By Paul Cooney, Founder and President of Shamrock Consulting Group

Change is the way of the world. Change represents progress and innovation. Stagnation, whether in personal lives or in business, is death.

Do I have your attention yet?

Okay, maybe that was a bit dramatic. But the concept holds true. The world is changing rapidly every day, and businesses must adjust and adapt with change, or they risk falling behind. The IT world is no different and data centers are the perfect microcosm of what embracing evolution can create for your business.

In some slow-changing industries, data centers still look like they did several years ago. But with the adoption of virtualization technology and automation tools, data centers belonging to businesses at the cutting edge of their industries have changed almost to a point that they’re beyond recognition.

For the majority of businesses today, though, your colocation environment probably sits somewhere in between old style and new school. Lucky for you, no matter where you sit on the sliding scale of data center evolution, this article should help you.

Below we’ll present a model, expertly crafted by our friends at IBM, which can help you to categorize your current data center into one of four categories of development.  We’ll explain four key steps you should be considering in order to realize the benefits of a fully developed Strategic Data Center.

Visualize. Execute. Evolve.

4 Stages of Data Center Evolution

In 2012, IBM conducted a painstakingly in-depth study in which they surveyed over 300 IT executives across seven countries to assess the overall state of the data center within the global IT network.

In the study, it was discovered that only one in five data centers met IBM’s criteria for a Strategic Data Center. “Why should I care about a study from 2012?” you might be asking, “Didn’t you just give a diatribe against not evolving?” Valid point. But while the Strategic Data Center proportions have surely changed since IBM’s study, the four stage model they created is still a very pertinent and valuable tool for assessing how much further your data center has to develop in order to maximize its – and your business’ – full potential. So read on, haters!

Stage 1: The Basic Data Center

A Basic Data Center, as defined by IBM, will employ little or no server virtualization and will therefore be overly dependent on physical on-premise hardware. Capital expenditure will be high, upgrades disruptive and redundancy non-existent.

Should problems occur, any resolution could take days and performance will likely vary widely from application to application and from site to site. In other words, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Stage 2: The Consolidated Data Center

Should you decide to take the next step up from Basic and consolidate your servers, the biggest motivation for doing so would typically be a reduction in cost. As more VMs and deduplication tools are introduced, server management becomes simplified, freeing up FTEs for other projects. At the same time, more storage can be virtualized, reducing the need for physical storage servers.

To be truthful, even IBM admits that there is no formal division between one data center stage and another, but you should look at it this way: if you’re running more than four VMs per server and storing more than 20% of your data virtually, you will almost assuredly be approaching the Consolidated Data Center stage.

Stage 3: The Available Data Center

An even stronger indicator than the percentage of virtualization used by your data center is the shift in business IT priorities from cutting costs to improving availability. With capital expenditure decisively slashed and operational expenditure more manageable, further development will involve optimizing your data center so that all applications are fully available and performing well across sites.

Once your data center has reached a stage where it can act as a computing resource pool, your focus will inevitably change to measuring and improving service levels. You will also want to build in governance procedures to ensure business requirements are being met.

If this is the case, congratulations: you can now define your data center as an Available Data Center.

Stage 4: The Strategic Data Center

The primary goal for smart businesses, as IBM defines it, is to reach the Strategic Data Center stage. By this time, policy-based automation tools are freeing up more staff time. With less need for manual governance, employees can devote their time to actual projects.

Let’s throw some numbers at you for context: IBM’s study found that 53% of a business’ IT budget and 60% of staff were able to be devoted to new projects when a Strategic Data Center was in place. In contrast, businesses still stuck in the Basic Data Center stage were only able to allocate 35% of their budget and less than 30% of their staff to integral projects. That’s a pretty eye-opening difference if you ask us.


4 Steps to Build a Strategic Data Center

In the same study, IBM outlined a four-step strategy (adapted below) to help businesses prioritize their IT development during their evolution from a Basic to Strategic Data Center.

Step 1: Optimize Your Data Center

Optimizing your Basic Data Center is the first step towards freeing up capital expenditure and staff for new projects, including evolving the data center itself. This involves consolidating servers through virtualization (keep in mind that storage, network facilities and other assets can also be virtualized).

It’s during this stage where an experienced data center solution provider can offer invaluable assistance with auditing your existing infrastructure and streamlining the necessary upgrades and migrations.

Step 2: Design for Flexibility

Moving from Consolidated to the Advanced Data Center stage is all about designing your data center with the flexibility and capacity to scale up and down to meet business needs.

Upscaling frees up your business to take advantage of new opportunities while downscaling ensures that expenditure isn’t wasted when business is slow. Once again, you would most certainly benefit from bringing in a top data center consultant who can help with the business-specific tools and upgrades you’ll need.

Step 3: Deploy Automation Tools

It should go without saying that monitoring availability and performance levels as well as manually adjusting compute resources places high demand on your staff resources. It’s simply another forced requirement that’s a time-suck for your staff, taking them away from project and development work.

Luckily, it’s a pretty simple fix: just deploy some automation and orchestration tools to carry out this time consuming function. Doing so will finally set you up to reach the Holy Grail that is the Strategic Data Center stage.

Step 4: Align Your Business Goals

Once you’ve employed the three steps above, you’ll finally be working with an always-on Strategic Data Center, giving you the ability to scale up or down in near real-time to meet business demand. At this point, your focus should be on ensuring business requirements are tightly interwoven with your business’ overall strategic direction.

Let’s not sugarcoat things here: IBM’s model is just one of many that you could use to expand and evolve your business the right way. Any IT decision maker worth their salt is probably already aware of that fact anyway.

But the point we’re making here is that your data center evolution is entirely in your hands, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. All we’ve done is provide an infinitely useful framework for any company looking to move out of the dark ages of data center development and into the light. So shine on and remember, stagnation is death!


About the Author:

Paul Cooney is the Founder and President of Shamrock Consulting Group, the leader in technical procurement for telecommunications, data communications, data center, SD WAN consulting, dark fiber and AWS direct connect solution provider.

After finding early success with Teligent, Inc. in the late 90’s, he took over AT&T’s struggling Los Angeles sales team and turned them into one of the best in the country within 6 months. In 2008, Paul left AT&T to start Shamrock, which he has grown into an award-winning industry disruptor offering vendor-neutral expertise on thousands of products and services related to cloud, colocation, wide area networking and telecommunications. Shamrock guarantees the best price on any product from over 250 different service providers. Connect via LinkedIn.