About the only thing harder than building a data center is dismantling one. The potential for disruption of business is much greater with data center decommissioning than with construction.
The recent decommissioning of the Titan supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) reveals just how complicated the process can be. More than 40 people were involved with the project, including staff from ORNL, supercomputer manufacturer Cray, and external subcontractors. Electricians were required to safely shut down the 9 megawatt-capacity system, and Cray staff was on hand to disassemble and recycle Titan’s electronics and its metal components and cabinets. A separate crew handled the cooling system. In the end, 350 tons of equipment and 10,800 pounds of refrigerant were removed from the site.
While most enterprise IT pros aren’t likely to face decommissioning a computer the size of Titan, they’ll likely be involved with dismantling smaller-scale data centers given the trend for companies to move away from on-premises data centers.
The pace of data center migration or closure is going to accelerate over the next three or four years, according to Rick Villars, research vice president, datacenter and cloud, at IDC. “Every company we’ve spoken to is planning to close 10% to 50% of their data centers over the next four years, and in some cases even 100%. No matter who you talk to, they absolutely have on the agenda they want to close data centers,” Villars says.
Inventory data-center assets
The first step is a complete inventory. However, given the preponderance of zombie servers in IT environments, it’s clear that a good number of IT departments don’t have a handle on data-center asset management.
“They need to know what they have. That’s the most basic. What equipment do you have? What apps live on what device? And what data lives on each device?” says Ralph Schwarzbach, who worked as a security and decommissioning expert with Verisign and Symantec before retiring.
All that information should be in a configuration management database (CMDB), which serves as a repository for configuration data about physical and virtual IT assets. A CMDB “is a popular tool, but having the tool and processes in place to maintain data accuracy are two distinct things,” Schwarzbach says.
A CMDB is a necessity for asset inventory, but “any good CMDB is only as good as the data you put in it,” says Al DeRose, a senior IT director responsible for infrastructure design, implementation, and management at a large media firm. “If your asset management department is very good at entering data, your CMDB is great. [In] my experience, smaller companies will do a better job of assets. Larger companies, because of the breadth of their space, aren’t so good at knowing what their assets are, but they are getting better.”
Map dependencies among data-center resources
Preparation also includes mapping out dependencies in the data center. The older a data center is, the more dependencies you are likely to find.
It’s important to segment what’s in the data center so that you can move things in orderly phases and limit the risk of something going wrong, says Andrew Wertkin, chief strategy officer with BlueCat Networks, a networking connectivity provider that helps companies migrate to the cloud. “Ask how can I break this into phases that are independent – meaning ‘I can’t move that app front-end because it depends on this database,’” Wertkin says.
The WAN is a good example. Connection points are often optimized, so when you start to disassemble it, you need to know who is getting what in terms of connections and optimized services so you don’t create SLA issues when you break the connection. Changing the IP addresses of well-known servers, even temporarily, also creates connection problems. The solution is to do it in steps, not all at once.