Last month, Sun Microsystems Inc. announced a raft of new technologies intended not only to give the company a boost in sales but also to refocus attention on an area of IT that hasn’t been buzz-worthy in years and possibly decades: the corporate data center.
Wasn’t it supposed to have gone “lights out” by now? Or be obsolete altogether, a victim of shoebox-size servers tucked into every nook and cranny at headquarters, or of outsourcing?
In fact, those trends are very much alive, but the data center lives on, continuing to command a sizable percentage of a company’s overall IT budget. Strategies for designing and operating the data center, however, can take into account more options than ever before: networking, storage, operating systems, server technologies, and many other facets of the “glass house” are evolving, as are techniques for managing it all.
Some drivers behind the changes have remained consistent: reduce cost and complexity.
Both were at issue, for example, when Brady Corp. embarked on a mission to centralize and consolidate its entire IT infrastructure. The $526 million manufacturer of identification, labeling, and data-collection products wanted to align its worldwide operations more closely, and to do that, “we needed common technology at the heart of everything,” says Keith Kaczanowski, vice president of IT and process improvement at the Milwaukee-based firm.
The company is moving operations from multiple locations around the globe into two data centers in Milwaukee. The goal is partly to save money, as well as to provide a platform on which portal technology can give all employees a better, more-timely window into operations.
Having key financial and operational data accessible to people throughout the company has not traditionally been a prime mission behind data-center redesigns, but these days companies are being more careful to ensure that decisions about data centers mesh with higher business goals.
The aim? To store data and run applications cheaply than it is to create a platform that “puts information into the hands of the business users who can do something about it,” says Kaczanowski.
Brady’s data-center consolidation is being repeated at hundreds of corporations. Nearly three out of five IT organizations in the world’s 3,500 largest companies are centralized, according to a survey by Forrester Research Inc. “For a large corporation, it’s fairly easy to get to millions of dollars in savings through recentralization of servers and expensive IT support,” says Peter Kastner, chief research officer at Aberdeen Group Inc., an IT research firm in Boston.
Adds Martin Piszczalski, president of Sextant Research, an IT research firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, “the number-one way to cut IT costs is by consolidating data centers.”
Many corporations have ridden the consolidation wave to savings by slimming both hardware and staffing needs. “Overall, IT staffing has been reduced anywhere from 5 to 25 percent over the past several years,” says Kastner.
The typical data-center consolidation “invariably yields a double-digit head-count reduction, usually in the 10 to 20 percent range,” he estimates. For a global corporation with an IT budget of $100 million, the annual savings from unifying the computer shop under one roof can easily tally $10 million or more.