A good first step when it comes to slashing data centre costs is pooling storage using storage-area networks (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS), according to experts.
First, a company must get a handle on the types of storage it has in place and calculate the maintenance and operational costs of each. Then, migrate to the most efficient, which in most cases will mean some kind of networked storage, according to Johna Till Johnson, president at Nemertes Research and a Network World columnist.
Many organisations were still hobbled by inefficient storage architectures, she said. Such was the case at American Medical Response (AMR), a medical transportation company in Colorado.
"We had a lot of the servers here in our data centre that hadn't been moved onto the SAN and had their own disk array hanging off them," enterprise network manager at AMR, Jason Brougham, said. "They were all running at about 40 per cent utilisation. That means we were wasting terabytes worth of storage and tens of thousands of dollars. When we combined all of that on the SAN we got to pool all of those chunks of storage. It's a real cost savings."
The deciding factor on storage architecture should be the cost to manage and maintain it.
"NAS can be trickier to manage in some cases," Johnson said. "Plus, NAS is generally optimised for file storage, so it's great for archiving. But it doesn't work so well for database access. You have to look at what's best for your organisation."
Most organisations support and maintain a slew of underutilised application servers. The smart moves are server consolidation and deployment of more-efficient technologies such as blade servers or virtualisation software.
AMR had seen significant cost savings, especially in terms of hardware and maintenance, by implementing blade servers and virtualisation from EMC business unit VMware, Brougham said.
"With blades and server virtualisation, you quickly find that one server rack can almost run your entire company," he said.
"It's hard to put a dollar amount on it since every company is different. But I'd say that from rack space alone there's a huge savings. You don't have to cool as much space, and you don't need UPS for as much."
But as with storage, there are caveats.
"With virtualisation and consolidation, we've got database servers with nine different instances on them," Brougham said. "If the SQL server engine stops, all nine databases stop. So change management, patch management, regression testing - all of that stuff becomes more critical."
Data centre consolidation
Once organisations have consolidated storage, servers and applications, they soon find they require less space in their data centres and fewer data centres. That leads to some smart cost-conscious decisions about the data centre placement and equipment.
With broadband becoming less expensive and more readily available, organisations could cut costs simply by locating their data centres in rural areas with less-expensive real estate, Johnson said.
"Broadband's getting cheaper and real estate is always getting more expensive, so optimising the thing that costs a lot but is going to rise, at the expense of the thing that's decreasing in cost, is a good strategy," he said.
Others say the key to a cost-effective data centre is to take advantage of the recent economic downturn.
Moving to thin-client computing via technologies such as Citrix or Web services also cut data centre costs, especially in terms of support, Brougham said.
AMR has more than 250 offices nationwide, some of which are very small.
"When you have an office of eight in Mobile, Alabama, and your closest support is in Atlanta, it takes days for somebody to get out there and fix a desktop issue with an application or apply the latest patch," he said.
"But with thin client, you just support a Web browser or a Citrix client application and that's it. We can centrally manage the applications, and that's a huge savings."
As organisations begin consolidating applications in the new data centre, a good cost-saving strategy is migrating to Linux on an application-by-application basis. If they also look to run the newer applications on Linux, that strategy easily can reap cost savings of about 80 per cent to 90 per cent.
CIO of value-added reseller Optimus, Steve MacDonald, has reaped a good deal of savings by implementing VoIP on its campus-wide network.
"Using VoIP between PBXs, we're able to leverage three times as many ports per line of PBX," he said. "And it actually reduces the number of skill sets we need. We trained our data specialists on what little bit of PBX they needed to know and did away with the requirement to have a support staff dedicated to a proprietary PBX. We get more out of our staff as a result."
Pooling resources was the key with VoIP, Brougham said. "Our No.1 cost-cutter is IP telephony," he said. "Once you build this next-generation data centre and all of this wonderful infrastructure, you can take all of those PBXs you had in your remote locations, consolidate them into a large IP telephony implementation and pool long-distance, local services, voice mail services - and the support of those. That's when you really start saving the money."
Another key to cost savings is data centre automation, including items such as application provisioning, patch management and security alerting.
Concentrating on those areas could help you support new applications and initiatives while keeping staffing levels the same, MacDonald said.
"We look at cost reduction from a manpower standpoint," he said. "We're focusing on getting a greater degree of sophistication in systems monitoring and systems notifications via the NetIQ application manager platform"
Also under evaluation were patch management tools from St. Bernard and Microsoft's upcoming Windows Update Server, MacDonald said. Implementing any of these technologies will slash data centre costs.
"A good rule of thumb is that people should do something in IT if the cost savings is 25 per cent or more compared to what they're currently doing," Johnson said. "And all of these things will give you at least a 25 per cent cost savings."