Monday, June 21, 2010

Tips for moving a data center

Moving a data center? Irwin Teodoro (, director of Systems Integration for Laurus Technologies (, says there are four career-limiting mistakes to avoid:

Moving a data center is a major undertaking for most organizations. And a successful move is a nice resume builder for any IT professional. A successful move will showcase skills in large-scale project planning, project management, technology integration and interpersonal communications. The process provides a chance for exposure across the company, as virtually every department is touched by the IT organization (and affected by a data center move) in some way.

However, data center moves can be fraught with career-limiting failures. No IT professional wants to be on the receiving end of memos and discussions describing lost orders, missed deadlines or customer dissatisfaction that occurred because some mission-critical business process was disrupted by a data center move that didn’t run smoothly.

In most relocation projects, there are four critical mistakes to avoid: Ignoring the data, combining the move with additional projects, failure to plan appropriately and not creating an inventory of equipment, applications and processes. Taking time up front to think through each of these will significantly improve your chances for success — and the personal recognition that follows.

Ignoring the data
While IT professions give plenty of thought to the infrastructure involved in data center relocation, moving the data itself can be just as taxing. Sometimes even more so. It is easy for IT professionals to lose sight of the data, as many firms have adopted the model that business group leaders own their data, Marketing owns the prospect data base, operations owns inventory data and so on. Yet the reality is that the data and its underlying infrastructure must be considered as part of an interconnected holistic system — not elements that can be taken apart and easily reassembled at will.

The smart IT professional will reach out to business owners before the move to identify information that may be affected and reach agreement on such items as data access, compatibility with new systems, application migration and others. Cleansing data prior to the move may be worthwhile, but definitely not during the move.

Killing two birds with one stone
With all the planning that goes into moving a data center, many IT professionals attempt to combine other projects — often guided by the CFO’s visions of cost savings — into the relocation.

This is probably THE biggest mistake a firm can make. One of our clients recently attempted to combine multiple projects into a garden-variety data center move, and wound up making the project so complex that the timelines slipped out past all available slack in the plan. The firm was subject to significant financial penalties by failing to vacate the old facility on time.

Moving a data center is a major project in and of itself. It is not the time to take on virtualization of the computing environment, or incorporation of a new tiered storage philosophy. Move your data center first. If your operations or finance teams insist on trying to combine projects, work with your vendor or reseller on a quote for sequential projects — the fees should not be significantly more. Finally, calculate potential costs associated with the increased complexity of combined projects. Paying an extra month’s rent or failure-to-vacate penalties may wipe out any projected savings from the combined projects.

Incomplete planning
Some IT professionals don’t take the time or effort to prepare a comprehensive plan or complete documentation of their existing data center environments. They either go from memory about which applications run on which servers, or make incorrect assumptions on equipment that may or may not be in use. Relying on memory practically guarantees that a key server or application won’t get moved correctly.

Smart project managers take a comprehensive approach to planning; not only working a baseline “best case” plan to accomplish the project goals, but putting significant upfront time into risk management planning. Most failures are due to a lack of foresight — nobody thought the disaster that just hit your datacenter move could happen. Therefore, you didn’t plan for it.

Spend the time and meet with business owners across the organization and your IT team. Identify some of the worst-case scenarios that could occur in your data center move. When you think you’ve identified them all, brainstorm some more. Assess the likelihood of each scenario and the potential business impact and make contingency plans. Disasters may not happen, but you’ll be in a far better place if they do.

Forgetting to create a complete inventory
It should go without saying that any IT professional worth their credentials will have developed strong project plans, with plenty of slack time. However, don’t forget to develop a comprehensive inventory of every server, application, networking connection, storage array and everything else in your data center before you start to move. Work with business leaders across the enterprise to make sure you include everything. And be certain to have a well-documented list of everything in the current data center before planning for a new one.

Being lax or unprepared in moving data could have devastating results. While company expectations are high for improved performance from a new infrastructure environment, data quality may suffer if it is quickly moved as an afterthought. At best, critical data may be temporarily unavailable. At worst, records could be permanently lost. For companies that increasingly rely on data, the ramifications range from abandoned shopping carts and immediate loss of sales to long-term damage to customer relationships and company reputations.

Develop plans to relocate data with as much care as you put into hardware and building projects. And make sure you work with data owners across the enterprise. By following these recommendations, you’ll wish you could move more often.

What do you think?

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