How to Survive a Data Center Move
Like many industries today, the Banking and Financial sector is constantly re-evaluating its internal positioning, looking for savings and efficiencies for the business. As it is with most technology based Finance companies, the IT organization is frequently approached with cost saving inquiries.
“The complexities of inter-application dependencies, external interconnects and legacy requirements can undermine even the best laid plans”
It was with this in mind that I was approached in 2013 with the question “What would it take to move our data center?” Fortunately we had reviewed this exact question earlier that year, evaluating our geographic positioning as a national presence. I had a good understanding of the question, but my reply was “Let me get back to you”.
As anyone who has performed this feat will tell you, it’s not for the faint of heart. The complexities of inter-application dependencies, external interconnects and legacy requirements can undermine even the best laid plans. In the Financial sector, additional requirements around the principles of a Risk based approach, Zero Impact to the business drive the need for an even more rigorous approach, and manage financial risk.
In developing our answer to the question, we considered the following 5 factors:
Our next questions were, even if we can move the data center, should we? What were the Business drivers for taking on such a potentially risky endeavor? What options did we have in performing the move? With Zero Outage as a necessity, performing “a forklift” relocation was out of the question. This made replicating the facility a more acceptable option, but at what cost. As most who have performed this task will tell you, to drive down risk, you increase cost.
Another factor necessary in performing this task successfully was proper oversight of the entire project. While a portioning of responsibilities and duties is expected, someone needs to drive the big picture to identify and prevent gap failures. The tendency for most technology projects is to categorize SAN, Server, Network and other silos. Without proper oversight, the gaps where these categories meet are potential pitfalls for any endeavor of this nature.
Gathering and directing all the necessary technology owners for a strategic planning session allowed for a unified effort in reviewing and sorting of issues and efforts. Centralized oversight allowed for us to embrace disruption without loss of control.
After a detailed review of our entire operation, we determined that relocating our facility was achievable in a reasonable timeline with existing internal personnel resources. As we were currently in a two data center configuration, the ability to utilize the second location as a pivot to swing functionality was critical to the plan.
However the physical resources necessary to populate the new location with equipment represented a substantial investment in “Swing Gear”. This pre-seeding of equipment in the new location gives the ability to stand up parallel locations with the minimum of risk and demonstrates the resiliency that regulatory agencies prefer to see.
In our case this represented a major hurtle in the overall move strategy. The ability to pre-provision the new location to better facilitate the migration of applications and services while minimizing risks was essential. A detailed review of applications and hardware requirements gave us a consolidated picture of what was required. The review also gave us an opportunity to evaluate the deployment needs after optimizations were applied.
This hurtle was overcome by applying optimizations to existing deployments, enabling application velocity and freeing up physical resources. This created opportunities to automate and secure as part of strategically reallocating those physical resources between the existing alternate data center and the new location. This removed the necessity of a major purchase of “Swing Gear” to facilitate the relocation. That move alone saved over three quarters of a million dollars in hardware purchases, while maintaining the risk avoidance redundancy required in addition virtualization played a big role in our move.
The final piece to this puzzle was the people. To be successful in any endeavor of this nature requires the best systems, networking, application and project management resources you can find. In my case I was fortunate enough to have individuals with the understanding and experience necessary to make this effort a huge success.
It should not be overlooked that these resources weren’t dedicated to the move. All of this was performed and completed by existing staff while maintaining the day to day operations of the company and completing new project work. Their dedication to supporting the company’s needs is a credit to their professionalism and abilities.