 1998.
IT managers from organizations such as Golden Gate University, the U.S. Air Force Mobility Command Center and Select Comfort Corp. say the benefits of server consolidation include better systems management and lower operating costs. To achieve those cost benefits, many organizations—in addition to replacing many servers with fewer, easier-to-manage large boxes—are standardizing on operating systems, server platforms and databases.
Consolidating servers, however, can be as complex as the computing environments with which IT managers are trying to grapple. Consolidation projects often take longer than expected to deliver projected savings and can entail many unexpected costs, experts warn. Moving to larger servers, for example, can result in big jumps in software license costs. And moving to big, centralized servers can require network bandwidth upgrades and more extensive outlays for backup and high-availability protection. As a result, IT managers planning consolidation projects should be careful about setting expectations, experts say.
“The main driver for consolidation is that people believe they can save a lot of money by consolidating, which may or may not be true,” said Gartner analyst John Phelps. “Make sure proper expectations are there. Look at the upfront costs, because it costs to start forming a project, and how long it will take to recover those costs. What will you do with the servers once youve consolidated? Will you save money on them? These issues will impact what kind of consolidation goes on.”
Before entering into a major server consolidation effort, experts say, IT managers need to look at what theyre trying to accomplish—whether, for example, high costs are driven by hardware acquisition or management. Then they should look at what kind of consolidation makes sense for their organization. While some organizations will work on logical consolidation—managing many servers in a standard, unified way—to gain control of their computing environments, others will physically consolidate data centers. The most ambitious of enterprises, such as Golden Gate University, will do physical and logistical consolidation. (See an analysis of the different approaches to server consolidation.)
While mainframe server and workload consolidation has been commonplace for years, the focus today is shifting to distributed platforms and server consolidation for Unix and Windows systems. Vendors are now offering an increasing number of technologies and services to aid in the effort.
Microsoft Corp., which provides server consolidation tips on its Web site, will release its own workload management product, Windows Systems Resource Manager, in Windows Server 2003 this year.
On the hardware side, companies such as Dell Computer Corp., IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. offer a variety of services, software and online tools designed to help IT managers plan their consolidation efforts on mainframe and Unix platforms.
First Things First
First Things First
In many organizations, the first step toward a successful server consolidation project is to focus on a subset of the computing environment that has experienced rapid growth.
In 2000, for example, after the Air Force launched its IT Summit Initiative aimed at better leveraging technology and cutting costs, the Air Force Mobility Command was ordered to examine the agencys e-mail environment, which was growing so fast that it was quickly running out of storage. The Command chose to consolidate 90 servers running Microsofts Exchange 5.5 at 12 Air Force bases onto 16 servers located at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.
In addition to physically consolidating servers, the Command also consolidated logically, deploying the IXOS-eCONserver, a data and document management platform from IXOS Software AG, in Grasbrunn, Germany. That has enabled the Air Mobility Command to reduce e-mail storage requirements by 65 percent and decreased backup times from nearly 24 hours to a few hours.
The Command is focusing the next phase of its server consolidation on the Air Forces Web servers, said Col. Greg Touhill, at Scott Air Force Base.
“As you standardize down, you begin to gain control of your environment and can really monitor usage,” said Gartners Phelps. “From there, you can move on to larger consolidation projects.”
At Select Comfort, in Minneapolis, Rick Larson, director of technical services, knew he wouldnt be able to rest easy unless he began to plan a server consolidation project. Two years ago, IT managers at the mattress manufacturing company realized they were beginning to outgrow their data center. With the company expanding at a phenomenal rate of 30 percent a year, IT managers were putting new servers into their data centers every time a new application was deployed. Unfortunately, the IT budget was not growing fast enough to allow Larson to pay for the management of it all. The rapid addition of servers made the computing environment not only difficult to manage but also expensive to maintain.
Larson and Mark Baumgartner, manager of systems administration, decided to rein in technology costs by taking out their 40 Compaq Computer Corp. ProLiant servers running Windows NT and consolidating the work onto 25 Dell PowerEdge servers running Microsofts Windows 2000 Server. Standardizing on one operating system will allow Select Comfort to consolidate systems management. And consolidating on one operating system as well as one hardware platform, Larson hopes, will lower maintenance, training and hardware acquisition costs.
In conjunction with their server consolidation project, Larson and Baumgartner also decided to consolidate storage. As part of a broader revamp of Select Comforts IT environment, the company migrated from direct-attached storage systems from EMC Corp. to a Dell-EMC SAN (storage area network) to house its data warehouse and data from all Microsoft SQL Server-based applications, including customer relationship management, point-of-sale and order entry systems. The savings in this project alone make consolidation well worth the effort, Larson said. In addition to cutting management costs, the SAN provides the company with an additional 1.4 terabytes of storage capacity.
To save money, though, Larson had to spend money. The overall budget for Select Comforts IT overhaul initiative—which consists of 13 separate projects, including a new ERP deployment—is estimated at $15 million. Almost $3 million of that will be spent on hardware alone over the life span of the four-year project, which is now in its third year. Larson said he expects to see a positive return on that investment this year, beginning with simplified administration and conservation of data center space. He also estimates that hell reduce total cost of ownership by 15 percent and increase performance by roughly 30 percent.
But, like many organizations, Select Comfort isnt stopping at server and storage consolidation. Larson is now looking to consolidate applications as the last phase of his project. He is considering running the Oracle9i database, as well as the Oracle ERP and financial suites on the back end.
Like Select Comfort, Golden Gate University is also moving into application consolidation. The universitys consolidation at the application tier is based on Oracles 9i application server, which will be the underpinning for the Oracle11i application suite, as well as all the universitys online properties, its portals and its enterprise directory. (See best practices on application consolidation.) The university is working to consolidate 12 production databases to one Oracle9i database running on a Linux-based server. Standardizing on Linux will also allow the university to eliminate the four operating systems being supported now to run all the databases.
Moving forward, the university will undertake a major consolidation of its ERP suites onto the same platforms, thereby eliminating the need to support HPs e3000 servers running MPE/ix, Microsofts Windows NT 4.0 and Suns Solaris.
The plan is also to migrate human resources and financial applications onto the Oracle11i suite using the 9i databases Real Application Clusters once RAC is certified for 11i. Hill will have Oracle host its server and production management for the universitys ERP suite and its Web sites, allowing his 40-person IT staff to concentrate on other things.
Once that is done, not only will Hill have significantly reduced complexity, he will also have redirected his IT budget to where it will do the most good. In fact, by next year, he said he expects to be spending just 30 percent of his budget on infrastructure and 70 percent on new applications and online services, rather than the other way around. Hill also said he believes his ability to deliver new applications will be 10 cents on the dollar when compared with what it cost him before consolidating.
“We really had every major operating system and application, and everything in between, in here,” Hill said. “I needed to collapse all those environments onto a common environment in order to reduce management issues. Too many people were focused on managing the infrastructure instead of delivering value.”
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at email@example.com.