The case for server consolidation

Thursday, 01 April, 2010

IT consolidation can reap significant ROI, but how realistic is it for your organisation? Riverbed’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Steve Dixon *, looks at the challenges around consolidating and how a WAN acceleration strategy can help.

Companies today face a huge IT challenge in managing and operating complex WANs to support often hundreds of remote sites. More than half of all enterprise employees now work in remote branch office sites, and supporting the infrastructure required to deliver the applications they need is expensive, complicated and full of risk.

As such, many Australian organisations are making the strategic choice to consolidate remote site IT infrastructure into central data centres. The stumbling block to consolidation, however, is the severe impact on application performance as seen by remote users. Relocating local servers to a data centre and connecting them across a WAN link - where congestion, resource contention, diverse routing conditions and high latencies exist - often causes applications to grind to a crawl. At these levels of delay, business processes are impacted, sometimes forcing site consolidation efforts to be stalled. Similarly, trying to centralise backups and data replication to a central site, with the objective of reducing cost, security risks and operational issues, may become too difficult if the data transfer cannot happen reliably within the time window allocated.

CIOs also often discover that even significant bandwidth upgrades to remote sites have little or no effect on consistent end-to-end application performance. The problem, instead, lies with the amount of latency on the link and how that affects the way applications - originally developed with the idea that the client and server were local - interact across the WAN. Some of these culprits include Microsoft Windows file and print, Microsoft Exchange, ERP and CRM applications and any large data sets such as CAD applications, backup and data replication. In Australia, these issues are compounded by the geographical distribution of the country, which results in expensive bandwidth and high latencies.

Because of the clear benefits - reduced operating costs and improved data security - companies are persisting with IT consolidation and are discovering that bottlenecks such as constrained WAN bandwidth, TCP throughput drop-off and application chattiness can be managed by an appropriate WAN optimisation strategy. This should address all areas of WAN performance to:

  • optimise bandwidth to significantly improve effective throughput; and
  • mitigate effects of latency to substantially improve end-user response times.

At the same time, this strategy does not require substantial re-engineering of current IT infrastructure to accommodate the WAN optimisation devices, nor does it prevent the ability for choice or change in the future.

Importantly, the freeing up of WAN capacity can often be used for other requirements such as VoIP and video applications.

Remote site server consolidation is a definite win in terms of reducing operating costs and improving data security. Centralising servers at a data centre means greater resource utilisation and fewer servers to back up and patch. Since complexity is reduced, such consolidation also means lower IT staff requirements, less chance for errors and better system security. As long as user application performance can be preserved, site consolidation has a tremendous ROI, and the more infrastructure that can be centralised to the data centre, the higher the ROI for the IT department.

* Steve Dixon is managing director, Australia/New Zealand for Riverbed Technology. He has more than 25 years’ experience in the IT industry and has been deeply involved in the Australian and New Zealand networking markets since 1990. He joined Riverbed as Regional Director, Australia/New Zealand in 2005, establishing and quickly building its operations.

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