In the context of IT, consolidation means reducing the amount of hardware you are using to achieve your computing goals. There are many reasons why you might want to consolidate your servers; you will save power, reduce your total cost of ownership, and simplify the administration process.
Modern servers are incredibly powerful. According to VMWare, most servers rarely run at anywhere near their maximum capacity. If your servers are running at only 5-15% of their total capacity, and you consider that you can have them operating at 80% load without performance degradation, it makes sense to consolidate multiple server applications onto one machine.
Depending on your existing IT infrastructure, you could reduce the number of physical servers in your company by a factor of 5 (or even 16, if your servers are grossly under-utilised). Each physical server that you decommission gives you instant savings in several areas:
- Hardware (both support, and future upgrades)
- Data-centre fees
- Data storage
- Licensing (although you do need licenses for OSes running in virtual machines)
Let’s take a look at these potential savings in greater detail:
- Support and hardware management
In the long term, consolidating your servers offers huge potential savings on your hardware costs. Instead of needing to upgrade several servers at once, when the time comes to update your hardware, you will need to upgrade only one machine. In addition, your systems administrators will only need to worry about patching and maintaining one computer. This will make life a lot easier for them, and reduce the likelihood of security holes remaining un-patched.
- Reduce operating costs
Depending on how you configure your servers, you may find that you have far lower licensing requirements when you consolidate your infrastructure. Running multiple daemons on one OS will reduce the number of OS licenses you require, and if you use a monitoring package such as Orion NPM you may require fewer licenses since you are monitoring fewer interfaces. In addition, you will save money on hardware support agreements, and on the general running costs of the server such as electricity and temperature control fees.
- More room to grow
If you are co-locating your servers, and have an agreement to lease a certain amount of rack space at a data centre, why fill that space with un-necessary hardware? By reducing the number of physical servers that you operate, you will free up that rack space for other purposes. You then have the choice to either change to a cheaper lease, or use that extra space for more useful hardware. Why not give your developers that stand-alone server they’ve always wanted for testing, so that they don’t have to risk running potentially hard-crash causing code on a server used in a production environment?
- Standardised and centralised monitoring and management
Managing an IT ecosystem that consists of multiple architectures, varied OS-es, and an inconsistent selection of tools is not easy, and there are many points where errors could creep in. Consolidating your servers makes it easier to standardise your set-up, and to implement easy monitoring solutions. Even deploying new virtual machines is simple, since you can create a standardised image and load it in seconds. It’s also easy to deploy a “Dashboard” for monitoring hardware and software performance. Backing up data is simplified in a consolidated environment too, especially if you opt for a SAN system. Instead of having to back up data stored on multiple discrete devices, all of your data is stored in once central location, so there is just one backup job to run, and no chance of important data being left out of the backup process by mistake.
- Consolidation as part of a green strategy
If your company is looking for a way to reduce its carbon footprint, then running fewer physical computers is a good place to start. Not only will this reduce your daily energy usage, it will also have the long-term effect of meaning that you buy less hardware, meaning that you have less hardware to dispose of. Electronic goods can be difficult to dispose of safely, and the less equipment you need to send to landfill, the better.
- Increased efficiency in all parts of your business
When used correctly, consolidation will have a ripple effect, which will be seen in every aspect of your IT strategy. Whether you are consolidating basic storage and servers, or High Availability and Disaster Recovery infrastructure, you will see long-term savings in everything from support to the amount of storage space required for installations and backups.
It is important to note that when you consolidate your servers, you must take into account the performance overhead of any VMs you use. In addition, don’t forget to consider the peak loads of each server you run on the host. Be sure to leave some memory and processor time available for any sudden spikes in utilisation.