Coping with Increased Data Center Complexity

Last week Symantec, a leading data center software tools provider, released its annual state of the data center survey results. You can view the full report here. The overriding issue, it turns out, is the increasing complexity of the data center. As CIO you’re probably aware of this, but there seems to be little you can do except request more budget and more resources. Or is there?

Although the study cites a number of factors driving data center complexity, survey respondents appear to focus in on one primary response, an increased an increased need for governance. This is not something a CIO would typically initiate. Also suggested is taking steps to intelligently manage organizational resources in an effort to rein in operational costs and control information growth.

More specifically, Symantec suggests that organizations implement controls such as standardization or establish an information governance strategy to keep information from becoming a liability. Nobody doubts that the seemingly unrestrained proliferation of data and of systems that generate it and use it are driving data center complexity.  But don’t blame IT alone; it is the business that is demanding everything from mobility to analytics.

The leading complexity driver, cited by 65% of the respondents, turns out to be the increasing number of business-critical applications. Other key drivers of complexity include growth in the volume of data, mobile computing, server virtualization, and cloud computing.

Organizations may benefit from mobile computing and the efficiency and agility that result from virtualization and cloud computing, but these capabilities don’t come without a cost. In fact, the most commonly mentioned impact was higher costs, cited by nearly half of the or­ganizations surveyed, as an effect of complexity. Without budgets increasing commensurately, organizations gain valuable capabilities in one area only by constraining activity in other areas.

Other impacts cited by respondents include: reduced agility (cited by 39% of respondents); longer lead times for storage migration (39%) and provisioning storage (38%); longer time to find informa­tion (37%); security breaches (35%); lost or misplaced data (35%); increased downtime (35%); and compliance incidents (34%).

Increase downtime should raise a few eyebrows. In a modern enterprise when systems go down work and productivity essentially slow to a halt. Some workers can improvise for a while but they can only go so far.  The survey found the typical organization experienced an average of 16 data center outages in the past 12 months, at a total cost of $5.1 million. The most common cause was systems failures followed by human error and natural disasters.

According to the survey, organizations are implementing several measures to reduce complexity, including training, standardization, centralization, virtualization, and increased budgets. The days of doing more with less should be over for now as far as the data center is concerned: 63% consider increasing their budget to be somewhat or extremely important in dealing with data center complexity.

But the biggest initiative organizations are undertaking is to implement a comprehensive information governance strategy; defined as a formal program that allows organizations to proactively classify, retain, and discover information in order to reduce information risk, reduce the cost of managing information, establish retention policies, and streamline the eDiscovery process. Fully 90% of organizations are either discussing information governance or have implemented trials or actual programs.

While there are technology tools to assist with data center governance, this is not an issue that responds to an IT solution. This kind of governance mostly requires meetings among the business and IT to hash out the ownership and responsibility for various data, establish policies and procedures, and then lay out monitoring and enforcement. None of this is rocket science, but it does take time and resources.

Symantec goes on to make the following recommendations:

  • Establish C-level ownership of information governance.
  • Get visibility beyond IT platforms down to the actual business services.
  • Understand what IT assets you have, how they are being consumed, and by whom.
  • Reduce the number of backup applications to meet recovery SLAs.
  • Deploy deduplication everywhere to help constrain the information explosion.
  • Use appliances to simplify server and storage operations across physical and virtual machines.

You can also rationalize systems by eliminating redundant or unused applications, consolidate the system and vendors who provide them to a small handful, and standardize on a few platforms and operating systems. Strategies like BYOD, in that case, become a prescription for complexity.

The world in general is becoming more complex, and this is especially apparent in the data center due to increasing demands by the business for various IT services and the need to manage ever-growing amounts of information. Unless you take steps to rein it in, it will only get worse.

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