LoriMandMs.Cropped There’s this funny thing about pouring two bags of M&Ms into one candy dish. The number of M&Ms is exactly the same as when you started, but now they’re all in one location. You have, in theory, saved yourself from having to wash a second candy dish, but the same number of people can enjoy the same number of M&Ms, you’ll run out of M&Ms at about the same time, and if you have junior high kids in the crowd, the green M&Ms will disappear at approximately the same rate. The big difference is that fewer people will fit around one candy dish than two, unless you take extraordinary steps to make that one candy dish more accessible. If the one candy dish is specifically designed to hold one or one and a half bags of M&Ms, well then you’re going to need a place to store the excess.

The debate about whether data center consolidation is a good thing or not is pretty much irrelevant if, for any reason your organization chooses to pursue this path. Seriously, while analysts want to make a trend out of everything these days, there are good reasons to consolidate data centers, ranging from skills shortage at one location to a hostile regulatory environment at another. Cost savings are very real when you consolidate data centers, though they’re rarely as large as you expect them to be in the planning stages because the work still has to be done, the connections still have to be routed, the data still has to be stored. You will get some synergies by hosting apps side-by-side that would  normally need separate resources, but honestly, a datacenter consolidation project isn’t an application consolidation project. It can be, but that’s a distinct piece of the pie that introduces a whole lot more complexity than simply shifting loads, and all the projects I’ve seen with both as a part of them have them in two  separate and distinct phases - “let’s get everything moved, and then focus on reducing our app footprint”.


Lori and the M&Ms of doom.

While F5 offers products to help you with all manner of consolidation problems, this is not a sales blog, so I’ll focus on one opportunity in the cloud that is just too much of the low-hanging fruit for you not to be considering it. Moving the “no longer needed no matter what” files out to the cloud. I’ve mentioned this in previous Cloud Storage and Cloud Storage Gateway posts, but in the context of data center consolidation, it moves from  the “it just makes sense” category to the “urgently needed” category. You’re going to be increasing the workload at your converged datacenter by an unknown amount, and storage requirements will stay relatively static, but you’re shifting those requirements from two or more datacenters to one. This is the perfect time to consider your options with cloud storage. What if you could move an entire classification of your data out to the cloud, so you didn’t have to care if you were accessing it from a data center in Seattle or Cairo? What if you could move that selection of data out to the cloud and the purposely shift data centers without having to worry about that data?

Well you can… And I  see this as one of the drivers for Cloud Storage adoption. In general you will want a Cloud Storage Gateway like our ARX Cloud Extender, and using ARX or another rules-based tiering engine will certainly make the initial cloud storage propagation process easier, but the idea is simple. Skim off those thousands of files that haven’t been accessed in X days and move them to Cloud storage, freeing up local space so that maybe you won’t need to move or replace that big old NAS system from the redundant data center. X is very much dependent upon your business and even the owning business unit, I would seriously work with the business leaders to set reasonable numbers – and offering them guidance about what it will take (in terms of days X needs to be) to save the company moving or replacing an expensive (and expensive to ship) NAS.

While the benefits appear to be short-term – not consolidating the NAS devices while consolidating datacenters – they are actually very long term. They allow you to learn about cloud storage and how it fits into your architectural plans with relatively low-risk data, as time goes on, the number of files (and terabytes) that qualify for movement to the cloud will continue to increase, keeping an escape valve on your NAS growth, and the files that generally don’t need to be backed up every month or so will all be hanging off your cloud storage gateway, simplifying the backup process and reducing backup/replication windows.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the ongoing costs of cloud storage, after all, you will be paying each and every month. But I contend you would be anyway. If this becomes an issue from the business or from accounts payable, it should be relatively easy with a little research to come up with a number for what storage growth costs the company when it owns the NAS devices. The only number available to act as a damper on this cost would be the benefits of depreciation, but that’s a fraction of the total in real-dollar benefits, so my guess is that companies within the normal bounds of storage growth over the last five years can show a cost reduction over time without having to include cost-of-money-over-time calculations for “buy before you use” storage. So the cost of cloud being pieced out over months is beneficial, particularly at the prices in effect today for cloud storage.

There will no doubt be a few speed bumps, but getting them out of the way now with this never-accessed data is better than waiting until you need cloud storage and trying to figure it out on the fly. And it does increase your ability to respond to rapidly changing storage needs… Which over the last decade have been rapidly changing in the upward direction.

Datacenter consolidation is never easy on a variety of fronts, but this could make it just a little bit less painful and provide lasting benefits into the future. It’s worth considering if you’re in that position – and truthfully to avoid storage hardware sprawl, even if you’re not.

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