The Limits of Consolidation


Now that tough economic times are upon us, you can expect the front office to put on the pressure to cut costs like never before. From a systems point of view, this can only mean one thing: consolidation.


The problem is, most of you have already been consolidating your little servers off for the past few years, making it harder and harder to squeeze more applications into your remaining physical resources.


By the numbers, consolidation is a frustrating game. Top executives no doubt are intrigued by data like these from an IBM ebook, which indicates that consolidation can cut hardware costs up to 70 percent, maintenance costs by 50 percent and support costs, including energy consumption, by a third.


These, of course, represent the ultimate savings going from a traditional architecture to a consolidated one. But as IDC is reporting based on the slowing number of virtualization license sales, high-volume consolidation opportunities are starting to whither, at least in the x86 market. Licenses for Itanium systems are still going at a pretty good clip, but this represents only a fraction of the overall server market.


So what to do then, when the bosses say "Cut, Cut," and you start to feel like Scotty in the engine room yelling back, "I can't do it Cap'n, she's ready to blow!" (Insert your own Scottish brogue here.)


In times like these, there's nothing like better analysis. And fortunately, a number of new tools are arriving to better assess which areas are still ripe for consolidation.


The most intriguing is a new online modeling system developed by Ideas International, which is ostensibly aimed at reducing carbon footprints, but is just as effective as a consolidation test bed. The service uses a database of past and present server configuration data, allowing you to model performance and consolidation options, with special focus on before and after views on a number of TCO parameters. It also includes evaluation tools of the three leading virtualization platforms: VMware Infrastructure 3, Citrix Xenserver 5.0 and Microsoft Hyper-V.


And speaking of Microsoft, the company recently updated its Assessment and Planning (MAP) tool that now includes a full infrastructure evaluation module that can be used to find additional systems that will benefit from virtualization, including new flavors of the technology like App-V, the former SoftGrid product.


It's true that to some, consolidation is like a tube of toothpaste: no matter how empty it looks, you can always squeeze out one last dollop. Eventually, though, the consolidation tube will run dry and data center cost-savings will have to come from another source.