Network Infrastructure Drill-Down: Cost-Cutting Strategies

By Elizabeth Millard  |  Posted 2008-11-20

As budget belts tighten, creating efficiencies in the data center becomes even more crucial, but IT managers and CIOs may be faced with a quandary: what in the data center should be trimmed?

Virtualization and other consolidation strategies can be beneficial, but before ditching a few server racks and squeezing functionality from several appliances into one, it's crucial to create an understanding of network optimization, experts note, since that's the only way to truly realize if ROI-focused efforts are working.

"At the end of the day, it's all about supporting the end user experience while delivering services at the lowest cost possible," says Eric Hanselman, Director of Sales Engineering at Leostream, a technology-agnostic desktop virtualization firm.

There are numerous monitoring tools that track application performance, network throughput and capacity, and other issues, and CIOs need to be aware of issues like usage and efficiency, he adds.

"Understanding what's running on the network can be a complex path," he says. "But there's no other way to figure out what can be reduced or eliminated."

For example, he points out, a company might have an array of network resources in place for handling heavy application activity, but it may be that only one department is using an app to that level. If accounting is continually doing large amounts of queries in Oracle, for instance, it would need significant application performance services, but the HR department, which doesn't run Oracle, wouldn't need that level of network performance.

For many organizations, the service delivery perspective is lacking, believes Steven Shalita, Vice President of Marketing at NetScout Systems, which specializes in application and network performance monitoring and management.

"You have to know how everything interoperates, so organizations are increasingly looking for ways to get that view," he says.

Once aspects like traffic flow and application usage are pinned down, cost cutting can come through tweaking optimization in service delivery strategies, says Shalita. An IT department can get a better handle on how to integrate the functionality of multiple devices into the larger network landscape.

"You need to understand the interrelationships of bandwidth use," Shalita adds. "And you simply can't do that without visibility into the network."

Exploring Data Center Consolidation

One of the hottest topics in data center management is virtualization, with new announcements about platforms and services coming at a steady clip. For example, Microsoft just announced the delivery of a virtualization platform, Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V, that's generated some buzz.

The strategy was once just a hype machine, but has now become an essential part of many IT infrastructures, mainly because its cost saving benefits have been documented.

"When you're talking about getting more ROI, you need to utilize your resources more effectively," says Jeff Slapp, co-founder of Fairway Consulting Group, which specializes in virtualization implementation. "Particularly in an area like storage, virtualization can be huge."

Slapp notes that traditional storage technologies typically provide about a 30 percent return on investment, and that the number doesn't even take into account the depreciation factor inherent in the equipment being used. But he's seen storage virtualization provide a much higher ROI, up to 98 percent in some cases.

Virtualization also aids cost cutting in reducing the amount of equipment in the data center. Although this may seem like a minor benefit, there are actually numerous advantages that add up to savings.

Consolidation can reduce the footprint of a data center, so a company wouldn't have to explore construction of a new facility when it's time to expand. Also, fewer machines means fewer maintenance contracts, which can be costly when there's a high number of devices, servers, and appliances to service.

Companies can even make some money off their old equipment. There are a number of resellers that refurbish equipment in a way that's enterprise-friendly -- namely, providing data security and liability insurance -- and then give their clients a portion of any profits realized in a resale.

Finally, power and cooling are reduced, and that's no small change. As big data centers continue to consume the power levels of a small town, the need for creating more efficiency is vital.

"Basically, it's all about thinking holistically," says Shalita. "There's a higher expectation of getting more out of applications and infrastructure, but there are so many elements that make up the system, that it's sometime hard to realize efficiencies. So, you need to look at things in a more end-to-end way."