As IT budget pressures increase, more and more companies are considering data center consolidation as a way to cut costs. But before plunging headlong into a consolidation project, it’s important to have reasonable expectations for what the process entails. 

For example, while consolidating your data center footprint can lead to cost savings, those savings likely won’t happen right away, and the consolidation itself will actually cost money. Preparing for this and other realities ahead of time will ensure that you’ve budgeted correctly and managed everyone’s expectations.

Here are four strategies to ensure your data center consolidation goes smoothly and leads to the cost savings and performance improvements you’re seeking.

1. Understand the Real Cost of Data Center Sprawl

First, it’s important to level set about the costs of not consolidating data centers, once you’ve identified a need to do so. Because there are costs associated with the consolidation, it may seem like the alternative — doing nothing — may actually be an economically viable option.

In reality, that’s not the case. For one thing, the costs of consolidating are one-time expenses; once the consolidation is complete, you’ll start enjoying the savings associated with a smaller data center footprint. But the more important concern is the potential for loss that exists if you maintain a dispersed data center footprint after you’ve identified a need to consolidate. Potential sources of loss include the following:

  • Security — The more physical locations you have, the greater your potential for a security breach. The easiest way to hack a data center is to walk through the front door and install malicious software — maybe wearing an AT&T uniform and carrying a clipboard. In addition to digital security infrastructure, data centers have to have physical security personnel, which costs money. Then there’s the potential for a data breach, and, again, the more physical locations you have, the greater your risk of a breach.
  • Personnel — Besides guards, every data center needs management personnel to maintain machines, fix problems, and generally ensure that things are running smoothly. Reducing the number of physical locations you maintain lets you cut your personnel costs.
  • Natural disasters — If one or more of your data centers currently sits in an area prone to flooding, earthquakes, wildfires, or some other natural disaster, your risk of loss is tremendous. In an era of increasingly severe weather events, leaving a data center in a vulnerable location is asking for a major outage. Consolidate to safer geographies to avoid a major unplanned expense.

Once you’ve convinced everyone who needs to be convinced that data center consolidation is not optional, it’s time to consider the logistics of consolidating.

2. Upgrade Equipment for Greater Efficiency

In most cases, consolidating your data centers will require you to purchase at least some new equipment. Making these purchases strategically can help you minimize downtime and achieve peak efficiency as soon as possible. 

The right strategy, of course, depends on your consolidation plan. 

For example, if you’re reducing the amount of space you take up in a colo facility, you’ll want to find ways to reduce your total rackspace and the total amount of traffic you take up on the local fabric. Getting all of your equipment to one physical area can help achieve this — in that configuration, you may be able to use the minimal number of switches for all east-west traffic and minimize east-west traffic on the colo’s fabric.

Alternatively, if you're consolidating from multiple data center locations to one, you may have to account for the introduction of latency. If data once stored locally will now be stored remotely, latency will increase. To a certain extent, you can overcome this increased latency by upgrading to equipment (switches, optics, LANs, etc.) that allows for higher speeds.

One way to minimize the cost of that equipment upgrade is to consider brand-equivalent optics, which deliver identical performance to their brand-name counterparts but at a 30% to 50% cost savings.

You’ll likely also need to purchase new cabling (more on that below). And if you are investing in all new cables and equipment, it’s probably best to replace everything at once, as this will minimize your data center’s downtime and any associated revenue loss.

3. Have Your Old Equipment Refurbished

It can be frustrating to replace all your cables when they’ve been working perfectly fine. But because direct-attach copper, active optical, and passive fiber optic cables are easily damaged, pulling one out, dragging it across a data center (or shipping it across the country), and plugging it back in could degrade it to the point that it no longer functions reliably. Cables should be recertified before being put back into service, and this can be more expensive than purchasing new ones.

So the bad news is that you likely won’t reuse all of your old cables for new configurations. But the good news is that they don’t have to go to the landfill. There are several companies that refurbish old cabling and other data center equipment. Many will even pay you for the privilege of picking up your old equipment and disposing of it ethically and within compliance if it can’t be refurbished.

This payment can offset the cost of outfitting your new data center and minimize waste.

4. Prepare for Future Bandwidth Needs

If your bandwidth needs are growing (and, at this point, it’s safe to say everyone’s are), it’s important to consider your future needs as you plan your data center consolidation. 

If you currently have several data centers spread out across a rural area, getting enough bandwidth to any of them might become a problem in the future, depending on how fast local ISPs are improving access. The solution in this scenario might be consolidating to a large population center, where there’s plenty of bandwidth.

Then again, if you’re manipulating large data sets closely, it may not be practical to have that data stored remotely in any setting.

But if you have big data needs for both local users (e.g., hospitals uploading and accessing radiology files) and remote users (e.g., primary care physicians accessing those same files), you may have to turn to hybrid infrastructure (part in-house data center, part cloud) to achieve optimal performance and manage costs.

Consolidation is a Long-Term Strategy

Maybe the most important principle to keep in mind as you launch a data center consolidation project is that data center consolidation should be treated as a long-term strategy. In addition to the costs you’ll eliminate by consolidating (personnel, facilities, risk exposure), you’ll also incur new costs (new equipment, additional bandwidth if you’re shifting from a local to a remote data center, etc.). 

Over time, though, the savings of data center consolidation will become more significant. More importantly, if you have a strategic need to consolidate, the costs of maintaining the status quo — and staying exposed to all the associated risks — will increase.