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Beware of hidden costs in server consolidation or virtualization

While customers can realize great savings from a server consolidation or virtualization project, there are many hidden costs that they need to be aware of. Find out where those costs lie to keep expectations in line with reality.

Solution provider takeaway: Solution providers can help customers avoid server consolidation or virtualization cost surprises by knowing where the complications are. 

For your customers, server consolidation and virtualization projects are all about controlling costs. And while the costs savings potential of consolidation/virtualization is real, it's critical that customers understand and plan for the hidden costs that can crop up in any data center consolidation project. So let's discuss the variables that need to be accounted for in a typical migration of Web, file, print, application and database servers.

Infrastructure planning costs: These costs encompass time and the material cost of planning the migration. In a server consolidation project, you need to map all application dependencies, determine types and versions of hardware and software, analyze CPU and RAM capacity, and identify virtualization candidates. Additionally, you should address version and product compatibility concerns.

Hardware costs: To migrate a virtualization candidate, a target location for the data needs to be selected. Blade servers or other high-density servers are economical enough and provide highly scalable architectures. But you also need to consider the switch fabric, cost per port, required NICs and HBA cards, and types of connectivity to the SAN (whether Fibre Channel or iSCSI), all of which are associated with the cost of provisioning storage.

Software license costs: There are license costs associated with the virtualization software, operating system software, database software and any other third-party application software used, assuming your customer isn't using free software. Some commercial applications are economically priced for virtualized environments, and some are not. The key is to get a good handle on software licensing costs associated with the target environment.

Product support issues: Does your customer have legacy applications that they want to virtualize? Are they supported in a virtualization environment? This could be a major pitfall if not considered in the analysis phase of a server consolidation project. In cases where data centers are being migrated and all equipment must be moved, either via "swing kits" or by "fork-lift," legacy applications can be troublesome and costly to deal with. What are the options? You can move the entire system as is, rewrite or port the application, or retire the system altogether.

Operating costs: A virtualized environment has many tool sets and features to support scalability, maintainability and availability. However, they require staff with a specialized skill set. Finding adequate staff with the correct skill set to support the target environment may be challenging and carries with it a cost. Skills in provisioning virtualized server instances, moving data onto them, cloning, replication and a host of other operations are required. Target environments are typically connected to a SAN that may have complex systems coupled with it: high-end storage arrays, replication, and backup and recovery systems all require an up-to-date workforce.

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Data center hosting costs: If your customer wants its target environment hosted in a service provider's facility, become familiar with the provider's pricing model. Your customer needs to know what they're paying for and understand service-level agreements with the hosting provider. For instance, can they add another rack? What is the cost per square foot? What is the minimum amount of space they will lease? Need someone to provide "smart hands" services? That will cost either on an hourly rate basis, in blocks of time, or bundled with a "gold" service-level fee. The key is to identify any costs that are a result of change or growth.

Network costs: When building out the target infrastructure for a server consolidation project, network costs should be evaluated for surprises as well. Is the cost per port optimal based on the required equipment? Does the architecture of applications require excessive network line provisioning or capacity? Are circuits properly load-balanced? Has redundancy been planned for? What is the cost associated with the circuit and switch fabric architecture of the target environment? Failing to examine these issues during the project planning process can lead not only to cost overruns but also big disruptions in implementation as problems are uncovered.

Power and cooling costs: Virtualization may mean using a high-density, compact server and chassis, such as in a blade environment. These servers usually run hot and require adequate, if not enhanced, power and cooling considerations. Efficiencies in terms of hardware power requirements may seem apparent, but if the server produces exponentially more heat, it takes power to cool that environment. When considering high-density hardware platforms for a server consolidation project, these cooling costs should be accounted for ahead of time, to avoid surprises on the electric bill.

About the author
Mark W. Bortle is a senior manager in the data center and infrastructure practice of Acumen Solutions Inc., a business and technology consulting firm.


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