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Consolidation: Think beyond virtualization, think cloud

By Brian Jawalka, Rackspace Hosting, special to Network World
August 31, 2012 09:25 AM ET

Network World - This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

It once made sense to run data center consolidation programs that were solely focused on virtualization. That time is over. To really reduce IT costs, data center consolidation means moving most applications to the cloud, and virtualizing only those that are better run in-house. If you only think about virtualization when you think of consolidation, you will miss opportunities to save.

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The vast majority of enterprise applications can be virtualized, but the problem is virtualization is focused on reducing capital expenses (Capex). This approach can only take you so far, and should be reserved for applications like Oracle and SAP ERP systems, financial systems, and mainframe applications that are more difficult to move to the cloud.

But most applications that can be virtualized can also live in the cloud, meaning even greater opportunities for savings. The real determinant of cloud readiness comes from the way in which the application achieves fault-tolerance. If the application is dependent on the underlying hardware to be fault-tolerant, it is not a good fit for cloud computing. If the application is built to be fault-tolerant aside from the underlying hardware (that is, it is built to be distributed to protect against hardware failure), it can move to the cloud.

Additionally, any application that can be delivered in-house as a service or is Web-based can also start saving you money if you move it to the cloud. That includes popular applications such as SharePoint and many Web-based applications. There is no reason to consume precious internal infrastructure when there is a more flexible option in the cloud. For large enterprises, SharePoint can be better deployed in a private cloud than in a multi-tenant cloud more suited to smaller, noncustomized deployments.

Dangers of Cloud Avoidance

The fears of cloud first-timers are understandable. Many organizations have a death-grip on their applications and equipment because it's been drilled into our heads that security is job one. But there are also risks from avoiding the cloud, including:

* Lock-in. Without the flexibility of cloud-delivered applications, your organization might be locked into a rigid software/hardware stack that will be difficult to change. The new versions of commercial software might not run on your legacy hardware. And new applications you build in-house might not be able to accommodate new demands if they're running on old hardware. Why are you paying utility bills for your data center and support contracts to run that hardware if it can't meet your business needs? Why not move Capex to Opex (operational expenditure) where you can?

* Missing Out on the Cloud Brain Trust. When you move your applications to the cloud, you don't just save money and management hassle. You also get the benefits of the expertise of cloud service providers, people whose sole job it is to run data centers and support applications, day in and day out. That means relief from the daily grind of patches and upgrades, but it also means a window into an exciting future. Work with a service provider with the expertise to teach you how to leverage the latest technologies in a way that enhances your competitive advantage.

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