Keys to successful data center consolidation

Data center consolidation continues to be a hot topic, and with good reason. It has proven to be an effective way to reduce costs and complexity, setting organizations on a course for more efficient IT management. But while the benefits are proven, the path to success takes careful navigation.

Organizations typically look at data center consolidation as a way to manage expenses and reassert control over highly distributed environments. While these are great reasons, it is critical that an organization has a full understanding of what consolidation means, including the benefits, risks and potential challenges, to ensure a successful implementation.

To steer your organization toward success, consider these best practices to avoid common pitfalls and reap the benefits of consolidation.

Consider all the challenges. Technical and financial issues aside, data center consolidation can also present cultural challenges. Address these head-on by including your human resources department in the project. You will need HR to help develop a plan to manage any personnel changes that might arise.

Obviously you'll need to fully demonstrate projected benefits and have a detailed technical plan/roadmap. More often than not, an over-budget consolidation project is the result of poor planning. It is important to understand how long the transition will take and what staff and type of expertise will be necessary to support the move.

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As you plan, be sure the data center facility staff and IT management communicate. For instance, one item that often gets overlooked is the utility bill. If the facilities group pays for power, IT may underestimate requirements and costs, sending the project over budget.

Be sure to establish pre-consolidation baseline data in order to measure the success of your new data center. Benchmarking performance before and after consolidation enables you to validate the success of the project and ensures better understanding of data that you collect. These metrics will provide insight into how successful the project truly is.

And once your plans are set, stick to them. Minimizing changes during the implementation will reduce complications to the project.

Trust the experts. Data center projects of this magnitude don't happen every day and, as a result, few organizations have all the necessary expertise to execute the entire plan internally. Consider using a partner that has the experience that your organization needs.

For larger projects, the decision about what to consolidate first will seriously impact your project. In most cases, it is best to move common services -- such as email, data storage and libraries -- and low-risk data first. This gets the project started, while reducing the potential for bigger issues in later phases. This also gives you the opportunity to tweak the process, making each subsequent move better than the last. The goal is for your critical systems move to be as smooth and error-free as possible.

Communication is key. Most important, remember that poor communication can be the biggest roadblock to a successful project. Be sure each stakeholder understands the objectives and the metrics that will be used to define success. Objectives that are assumed and not defined can cause the project to be labeled a success by one stakeholder and deemed a failure by another.

Constant communication also ensures you deliver a uniform message to the organization. This is also a good time to address employee concerns regarding current job responsibilities and what may change when the project is complete. Frequent communication to the organization can settle nerves and prevent rumors based on faulty information.

Take the time to note the project's progress and highlight the anticipated benefits, such as improved performance, increased productivity and enhanced ability to respond to customer needs. These updates create an educated organization that is always aware of what phase the project is in and what successes have been achieved, building momentum and internal support for the remainder of the project.

Ready, set go. Do not let pitfalls and challenges place the success of your consolidation project in jeopardy. Rigorous testing during production and implementation is critical to your consolidation program as it helps identify problems quickly, which will save you headaches down the road.

At each step in the process, plan ahead, focus on communication, test and learn from the entire process. Doing so ensures that your organization will reap the rewards of consolidation.

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