Bosses Demand More With Less In Data Centers

 
 
By Ericka Chickowski  |  Posted 2009-01-21
 
 
 
A survey suggests IT executives may not have their finger on the pulse during this downturn, but everyone’s on board with the need for efficiency and tech-driven business growth.

The bosses don’t get it.

Upper-level IT managers often don’t realize how things really are for those in the trenches. The recession has them asking for more technology innovations to drive profits, even as it dictates reduced staff and budgets.

Symantec’s annual ‘State of the Data Center’ survey found a disconnect between IT employees and the managers who lead them. When asked whether meeting service levels set by other organizations is getting easier or harder, for example, executives were twice as likely to answer “easier” than the rest of respondents.

“They're not the ones doing the work to meet the expectations, they just have the expectations that the business wants IT faster, cheaper and easier,” Sean Derrington, director of Symantec storage and availability management group, says of executives. “And so their staff actually has to go and figure out how to do that in this environment, knowing that they don't have as many people on the team that they need and they don't have as much money to spend on technology that they need.”

The Symantec survey queried a broad cross-section of IT workers at 1,600 enterprises with 5,000 or more employees about a range of topics, including budgets, view of business expectations of IT, cost-saving measures, staffing and upcoming data center initiatives.

Respondents on either end of the management spectrum generally agreed that their departments need to find ways to reduce costs through efficiencies while strategically aiding the business. According to the report, three of the top cost-saving initiatives on tap in the data center this year are automation of tasks, cross-training staff to accomplish more across different IT silos and ramping up server and storage consolidation and virtualization.

Derrington believes that many see the consolidation and virtualization effort as especially important to freeing up dwindling budget dollars for more strategic projects. Analyst Laura Didio, principal of Information Technology Intelligence Corp. (ITIC), see it as a sign of efforts to spend less on hardware. In an unrelated survey ITIC recently carried out among 700 organizations, 35 percent of respondents reported that the downturn had caused their organizations to delay or defer planned upgrades. Server hardware was the number one expense to be deferred or delayed this year, followed by network infrastructure products such as routers and then storage devices and hardware.

“Server hardware, network infrastructure, storage devices, these are all physical things, so the tendency and the trend is for them to say ‘Lets just keep it going as long as we can until it becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back,’” Didio says. “So when it comes to these physical devices, they're really squeezing them. They're overloading these hardware devices because they don't have the money to do the refresh on a regular basis.”

But organizations aren’t just relying on a duct-tape-it-and-pray model to squeeze more out of physical assets. For example, Symantec notes that virtualization is a huge part of many organizations’ plans to improve server utilization, which is currently at 53 percent according to the survey. This jibes with Didio’s studies on virtualization, which found 62 percent of respondents planning use of VMWare products and 52 percent planning use of Microsoft Hyper-V or Virtual Server when asked to list all virtualization plans for 2009.

As for storage, Derrington says that many of those surveyed noted that they are trying to improve utilization, which can be abysmal at large enterprises. In one extreme example he noted an unnamed financial customer that had a 12 percent storage utilization rate.  “Last year they actually had a no-purchasing-storage initiative,” he says. “(It’s) given them an opportunity to basically not write a $90 million check to their hardware vendors.”
Survey respondents said they planned to improve utilization through methods such as deduplication, virtualization, and storage resource management.

Didio warns that systematic planning is more crucial than technology. “If they're only at 16 percent capacity  the first thing they need to do is make a five year plan, because those storage needs are going to grow in a very big way,” she says. “You have to start identifying where the biggest consumers of storage in the organization are, who might need to be isolated for security purposes, how you are configuring this data, what are you doing with the extra capacity, whether your company going to grow are you going to have mergers and acquisition and so on.”

As organizations struggle with these consolidation and virtualization issues, many are also trying to wrap their arms around disaster recovery, which is exacerbated by these initiatives. The Symantec survey found that 36 percent of respondents reported their disaster recovery plan either needed work or was undocumented and informal. And Didio reports that her survey found that disaster recovery is in the top three major concerns for CIOs in 2009, along with security and budgetary issues.

“The wonderful thing about virtual server is it’s great for consolidation because you can have four instances of a single server in one physical server,” she says. “The dark side of that is if it’s not configured right or if disaster strikes and it takes out that virtual server, boom, you're got four servers that have gone down.”

Unfortunately, though, disaster recovery is another area where IT executives may be out of touch, according to Symantec’s numbers.

“One of the things that we found that is that many organizations don't have what they feel is an adequate disaster recovery strategy,” Derrington says, “but we also found that many senior executives are not involved in the disaster recovery planning (and) strategy discussion.”