Preparing for consolidation -- Part 1

The new IPVPN (mesh) networks in place at many companies today lend themselves to server consolidations.The method in which you implement server consolidations is not always easy.

An ongoing issue for administrators is server consolidation. Businesses today are driven to keep costs to a minimum (lowering Total Cost of Ownership/TCO) while increasing productivity and reliability. From a Domino perspective, more powerful hardware means dispersed Domino servers can be merged into tighter configurations, reducing server count. In addition, the networks of corporations have grown in both available bandwidth and flexibility. The new IPVPN (mesh) networks in place at many companies today lend themselves to server consolidations. However, the method in which you implement server consolidations is not always straightforward.

A look into the background of this trend is useful in preparing to pursue a consolidation project.

Keep in mind, figuring out the proper infrastructure for your Domino server base can be a highly subjective undertaking. Although it is a technical problem, how it is solved often depends on the culture of the corporation in which you work.

How does corporate culture play out? You may technically be able to bring the work of remote locations to a central location, but people with influence in the corporation may not want servers to be removed from their backyard. You will need to get past this hurdle if you want to optimize your server topology. Sometimes this cannot be overcome, and you need to use solid cost/benefit analysis to make your point. If your consolidation solution saves the company enough money, you will be allowed to collapse the sites into a few servers.

There was a time when there was "a server at every site." In fact, many companies are still running in this manner. In R4 and early R5 Domino world a server could comfortably handle 500 or so users. Scalability was a problem if you wanted to have a few thousand people on a server. You could not take an entire 10,000-person organization and plunk them onto one or two servers.

Not only were the servers unable to handle the load of thousands of users -- the networks were not designed for it either. Frame relay and point-to-point networks required you to setup a hub and spoke architecture. True consolidations into one or two datacenters were not possible because of routing issues and small bandwidth. Today's IPVPN networks and the relative ease of getting larger pipes make it easier to bring all users back to a central location for their messaging services.

The fact is that you can reduce server count, backup tasks, licensing and support work by dropping from 50 servers to a handful. But that does not mean it is necessarily the best thing for you to do. Sometimes the move can be straightforward. If 50 people have their own server, that is probably a waste of hardware and resources. As with everything in life, we have gray areas when considering a server consolidation. When you have a site with a range of 250 to 500 users, the paths to take are varied. You have to look at the costs of maintaining a server on the site versus the cost of added network bandwidth that you will have to obtain if you move the server to another locale.

The economics of the situation and the quality of service (response time) may create dueling factors. In Domino, particularly, replication issues are an area of concern. If Domino clients are not running in off-line replication mode, then everything they do is going to be over the wire. User response time after the consolidation will certainly be slower than when the server was in the site's closet, but it cannot impact user productivity. Depending on where your site is and how much bandwidth you need to make response times acceptable, you may wind up spending more money on the pipe than you would maintaining a server at that location.

What's the first thing to do once the decision has been made to consolidate? It has to be gathering useful statistics. One thing I stress is to get trending analysis of your servers. Look at statrep. Look at log.nsf. Additionally, there are third-party tools for this. Build charts and graphs that show the growth of mail files, message volume, bandwidth utilization, etc., so that management understands the current situation. Once the situation is base lined, then you can make the case for your consolidation by showing where you will gain efficiencies and cost savings.

Once you decide upon a consolidation, you must choose a platform. This and other relevant issues will be considered in Part 2 of this story.

The Admin Tip will take time off next Thursday November 25th for the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. Look for Part 2 on preparing for consolidation on Thursday December 2. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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