Solution provider takeaway: Solution providers need to know the three steps to a successful data center migration plan and how to mitigate clients' business risks.
Data center migration plans top the list of key projects for most CIOs this year, next year and even the year after that. Data center migration is center-stage on a three-year plan and highly visible within an organization. Why the spotlight?
As you know, data centers cost a lot of money, and data center migrations present a tremendous amount of risk to a business. Your data center manager customers are transitioning from operations to risk management roles overnight, with little training and no tolerance for failure.
Data center migration is an exercise in risk mitigation. Investing the appropriate time and money in planning, execution and testing to protect the business is definitely money well spent. The question becomes, how do you best protect your customer's business?
The steps outlined below, which have proven successful in large and small data center migration plans, focus on keeping applications up and running throughout the project.
Step 1: Know what you're migrating before you build your plan.
Data centers are complicated. The combination of densely populated racks housing a variety of hardware, running all kinds of software, and cabling running amok sounds like a nightmare, but it accurately describes more than 95% of corporate
The biggest mistake people make when planning a data center migration is to establish move timelines and budgets before collecting data about what is actually in the data center. I don't mean determining whether it's a production or QA environment -- I mean, what's actually in the data center.
It's all about the applications. Business runs on the applications that sit in a data center. Before you touch them (let alone unplug something) you need to fully understand the following for each application:
- Application owners
- Planned upgrades or changes
- Allowable downtime
- Server, network, storage and operating system requirements
- Power specs
- Connectivity (cabling) diagrams
- Rack layout
After understanding the business needs, you can develop a data center migration strategy that outlines the type of move (swing vs. forklift), the duration for the move, and finally the anticipated cost for the move.
Getting pushback from customers to do it faster and cheaper without increasing downtime? Walk them through the data center applications and ask them how long they think the migration should take and what the consequences of downtime really are. Can they afford the risk of faster and cheaper?
Step 2: Prove that your detailed plan supports service-level agreements (SLAs).
A successful data center migration plan is based upon a solid migration plan that factors in overall program management, IT infrastructure, facilities planning and coordination, application migration and lots of contingency planning.
Successful migrations always have a highly orchestrated plan executed by people who have data center migration experience. That's the easy part.
The hard part is proving that the application won't "break" during the migration. Breaking an application means experiencing degraded performance or downtime outside of acceptable SLA limits. Creating a contingency plan for the application migration is essential to winning the confidence of the business so that the migration can take place. The more comfortable application owners are with the plan (and recovery), the more cooperative they will be. Their participation is critical from both a technical and functional perspective. You will need their help in the following areas:
- Understanding the application architecture and dependencies
- Validating the applications maps and inventories
- Testing the application once it's been moved
- Understanding planned application releases and upgrades
- Listing restrictions for peak seasonal activity, if any
- Identifying customer SLAs that must be met
- Quantifying the business impact of downtime
Proving that your plan mitigates application downtime risk to the business is critical to the success of your data center migration plan.
Step 3: Test and report on success and failure.
Testing and reporting are critical components of a data center migration plan but are often understaffed and poorly funded -- at least until something breaks. Solid testing and reporting offer the best insurance against production breakage. You just have to do it.
The best planning in the world does not remedy poor execution. Excellent execution does not remove the need for testing. And testing twice is better than testing once.
Organizations that regularly migrate applications rely on solid staging, testing and reporting mechanisms to ensure they minimize application disruption (downtime). They know the ultimate success measures of a data center migration are staying within budget, staying on time and minimizing disruption. It's important to report testing results with application owners and highlight any problems you find so that you can jointly resolve them prior to the actual migration.
Following these three guidelines doesn't guarantee that the data center migration will be easy, but it will bring the seemingly impossible plan into the realm of the successful.
About the author
Shally Bansal Stanley is a managing director at Acumen Solutions Inc., a business and technology consulting firm with offices across the United States and in Europe. Shally is a recognized leader in data center solutions within the industry. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was first published in September 2008