Cost control is first step in server consolidation

Step one in server consolidation is controlling IT costs. The most important activity to help you control IT costs is taking inventory.

The first step in server consolidation could be considered learning to control IT costs.

There are three activities that can help you learn to control IT costs:

  • Inventory, inventory, inventory
  • Rationalize everything
  • Justify your consolidation

Inventory, inventory, inventory

Ten principles of server consolidation

Every server consolidation project is driven by these ten principles.

  1. Rely on industry standards in regards to acquisition, use and administration of IT infrastructures.
  2. Centralize corporate systems whenever possible.
  3. Rationalize all product selection and acquisition within the organization.
  4. Standardize all configurations.
  5. Rely on standard operating procedures.
  6. Automate processes as much as possible.
  7. Implement a change management system to track all changes.
  8. Be prepared for network evolution at all times.
  9. IT is a service and as such, it must provide quality of service.
  10. Inventory, inventory, inventory.
It amazes us how many organizations do not know what the content of their network is. Yet this is the single most important step to any server consolidation. Knowing the content of your network can help you maintain it as well as control its growth. If you don't know what you have, how can you make sure you can protect it and administer it?

Can't be bothered to go out to buy an inventory product and then deploy it? Don't have the time to prepare an inventory? Don't worry. There are free tools that can help you generate an inventory of your network.

For example, many people use the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA) to scan their networks for vulnerabilities. MBSA is not only easy to set up, it's also easy to run against all of the servers in your infrastructure (which takes only a few minutes).

MBSA provides you with information on each system scanned, including its IP address, operating system, installed applications, and, of course, vulnerabilities. You can easily turn this data into an inventory by linking the results of any MBSA scan with Microsoft Visio through the Microsoft Visio Connector for MBSA. Visio will automatically generate a graphical image of your network (as shown in the screen shot below) and display detailed information on each device when you click on it. You can generate your first inventory in seconds, and you might be amazed at what you'll find.

Now that you know what you've got, you can look to the other activities.

Rationalize everything

The next step is to rationalize everything, for instance, applications. Many people carry over lots of applications at each migration project they perform and end up with multiple versions of the same application, or even multiple applications that do the same thing. Once you have an inventory, you can begin to reduce the number of applications you need to manage either on servers or PCs. That's rationalization.

Start by regrouping all of your applications into different categories:

  • Commercial vs. in-house or custom
  • Legacy vs. updated for newer versions of Windows
  • Infrastructure systems
  • Support to the business
  • Line of business (LOB)
  • Mission-critical

Once all your applications are categorized, use the following guidelines to rationalize them.

  • Are there duplicate versions?
  • Are there duplicate functions in different products?
  • Are there obsolete products?

Once you've answered these questions, appoint software "owners" so that each application you retain has someone responsible for it.

Next, look to other aspects of your network that can be rationalized, such as processes and procedures. Then you can move on to servers. Are you using standard operating procedures (SOPs)? If not, why not? SOPs help guarantee that all operators do the same thing when faced with any given situation. This makes systems easier to support and reduces support costs. We use a simple eight-step approach to write out SOPs. Our template for doing this is shown below.

Consolidate and gain

Next, use your inventory to identify which servers you can consolidate. When you consolidate, your company or department will lower management costs, decrease maintenance efforts and increase server utilization.

But what does server consolidation really mean?

First of all, it means reducing the number of servers that perform a given function within your organization. It also means accomplishing more with less. In fact, it means relying on the features of the latest technology to improve server agility and increase workloads.

One thing server consolidation does not mean: moving to a more complex server structure. On the contrary, you should aim to simplify your infrastructure as you move to consolidation.

Server consolidations are justified through four reasons:

  • Centralization. You relocate existing distributed servers to central sites. This relocation often goes hand in hand with wide area network (WAN) communications infrastructure upgrades.
  • Physical consolidation. You replace many smaller servers with fewer, more powerful servers that may even be running clustering services to provide service availability.
  • Data integration.You integrate several distributed databases into a single data repository running multiple instances.
  • Application integration. You migrate multiple applications to fewer, more powerful servers. Applications must have a certain degree of affinity before this integration can occur. By application affinity, we mean that you could integrate two Web applications related to finance, but you can't integrate a Web application with a rich application, or a financial application with a manufacturing application. Examine your applications and determine their affinity based on their form and purpose.

Centralization and physical consolidation are easy because they are part of your IT territory. Data integration and application integration take longer to achieve because they require support from development teams. In your initial consolidation efforts, concentrate on the first two actions.

If you look at the sidebar above, you will see our list of the ten principles of server consolidation. The most important of these principles is inventory. If you do not have an inventory, how can you ever consolidate? Get an inventory today and maintain it always. Then, you'll be able to move on to the next step and be satisfied with the way your infrastructure works. Step two will focus how an examination of new technologies—processors, virtualization, blade servers, and so on—can assist your consolidation efforts.

Continue to Multi-core CPUs, x64 servers advance server consolidation efforts

More on server consolidation:


A five-step approach to server consolidation for IT administrators
The first step in server consolidation: Cost control
Multi-core CPUs, x64 servers advance server consolidation efforts
Guest OS virtualization furthers cause of server consolidation
How to use app virtualization for server consolidation
Application virtualization: The Terminal Services killer?

Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest are IT professionals specializing in systems administration, migration planning, software management and architecture design. They have written several books and are currently working on the Definitive Guide to Vista Migration for Realtime Publishers as well as the Complete Reference to Windows Server Codenamed "Longhorn" for McGraw-Hill Osborne. They have extensive experience in systems management and operating system migration projects. For more tips, write to them at info@reso-net.com.

This was first published in May 2007

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