Fast Guide: Server consolidation

Don't be left in the dark! Our fast guide to server consolidation keeps you up to speed on server consolidation basics.


Server consolidation is a big topic for data center managers. Even if it's your area of expertise, it's worthwhile to brush up on the basics to make sure your knowledge stays fresh. This fast guide includes relevant definitions, useful articles and tips, as well as a glimpse into the future of server consolidation and virtualization.


Getting started

First things first: What is server consolidation? Before we get into the details, it's important to know the terms.

In information technology, a server is a computer program that provides services to other computer programs (and their users) in the same or other computers.

Server consolidation is an approach to the efficient use of computer server resources in order to reduce the total number of servers or server locations that an organization requires. The practice developed in response to the problem of server sprawl, a situation in which multiple, under-utilized servers take up more space and consume more resources than can be justified by their workload.

According to Tony Iams, Senior Analyst at D.H. Brown Associates Inc. in Port Chester, NY, servers in many companies typically run at 15-20% of their capacity, which may not be a sustainable ratio in the current economic environment. Businesses are increasingly turning to server consolidation as one means of cutting unnecessary costs and maximizing return on investment (ROI) in the data center. Of 518 respondents in a Gartner Group research study, six percent had conducted a server consolidation project, 61% were currently conducting one, and 28% were planning to do so in the immediate future.

Although consolidation can substantially increase the efficient use of server resources, it may also result in complex configurations of data, applications, and servers that can be confusing for the average user. To alleviate this problem, server virtualization may be used to mask the details of server resources from users while optimizing resource sharing. Another approach to server consolidation is the use of blade servers to maximize the efficient use of space.

In laymen's terms...

Server consolidation implies combining workloads from separate machines or applications into a smaller number of systems or applications. There are several forms of consolidation. Heterogeneous workloads from multiple servers can be moved to a single larger server. Multiple workloads may be combined under a single OS, reducing OS images. Finally, multiple applications such as email systems or database instances can be combined into a single system.

Server virtualization(also called "virtualization") involves decoupling a workload and its data from the functional details of the physical platform on which it is hosted. This increases the flexibility with which the workloads can be matched with physical resources, enabling administrators to develop business-driven policies for delivering resources that are appropriate given specific time, cost, and service level requirements. Virtualization therefore promises the ability for IT operations to be performed with far better economies of scale, allowing infrastructures to be managed efficiently even as they undergo high rates of growth, while maximizing the utilization of existing resources.

Why consolidate?

The following articles explain why--and when--consolidation is a good idea.

Consolidate or...what?
Should your company really consolidate? The answer lies in analysis of the economics involved. Read here about how one company decided consolidation was for them.

The ROI of server consolidation
There's a huge opportunity for IT budget savings by reducing IT labor requirements – primarily administration and support. In fact, more than 70% of the total cost of ownership (TCO) for typical data centers is for labor or outsourced services. Server consolidation is one of the most effective ways to lower TCO of a company's data center. Typically performed using one of four strategies, (physical consolidation, re-hosting, logical consolidation, and workload consolidation,) server consolidation methods can be applied independently or simultaneously. Read more.

Consolidation and virtualization: The same, but different
Many IT administrators have discovered that there is overlap between consolidation and virtualization, and they are wondering how they should reconcile these two techniques in datacenter environments. Virtualization tools such as partitions, virtual machines, and resource management software all enable multiple dominant workloads to run simultaneously on larger servers, which is typically a key aspect of consolidation. But virtualization also offers far-reaching opportunities for administrators to fundamentally transform the operations in their datacenters. Read more.


Look before you leap into consolidation
Much has been written about the benefits of consolidation and virtualization -- more space, less cooling, fewer machines to worry about, and more time for innovation to name a few. But all is not milk and honey in the land of fiber and silicon. Data center managers need to make sure conditions are right and that they're willing to devote time to planning and testing before hopping onboard the consolidation bandwagon. Otherwise, there could be a hefty price to pay. Read more.

iSeries fights server sprawl
People are consolidating server farms to address maintenance concerns. But what about heating issues and power loads?



It should be clear why consolidation has caught on in the data center. Today, companies are building out huge, scale out systems with thousands of servers. These servers are cheap to buy, but expensive to manage from manpower, energy and software standpoints. IT pros are looking at ways to cut down the number of servers they have to manage, which is why the focus shifts to server virtualization.

Virtualization is one of the ways people can cut down the number of physical servers in the data center. People are moving from testing virtual servers to running them on critical workloads. Virtualization was the data center news focus in 2005 and will continue to be throughout 2006. People like to point out that the mainframe has had virtualization technology for decades, but the real story today is on low-end machines. Traditionally, x86 servers have been used in one-box to one-application scenarios. In that model, servers were using about 10% of their computing capacity. Virtualization is an improvement because it turns one server into many, allowing it to run several operating systems and applications. Those virtual servers act like independent, isolated pieces of hardware, which allows companies to consolidate the number of physical servers they use. Eventually, IT pros will be able to manage virtual workloads across the entire data center.

Muli-core chip offerings

The future of multi-core processors
Multi-core processors are the technology that enables server consolidation. Last November, interviewed Marc Tremblay, Sun Microsystems vice president to discuss the future of multi-core processors. Read more.

Intel launches dual-core Xeon processor
The world's largest chip maker announced the release of its first dual-core processor which will feature hyper-threading and run at 2.8 GHz.

 Power-saving technologies in the data center
With data centers exceeding watts capacity, many are looking at new technologies to keep energy demand from spiraling out of control. IT pros are exploring virtualization, multi-core chips and DC-powered equipment to fight the problem.

Protecting virtual servers gets smarter
Backing up VMware virtual machines has been a clunky process to date, but a handful of new products coming in February, 2006 were slated to address this issue.

Consolidation sparks mainframe revival
In February of last year, two deals with German firms, one for the implementation of 20 z990s, reflected how the econmic demand to consolidate servers was driving sales of IBM's premier mainframe.

Other platforms

Virtualization juggernaut opens code to partners
VMware opened up the source code to its flagship product, VMware ESX Server, to a host of vendors in the x86 space.

The rise of the virtual machines
It's the new mantra for data center managers: virtualization. And while there's plenty of confusion over just how all the new offerings will come together, most IT pros will have some form of the technology in 2006.

Server room menu: Server virtualization in four styles
Virtualization is set to cut a large swath of headlines this year, but users would be wise to understand each virtualization style in turn before taking the plunge into a virtual server world.


Projects in action

Consolidation project serves county $3M
Pierce County, Wash. moved its geographic information system data off EMC, Sun and HP products to consolidate on a single vendor.

Wisconsin: A state of consolidation
When Matt Miszewski was named CIO for the state of Wisconsin two years ago, he inherited 10 data centers and 2,500 distributed servers. Miszewski told about his aggressive plan to move the state's servers into a 36,000-square-foot data center -- an eight-month project.

Downsizing can reap server use benefits
Just how much consolidation can an organization achieve? In some cases (think potential disruptions), it's not an option.

Scrapping the sprawl
When agricultural giant Monsanto looked at what to do with its data center, it found that starting from scratch was going to be much cheaper than retrofitting its current server farm -- again.

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