No, you don't need more servers in your data center, more racks or more anything. I'm referring to the Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller concept of doing more with less and, no, you don't have to construct your data center inside a geodesic dome to reap the benefits of his design genius. A data center is similar to how Fuller described himself: A verb dynamic and evolving. For the sake of your pocketbook and sanity, simplicity and a minimalist approach are the goals and Fuller-compliant to boot.
Data centers evolve, in standard evolutionary form, from simple, easy-to-manage entities into complex, unmanageable behemoths. They're so complex that we must use maps, codes and port sniffers to find our quarry in one of these modern spaghetti-wired menageries. There's a need to return to simpler times to create efficiency out of chaos to create a Fuller Data Center.
Everyone who begins a server consolidation project must start with gathering and analyzing performance statistics from the project's targeted systems. Dissimilar or complementary workloads work best on consolidated systems. Consolidating web services onto a single system might not provide the performance or redundancy you're looking for, so aim for complementary services instead. This means that databases and web services happily coexist because they tap different system resources.
When looking for servers that need consolidation, look for CPUs less than 50 percent to 60 percent busy and memory in the less than 60 percent utilized range. Systems with utilization consistently above 70 percent should stay put as stand-alone servers. High disk utilization often requires separation of logs from applications to make things run better, so don't assume high disk utilization prevents consolidation. For example, database servers perform more efficiently by separating the databases from their logs onto separate disks and controllers.
Often at the heart of a server consolidation effort, is virtualization. Unfortunately, for some engineers contemplating virtualization, a one-to-one physical-to-virtual conversion is the norm. Remember that doing more with less is not just about a physical-to-virtual conversion, but it is about approaching a minimalist stature for your infrastructure. Virtualization helps move you toward a smaller hardware footprint, but a concerted effort of consolidation and virtualization should take place simultaneously.
Look for a realistic 2:1 or 3:1 consolidation ratio when undertaking such a project, and stick to that goal as you make your consolidation and virtualization decisions.
How about taking your hardware footprint to absolute zero with an offsite data center migration? Moving all of your services to a cloud or server hosting provider is the ultimate in minimization efforts. Cleaning out your data center in favor of an offsite one might take some paradigm shifting, but it will be worth the energy once it is complete. And certainly nothing motivates consolidation and minimizing like paying a hosting provider for services. You might find that you'll save a ton of money having someone else host those services for you.
Emptying your data center might not be first on your list of to do's, but you should keep it in mind if consolidation and virtualization don't meet your savings expectations.
Make "do more with less" your new mantra when considering the current state of your Data Center. Perform server consolidation, virtualization and offsite migration projects on paper first, and then compare them judiciously before committing to a particular strategy or set of strategies. Save enough money on this project and you might have enough to build that geodesic dome house you've coveted since the 1970s.
Have you undertaken a data center minimizing project at your company? Write back and tell us about it.
Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.