Many data center administrators have seen their budgets shrink or at least stall out at current levels, while the amount of complexity that consolidation, rising power demands, and server virtualization bring keeps growing. Reduced resources make managing the complexity in uncertain economic times even harder, especially when the CIO and CEO are asking for less spending. It now makes all the more sense to prioritize and get ahead of the rising needs of data centers - and to stop being reactive, but rather, become proactive by better anticipating issues before they happen.

Here are five tips to being proactive and budget-aware.

Continue to focus on managing technology, processes, and people better. Don’t fall back to a reactive state.

Track software and hardware assets through their complete lifecycle. This won’t happen without effort.

Look for energy savings. Don’t stop at the data center, effective client-side power management can yield large cost savings.

Look for areas to automate. Don’t settle for antiquated manual processes.

Do continue with service delivery initiatives. Don’t postpone.

Technology, processes, and people are the three pillars that constitute an IT organization. Examining these aspects of the organization can produce measures with good returns on investments (ROI).

Recovering Lost Assets

In the case of technology, addressing a couple of key areas can help with an almost immediate ROI. The first is sound asset management. Surprisingly, up to 1/3 of all the IT assets within an organization go unaccounted, which causes a financial drain on a business. It is imperative that an organization knows what assets it has, where and how they are used, and how to get them off the books when they are no longer being utilized.

Associated with assets costs are software licensing and renewals. As systems have consolidated, especially with new virtualization technologies being deployed tracking this information is harder. Has a business application been moved from a physical server to a virtual server without adjusting the software licenses?  Not knowing what technology is deployed within the corporate IT ecosystem and how it is used increases the risk that an organization will pay substantially more for licenses and renewals.

Maximizing and extending the life of hardware assets through automated inventory management and tracking increases the value of those assets, which is particularly important during poor economic times. An asset management tool can help discover and more efficiently utilize all of the assets across the IT environment and provide insight into the actual workings of the IT landscape. This awareness is crucial to optimizing the lifecycle of existing equipment.

Finding and eliminating unused assets is even more important, given the surge in server consolidation. Organizations need a good process to track the server decommissioning process. Managing dormant, dead, or ghost servers can drive real cost savings immediately. In some anecdotal cases, IT shops suggest that 30 percent of servers in large data centers are dead servers. These servers not only take up valuable rack space but also waste precious data center energy and cooling resources. Effective asset management helps control the end of life of assets and drives cost savings by truly decommissioning assets and not having them consume resources.

Given that governments around the world have taken an increasing stake financially in the markets and individual businesses, corporations can expect to see more regulations around governance and compliance. IT will not be immune to this trend. Asset management tools and the associated processes will position proactive operators for this clearly predictable forthcoming set of requirements.

Tackling Power Management

Another key focus for real savings is energy costs. While not all IT managers actually pay the energy bill, helping to manage that expense is essential to aligning themselves with the business needs of the company.

In the data center, according to the US Department of Energy, floor space capacity is growing by approximately 10 percent per year for large enterprises, and the amount of energy that these data centers consume continues to soar.  Typically, a data center consumes 10 to 100 times more energy per square foot than the average office building.  At current rates, these power requirements could double in five years. According to IDC’s Worldwide Server Power and Cooling Expense 2006-2010, the nation spends $0.52 for power and cooling for every dollar spent on a server and that is projected to grow toward $0.716 per dollar spent on a server.

Getting a handle on these costs is a huge value to customers. This is not an easy task, however. A recent survey conducted by Avocent of 300 data center IT decision makers revealed that energy conservation is rated the most difficult issue to resolve with current tools, while managing the total cost of power was second. If IT could measure and monitor energy consumption, costs, and trends across the data center, it could also analyze the overall cost and determine how to better balance the power load, thus saving money.

Measuring and monitoring actual energy usage, identifying ghost servers, and right sizing the power chain will enable IT administrators to operate more equipment on their current energy budgets. In some cases these steps may extend the life of the existing data center, delaying the capital outlay for an extension or the need to build a new data center. Power management tools that give real-time feedback to enable IT administrators to properly plan and manage the power consumption can help delay new construction plans.

The Data Center and the Desktop

The data center is not the only place where power savings can be realized. Significant savings can be achieved on the desktop as well. However, according to the 451 Group, despite the strong return on investment and immediate environmental benefits, desktop power management is not widely used today.

The biggest deterrent to implementing power management policies on the desktop has to do with the ongoing disconnect between the IT administrator, who has the ability to impact power management, and the accountants, who pay the power bills. Without easy-to-use reporting that clearly indicates how much money is being saved, administrators are hesitant to deploy policies that have the potential to impact system availability. But many policies can make use of some safe activities - like placing the machine in a lower power state at night - and turn those simple activities into cost savings. But accountantss will want these savings measured to justify the investment. IT has to make sure that proper measurements can be modeled prior to adoption, then measured after adoption to ensure ROI.

Automate Processes

Processes in managing IT present other potential opportunities in addition to those within the technologies. Basic repetitive tasks often drain IT personnel resources. However, automating processes can free up IT staff, allowing them to allocate their time on higher value activities.

Process automation tools support the goals of clearly defining processes, refining them, and then automating them. Deploying these types of tools and putting rigor around IT management helps establish a consistent level of operations especially across functional silos and reduces oversight. This will directly affect efficiency.

A specific process area that has immediate ROI is in the area of service desk. As IT organizations are forced to mature to align with business objectives, it is imperative to have a process to drive efficiencies in providing IT as a service. In many cases, IT organizations are very reactive in nature to situations that drive inherent expense in environments, and they focus more on the specific issue than the reliability of the entire IT service chain. However, process frameworks like ITIL provide directions on how to create business value from IT and service desk solutions, which provide a simple and effective way to introduce these best practices.

Implementing the proper service desk solution can help organizations deliver support services without a large enterprise budget, training, or knowledge level. Putting more control in place can help can resolve support and service issues more quickly through more efficient and higher quality problem solving processes.

Productive Staff

The people factor is the remaining important issue. Nobody wants to consider staff reductions but that is always a concern in these economic times. To say the least, few firms are looking at adding staff today.

In addition, reduced staffing levels exacerbate the problems caused by substantial growth in the IT environment both in the data center and in the client environment. The numbers of new types of devices is huge and includes PDAs, mobile devices, servers, and appliances in the data center. All the operating environments and virtualized environments running on that equipment compound the problem, increasing the need to manage IT environments as efficiently as possible to maximize the productivity of existing staff.

Now is the time to investigate tools that will help increase efficiency and save time by providing an efficient and complete management solution to reduce complexity. It is critical that these tools encompass complex environments, support the process automation focus, and work in conjunction with service desk solutions. Delivering these types of systems management capabilities can lead to great increases in staff productivity wall.

IT is positioned to be a leader in the sustainability and recovery of businesses. With proper focus on the key aspects of the technology, the processes, and the people that make up IT, IT can align itself with the needs of the business.

Avocent offers one set of solutions around asset management and power that can help organizations get substantial and immediate savings. Look at improving processes through automation and through implementing a comprehensive service desk solution. Lastly, bring all of these things together with robust systems management solutions that help to drive up staffing productivity. It is these types of activities that will help IT organizations weather this economic storm and position the businesses for growth in the future.