Careful Advance Planning Averts Costly Snafus in Datacenter Migration Projects

Updated: December 18, 2009

To help pave the way to making data center migrations come off effectively, we're joined by three thought leaders from Hewlett-Packard (HP): Peter Gilis, data center transformation architect for HP Technology Services; John Bennett, worldwide director, Data Center Transformation Solutions at HP, and Arnie McKinnis, worldwide product marketing manager for Data Center Modernization at HP Enterprise Services.

The discussion is moderated by BriefingsDirect's Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Bennett: We see a great deal of activity in the marketplace right now of people designing and building new data centers. They have this wonderful new showcase site, and they have to move into it.

The reasons for this growth, the reasons for moving to other data centers, are fueled by a lot of different activities.

In many cases it's related to growth. The organization and the business have been growing. The current facilities were inadequate -- because of space or energy capacity reasons or because they were built 30 years ago -- and so the organization decides that it has to either build a new data center or perhaps make use of a hosted data center. As a result, they are going to have to move.

Whether they're moving to a data center they own, moving to a data center owned and managed by someone else, or outsourcing their data center to a vendor like HP, in all cases you have to physically move the assets of the data center from one location to another.

The impact of doing that well is awfully high. If you don't do it well, you're going to impact the services provided by IT to the business. You're very likely, if you don't do it well, to impact your service level agreements (SLAs). And, should you have something really terrible happen, you may very well put your own job at risk.

So, the objective here is not only to take advantage of the new facilities or the new hosted site, but also to do so in a way that ensures the right continuity of business services. That ensures that service levels continue to be met, so that the business, the government, or the organization continues to operate without disruption, while this takes place. You might think of it, as our colleagues in Enterprise Services have put it, as changing the engine in the aircraft while it's flying.

Gilis: If you don't do the planning, if you don't know where you're starting from and where you're going to, then it's like being on the ocean. Going in any direction will lead you anywhere, but it's probably not giving you the path to where you want to go. If you don't know where to go to, then don't start the journey.

Most of the migrations today are not migration of the servers, the assets, but actually migration of the data. You start building a next-generation data center --most of the time with completely new assets that better fit what your company wants to achieve.

Migration is actually the last phase of a data center transformation. The first thing that you do is a discovery, making sure that you know all about the current environment, not only the servers, the storage, and the network, but the applications and how they interact. Based on that, you decide how the new data center should look.

... If you build your new engine, your new data center, and you have all the new equipment inside, the only thing that you need to do is migrate the data. There are a lot of techniques to migrate data online, or at least synchronize current data in the current data centers with the new data center.

Usually, what you find out is that you did not do a good enough job of assessing the current situation, whether that was the assessment of a hardware platform, server platform, or the assessment of a facility.

There's not that much difference between local storage, SAN storage, or network attached storage (NAS) and what you designed. The only thing that you design or architect today is that basically every server or every single machine, virtual or physical, gets connected to a shared storage, and that shared storage should be replicated to a disaster recovery site.

That's basically the way you transfer the data from the current data centers to the new data centers, where you make sure that you build in disaster recovery capabilities from the moment you do the architecture of the new data center. ... The moment you switch off the computer in the first data center, you can immediately switch it on in the new data center.

McKinnis: From an outsourcing perspective, companies don't always do 100 percent outsourcing of that data-center environment or that shared computing environment. It may be part of it. Part of it they keep in-house. Part of it they host with another service provider.

What becomes important is how to manage all the multiple moving parts and the multiple service providers that are going to be involved in that future mode of operation. It's accessing what we currently have, but it's also designing what that future mode needs to look like.

There are all sorts of decisions that go around that from a client perspective to get to that decision. In many cases, if you look at it from a technology standpoint, the point of decision is something around getting to an end of life on a platform or an application. Or, there is a new licensing cycle, either from a support standpoint or an operating system standpoint.

There is usually something that happens from a technology standpoint that says, "Hey look, we've got to make a big decision anyway. Do we want to invest going this way, that we have gone previously, or do we want to try a new direction?"

Once they make that decision, we look at outside providers. It can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to go through the full cycle of working through all the proposals and all the due diligence to build that trust between the service provider and the client. Then, you get to the point, where you can actually make the decision of, "Yes, this is what we are going to do. This is the contract we are going to put in place." At that point, we start all the plans to get it done.

. . . There are times when deals just fall apart, sometimes in the middle, and they never even get to the contracting phase.

There are lots of moving parts, and these things are usually very large. That's why, even though outsourcing contracts have changed, they are still large, are still multi-year, and there are still lots of moving parts.

Bennett: The elements of trust come in, whether you're building a new data center or outsourcing, because people want to know that, after the event takes place, things will be better. "Better" can be defined as: a lot cheaper, better quality of service, and better meeting the needs of the organization.

This has to be addressed in the same way any other substantial effort is addressed -- in the personal relationships of the CIO and his or her senior staff with the other executives in the organization, and with a business case. You need measurement before and afterward in order to demonstrate success. Of course, good, if not flawless, execution of the data center strategy and transformation are in play here.

The ownership issue may be affected in other ways. In many organizations it's not unusual for individual business units to have ownership of individual assets in the data center. If modernization is at play in the data center strategy, there may be some hand-holding necessary to work with the business units in making that happen. This happens whether you are doing modernization and virtualization in the context of existing data centers or in a migration. By the way, it's not different.

Be aware of where people view their ownership rights and make sure you are working hand-in-hand with them instead of stepping over them. It's not rocket science, but it can be very painful sometimes.

Gilis: You have small migration and huge migrations. The best thing is to cut things into small projects that you can handle easily. As we say, "Cut the elephant in pieces, because otherwise you can't swallow it."

Should be a real partnership

And when you work with your client, it should be a real partnership. If you don't work together, you will never do a good migration, whether it's outsourcing or non-outsourcing. At the end, the new data center must receive all of the assets or all of the data -- and it must work.

If you do a lot of migrations, and that's actually what most of the service companies like HP are doing, we know how to do migrations and how to treat some of the applications migrated as part of a "migration factory."

We actually built something like a migration factory, where teams are doing the same over and over all the time. So, if we have to move Oracle, we know exactly how to do this. If we have to move SAP, we know exactly how to do this.

That's like building a car in a factory. It's the same thing day in and day out, everyday. That's why customers are coming to service providers. Whether you go to an outsourcing or non-outsourcing, you should use a service provider that builds new data centers, transforms data centers, and does migration of data centers nearly every day.

Most of the time, the people that know best how it used to work are the customers. If you don't work with and don't partner directly with the customer, then migration will be very, very difficult. Then, you'll hit the difficult parts that people know will fail, and if they don't inform you, you will have to solve the problem.

McKinnis: Cloud computing has put things back in people's heads around what can be put out there in that shared environment. I don't know that we've quite gotten through the process of whether it should be at a service provider location, my location, or within a very secure location at an outsourced environment.

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