Are you performing server consolidation exercises periodically throughout the year? You should. Server consolidation offers a number of considerable business benefits. Most importantly, these benefits come in the form of cost savings and a smaller data center footprint.
However, to fully ensure consolidation success, planning and analysis are absolute must-haves. A disjointed or uncoordinated approach could do more harm than good, and inadequate workload balancing can create significant performance problems, among other issues.
Currently, there are several top approaches to server consolidation which can help businesses reduce total data center cost while helping to prevent server sprawl. Let’s examine the concept and approach to server consolidation and how you can best undertake your next consolidation project.
Server consolidation: Definition and driving factors
Server consolidation involves the balancing of applications between available computing resources, with the main objective of reducing the number of physical machines and making more efficient use of the power and support of each server.
As Techopedia noted, consolidation helps better allocate available server computing resources among an organization’s many applications. This approach ensures that the machines a company has invested in don’t go underutilized, or become zombie servers (the lights are on, the machine is drawing power and operating, but not supporting any critically important application or workloads).
Zombie servers and similar unbalanced use of server computing resources are more common problems within enterprise infrastructure than you might assume. It was only just a few years ago when the primary method of consolidation involved purchasing a new server to support each individual application a company depended upon. As the number of key apps increased, so too did the number of servers.
Now, however, organizations are realizing that they can reduce the total number of servers within their data center or on-premises infrastructure, and better balance the workloads among server computing resources without hampering the performance of applications.
Improving the use of servers’ available resources and support, though, isn’t the only driving factor behind server consolidation. Other advantages of helping to propel consolidation projects include:
- Reducing data center footprint: A larger data center means higher operating and other related costs. By eliminating underutilized machines through consolidation, you can effectively shrink your data center footprint.
- Lowering operating costs: Building on the above point, a smaller data center means lower operating expenses. Cutting high data center costs can unlock new financial capital which can be used to support other key IT or business initiatives.
- Reducing complexity: A sprawling data center is an especially difficult challenge, particularly from a management perspective. Decreasing the number of servers through the creation of a virtual environment, or other approaches can help reduce overall infrastructure complexity and help streamline overall IT management and administration.
Server consolidation, virtualization and virtual machine consolidation
Before we discuss actual approaches to consolidation, it’s important to clear up a few misconceptions around this concept.
Server consolidation is often confused with virtualization. As Verteks pointed out, while the two are similar, the distinction lies in the separation of the workload from its operating system.
Where virtualization does perform a separation between a workload, its related data, and the host platform, it does not separate a workload from its operating system.
“Although there is overlap between server consolidation and virtualization, virtualization is seen as the enabler of server consolidation,” Verteks explained. “In most cases, a combination of server consolidation and virtualization is ideal.”
This brings us to virtual machine consolidation, which is different from server consolidation and virtualization. As a research paper from Mahidol University faculty and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology noted, virtual machine consolidation applies to cloud data centers and involves reducing the number of virtual machines in a given virtual environment.
Consolidation project: SQL server database consolidation approach
One of the more specific strategies for server consolidation involves the SQL server database approach, which, as the name suggests, targets SQL server databases specifically. Though, as SQLShack contributor Artemakis Artemiou noted, this strategy isn’t right for every consolidation project and is only successful when certain criteria are met.
“Usually, consolidation of SQL server databases and instances takes place in large organizations where the licensing and infrastructure costs can be very high,” Artemiou wrote. “…Database consolidation is the process of centralizing multiple databases and instances in order to share resources and thus, among others, cut licensing and hardware costs.”
Within this approach, you can choose to consolidate by hosting multiple databases on a single SQL server instance, host several SQL server instances on a single virtual machine or host multiple virtual SQL server machines within a single physical server.
Best practices for server consolidation
Ahead of SQL server database consolidation or any other approach to consolidation, you must take the proper steps for planning and workload forecasting. In this way, every consolidation initiative should begin with a monitoring period, where the workloads targeted for consolidation are carefully monitored for capacity and performance.
Using this information, you can use an advanced Infrastructure Performance Monitoring tool to virtually group together and more deeply analyze the servers that will be consolidated. A tool like Galileo Performance Explorer includes the Tag Manager feature, enabling users to specifically see and inspect server workloads ahead of consolidation.
It’s also critically important to include historical server environment data within consolidation considerations. In addition to the monitoring period, historical data can provide a more complete picture of infrastructure workloads, and help you ensure that elements are properly balanced, even during peak demand periods.
You can use the data collected through your IPM tool to accurately predict future workload growth. This step helps avoid over consolidation, wherein the initiative has gone so far that there is a scarcity of server resources to support consolidated workloads.
With proper planning, visibility and forecasting, you can make the best decisions about server consolidation, and complete your project according to a timeline that supports your IT team and key workloads.
To find out more about how to best approach server consolidation within your business and the advantages this strategy can bring, connect with us at Galileo Performance Explorer today.