The perils of consolidating data center operations in the wake of an acquisition came into view this month as customers of Web-hosting firm Hostway found themselves without service for several days. It seems that on July 27, Hostway began moving close to 3,700 servers that it gained from Affinity Internet from Miami to Tampa, a process that was supposed to suspend service for several hours at best. As the disruption continued into early August, tech support and e-mail were overwhelmed.
Although an official explanation as to what went wrong has not been released yet, there is no shortage of outside opinions on the failure. Basically, though, there is a right way to move servers and a wrong way. Certainly, a server migration isn't as simple as unplugging an entire server farm, trucking it to a new site, and plugging it back in again. Systems must be backed up while the new center is configured and tested offline.
More and more, data center integration is becoming a determining factor in whether an acquisition is successful. That's why many consultants are opting for generic infrastructure; things like power supplies, connectivity devices, even cabling. As long as two centers can communicate with each other on a basic level, there's nearly always a means of migrating data and applications from one to another.
In many ways, though, the technical integration is a cakewalk compared to the cultural one. Once instituted, organizational processes are not easily abandoned, even if those who set the policies are let go after the merger.
One thing to keep an eye on going forward is whether virtualization will simplify or complicate the migration process. Microsoft, VMware and Xen all have versions of live migration technology in their platforms, which lets you move a virtual machine from one physical server to another quickly and easily. While this is designed for load balancing and other management functions within a data center, it's not inconceivable that this ability could be used over a WAN, possibly eliminating the need to move servers altogether.
No matter how prepared you are, however, server migration and data center consolidation will most likely continue to be a crap shoot. Some will go smoothly. Others won't. The only thing to do is make sure the long-term gains outweigh the short-term disruptions.