Data centers: Not just a physical plant issue
Data center consolidation is a growing trend, and CIOs need to take a leadership role in making it happen, says John Bennett, worldwide director for data center transformation solutions at Hewlett-Packard.
"Once you get to the individual line of business or a particular data center, people are not going to want it eliminated," says Bennett. "The CIO has to drive it." The senior IT exec, he says, is able to see a company's entire collection of information assets, and to plan strategy for the whole organization by answering questions about how many data centers are needed, what business services should be provided, and how to factor in continuity and disaster recovery.
HP surveyed global CIOs earlier this year and found that roughly one-third of them thought their existing data center investments would no longer meet their needs or support the business effectively with in the next five years. The average age of a data center in the United States is about 30 years old.
The big message for CIOs, he says, is to frame the data center question in terms of strategy. A major overhaul of data center assets is an expensive proposition, so IT managers need to justify such moves as drivers of growth and profitability. "A data center consolidation initiative can become a transformational project in which the business value is very interesting," he says. At a time when most new business initiatives involve a supporting IT initiative, outmoded data centers represent a constraint on growth and innovation.
Companies also are reducing the number of data centers for reasons of cost and efficiency. Bennett talks about "interesting" levels of cost reduction, with "interesting" defined as "something that makes the jaw hit the table." That's possible, he says, because many companies have very inefficient operations, having added assets over time through acquisitions and the launch of new lines of business, with the result being a hodge-podge of often redundant capabilities.
Energy costs are another concern. Newer equipment doesn't need to be cooled as much as older machinery, so modern facilities make financial sense. "We run our data centers hotter than most people are used to," says Bennett. "We see most customers overcooling their data centers." Older facilities may also face constraints on energy capacity, while newer data centers often are cited in places where energy is relatively cheap and abundant. Power outages are the primary cause of extended data-center problems, says Bennett, meaning that some centers are "not performing as strategic assets."
Other technology drivers for consolidation include advances in storage, virtualization, integration, and automation.