Do you feel like you are always in a technology refresh cycle? Every three to five years, it's out with old and in with the new. And, unless you purchased all your servers on the same day, you're likely permanently in an ongoing pendulum swing of refreshing or planning for a refresh. Is it possible to break the cycle? It isn't if you're stuck in a traditional, last century stand-alone server mentality.
Breaking a bad habit has its challenges. First, you must admit a problem exists. Second, you must want to change. Finally, you must work toward that change. The bad habit? Leasing or buying hardware that will likely sit idle more than 85 percent of the time. The change? Learning to resist the urge to refresh just because "it's that time again." The solution? Find better ways to spend your money.
The whole matter of replacing hardware just because "it's time" reminds me of that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where during the Black Plague people were encouraged to "bring out their dead" and pile them onto a cart to be taken away and burned. A fellow steps up to the cart with an old man over his shoulder that isn't quite dead. He insists the old man needs to go on the cart. After a bit of arguing, the cartmaster takes care of the problem with a bit of blunt-force trauma. The old man goes on the cart.
Like the scene from that movie, the scenario of timed server replacement is nonsense. You can step outside this cycle by conducting performance audits, server consolidation and virtualization.
IT professionals assume that capacity and performance measurement don't matter because the hardware refresh cycle occurs every 36 months. It is true you don't need to bother about performance assessment or audits -- if your systems run cold (idle) most of the time. If underutilized hardware on a 36 month refresh cycle works for you, read no further. Bring out your "dead" every three years, and buy some shiny new hardware that idles along providing no return on your investment.
Alternatively, you can assess system performance and refresh fewer physical systems, increase your utilization, reduce your power and cooling overhead, lower the amount of money thrown away on idle system service contracts and receive a higher return on the hardware investment that you do need to refresh every three years.
Server consolidation is a recurring theme for this column and with good reason: It saves you money on multiple fronts. Fewer servers mean fewer service contracts, reduced cooling requirements, less power consumption, fewer staff to maintain those fewer systems, less rackspace consumed, and less floor space used. It also means a lot fewer headaches for you. Think about this simple equation: If you have 150 servers and consolidate 50 of them onto the other 100, you've reduced your server population by one-third. This is a realistic server consolidation number. Total the savings for yourself. A 33 percent reduction is significant.
For a detailed look at server consolidation, refer to "5 Steps to a More Efficient Data Center".
Are you tired of hearing about virtualization yet? Don't be. Virtualization can save more money than the best-conceived server consolidation plan. With physical to virtual machine conversion numbers in the range of eight to one for virtualization projects, it's foolish not to consider it for your company. In our 150 server example, a five to one effort reduces the number of physical servers to 30. Are you still tired of hearing about virtualization?
Some companies have used server consolidation as an interim step toward virtualization, and others have used a combined consolidation and virtualization approach. Some workloads lend themselves to these efforts more readily than others. Email, Web and network-based services easily consolidate or convert to virtual, while database servers often do not. Performance assessments will provide better feedback than conjecture on virtualization and consolidation possibilities for your workloads.
On your next technology refresh cycle, consider breaking out of the disposable system trap in which hardware vendors like to place you. Your next refresh should include server consolidation, virtualization or both. Once you've reduced your physical server footprint by one-third or more, you can let the "death cart" pass you by.
Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which is scheduled for publication in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.