Doing Better with Less

New systems and more applications help drive many of today’s data center consolidation projects.

By Philip J. Gill

May/June 2014

Oracle Magazine spoke with Matthew Eastwood, group vice president, Enterprise Platform Research, International Data Corp. (IDC), about current trends in data center consolidation.

Oracle Magazine: Hardware consolidation in the data center isn’t new, but there seems to be an uptick in such projects. What are the drivers behind data center hardware consolidation projects today?

Eastwood: Consolidation has been a fact of life in most data centers for some time. It’s a strategy that IT departments employ to lower costs, drive more efficiency, and improve the service levels for the applications that they host. One new driver for consolidation today is aging hardware. Systems that are five, six, or seven years old are good candidates for replacement and consolidation.

Modern hardware has so much higher performance that organizations can justify a return on that investment in a relatively short time, because today’s systems are also much more capable. If you look at a two-socket server—and that’s a relatively small server today—it can do more than the largest supercomputer in the world could have done in 1999 or 2000. And these processors have an increased number of cores and support much bigger memory and I/O subsystems as well, so consolidation just makes sense.

Consolidation has been a fact of life in most data centers for some time.

You can also look at hardware consolidation the way you would look at replacing an older car. It gets to the point where it costs more to keep a car on the road than to buy a new one, and it’s the same situation with data center servers. Because most systems are replaced roughly every four or five years, consolidation projects today tend to be ongoing efforts. You may have an organization that rotates roughly 25 to 30 percent of its servers every year, and when it’s doing that it’s also doing consolidation.

Oracle Magazine: What other benefits do IT organizations gain through consolidation?

Eastwood: One big consolidation benefit is higher reliability. Because there are fewer systems, there’s less running around and troubleshooting and fixing things that can cause service outages.

Another consolidation benefit is on the facilities side. If you have fewer systems, you need less power, less cooling, and less physical space in the data center. Data center space is also very, very expensive, and some IT organizations are physically taxed on how much space they use. When new demands are placed on that data center, IT is faced with either consolidating that data center so it can take on the new workload or making a potentially significant investment in a data center expansion or retrofit. You hear some stories now and then where the next additional server will require an organization to spend from US$10 million to US$20 million on a data center expansion, but IT can do some nip-and-tuck hardware consolidation to create more capacity and avoid that multi-million-dollar investment.

Another consolidation benefit is the potential to use IT staff differently, because when the staff is no longer trying to keep the older systems running, it can start to focus on more-strategic and higher-value tasks.

Oracle Magazine: What is the role of virtualization in hardware consolidation projects today?

Eastwood: When IT organizations can abstract applications from the underlying hardware, they can start to deploy and consume hardware differently. Before virtualization, a data center would typically use a one-application-per-server model, and that server would be configured to support a peak workload that the organization rarely saw. Many servers ran a single application at 10 or 15 percent utilization and would peak at 25 or 30 percent, leaving a great deal of stranded capacity. With consolidation, IT organizations can stack these applications on the same system, run that utilization up to 60, 65, or 70 percent, and still provide headroom on that server for peaks. With these kinds of strategies, we’re seeing consolidation ratios of 5 to 10 servers down to 1.

What has been happening in many organizations is that they’ve seen an increase in the number of applications they run, because virtualization makes it easier to build and deploy new applications. This sets up an opportunity for more consolidation downstream by running all those new applications on fewer hardware devices. With massive amounts of capability and a growth in applications, consolidation makes even more sense for most organizations.

Next Steps

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