Tell a spouse that users would like to consolidate their neatly organised home storage to a single closet and the idea may be met with a startled face twisted into a smirk. Why would users want to destabilise the status quo if what they have is adequate? 
Similarly, broader IT consolidation initiatives in enterprises are often met with scepticism because of complexity, distance and latency, and the constraints of traditional IT organisational silos.
And if things go awry, IT is in the hot seat to fix the problem and potentially backtrack on the project as executives and end users shake their heads in disappointment, says Christo Briedenhann, country manager of Riverbed Technology, Africa.
But progressive organisations are exploring ways to use the latest virtualisation technologies to move beyond server consolidation to deliver an efficient data centre infrastructure and expand the benefits of consolidation enterprise-wide. The benefits of a well planned and executed consolidation approach can not only save money, but also mitigate risk while boosting efficiency and business agility.
The path starts with adopting advanced consolidation strategies that build upon a foundation of basic server virtualisation, deepen the use of virtualisation, and extend consolidation across the enterprise.
It goes without saying that any consolidation strategy requires careful analysis and planning before execution. The strategies below all involve the data centre, which has been the focus of much recent investment, and serves as the bastion of cost-efficiency and control for IT branch offices.
Consolidate data centres
Returning to the closet analogy, wouldn’t it be great to store all of users’ tax documents, family pictures, and textbooks in a single closet? Imagine how easy and quick it would be to find a tax return in neatly organised and properly labelled drawers? The benefits of having such a “dream” closet at home are similar to having a consolidated data centre in the IT world, where IT is completely centralised.
The big question is how to eliminate data centres without impeding performance and the productivity of employees. The first step is to analyse and plan with application performance baselines and dependency maps to reduce the risk and to brace for challenges, such as migrating data and applications so that there is no interruption to the business.
With selected data centres outfitted to assume greater load and remaining data centres scheduled for closures, users must replicate applications to the surviving data centres and then transition users to the new host. Users can use application delivery controllers (ADCs) to redirect users between facilities and increase the ongoing reliability and performance of those applications.
ADCs have global and local load balancing capabilities that allow users to shift application resources between locations, manage and upgrade underlying infrastructure, and distribute application load between multiple servers and data centres, all without disrupting end-user access to applications.
The remaining data centres will have to support more users from further locations, so users may think that more bandwidth is required to support the increased traffic over the WAN. However, that may not be the silver bullet – and in many cases is not necessary. Latency combined with application protocol inefficiencies is the real culprit that bottlenecks WANs.
By implementing a WAN optimisation solution between the remaining data centres and field offices before migrating applications, users can accelerate the migration of data and applications to the new location, as well as ensure that end users continue to experience consistent levels of performance.
Virtualise application delivery
Does the idea of a fully virtualised, highly automated, and highly efficient concentration of computing resources appeal to users? Then consider how the architecture underpinning the applications hosted in data centres can be structured to realise this vision.
Server virtualisation, storage provisioning, and deduplication technologies can drive greater efficiency from infrastructure investments, but they are largely agnostic to applications. That means applications remain as resource inefficient as ever. Spikes in user requests can cause many mission-critical application servers to become unstable and fail.
ADCs can improve the resource utilisation of an application by offloading compute-intensive functions, like compression, SSL decryption, and content caching. Virtual and software ADCs take it a step further to help with scaling and improving the end user performance of applications that become more distributed and virtualised.
They can be deployed on demand anywhere, anytime, on any platform, physical, virtual, or in the cloud, and can be managed centrally. This gives users more choice and more flexibility on how and where to deploy ADC resources, which means more control over virtualisation projects.
Centralise infrastructure
Whatever the reason, application infrastructure has found its way into makeshift server closets and micro-data centres in branch offices at many organisations. Address this complexity and improve security and data protection practices by centralising application infrastructure. Doing so will let users take advantage of even greater cost efficiencies at data centres, where virtualisation and automation have maximum impact.
But note: relocating an application requires the same planning and analysis as eliminating an entire data centre, as well as factoring new or increased dependency on the WAN.
This means adjusting for the impact of distance between the central data centre and distributed end users.
Fortunately, users can use WAN optimisation solutions to accelerate applications for users in branch offices or remote locations, edge virtual server infrastructure (edge-VSI) to consolidate users’ branch office storage to the data centre, and quality of service (QoS) to finely control the mix of application traffic across the WAN and make better use of scarce network resources.
Minimise branch IT
Local print, DNS, and DHCP servers are “edge” services that defy many infrastructure centralisation efforts. Such services can still benefit from innovations like server virtualisation. Leading WAN optimisation solutions now allow organisations to run these services on their appliances, so users can eliminate these redundant branch servers to further reduce hardware, software, maintenance costs, and complexity.
It also helps to have an application-aware network performance management solution in place to passively collect network performance data and capture packet details from existing infrastructure, such as routers and even WAN optimisation appliances. This provides the visibility users need into branch traffic without introducing additional hardware or taxing the network. After all, users can’t control what users can’t see.
Consolidation projects have moved beyond beginner tactics. But the goals of advanced consolidation strategies remain largely the same – greater efficiency and the opportunity to streamline and automate IT processes.
Implementing the four strategies discussed can help users realise a trinity of benefits: users in the branch get the performance they require, IT maintains total control, and the business enjoys a high return on IT investment.
As for a winning formula for consolidating home storage without annoying the spouse – Riverbed will have to get back to users on that.