Aug 13 2007

Move IT on Over

Take these steps to help avoid pitfalls when you relocate your data center.

It might begin as temperatures soar during late summer.

It might begin when you try to decide if there’s enough space to install a new server rack. Then comes the PowerPoint presentation showing you are hitting your maximum power availability at the same time the cooling capability of the data center is hitting its maximum. People are becoming more and more concerned because they are simply running out of space and power. And you are going to have to think about moving the data center somewhere with more space and available power.

Many agencies’ information technology managers believe they can successfully relocate their data center hardware, data and communications with their own project management, processes and procedures. They possess a strong belief that no matter how good outside vendors might be, they don’t have the insight into the data center that the center’s systems management and staff have.

OK, hold on a minute. Moving a government data center is no easy task. And it will take significant professional project management, with all the advantages it has to offer, to address the task of relocation. A failed or delayed move could mean significant downtime for critical systems, resulting in lost time and resources for the entire agency.

Here are six steps to getting your data center to a new home with the least amount of time, trouble and money.

1 Select Your Team

Concerned that the costs associated with professional project management may be out of line with the task to be performed, senior managers often believe their IT staffs can pick up the data center — hardware, data and all — and move it to a new and better location themselves. Data center managers also may be confident that their people are the best qualified to do the job.

Although this is complimentary to the center’s staff, it might not realistically account for whether that staff has the experience to handle a major data center move. Before developing the work plan for the move, first evaluate the skills and experience of the team and decide whether you will need outside support.

2 Gauge and Schedule the Work

Knowing what to do and when to do it is an excellent beginning to any new project. Agencies need to document these two golden nuggets in the work breakdown structure (WBS) to provide the foundation for planning the move.

Once you have your WBS in place, you are well on the way to knowing what needs to be done and when. Similarly, don’t try to move over a weekend or holiday. Doing so will probably ensure that key people will be out of town or otherwise unavailable. A good project management plan will lay out the resource plan and schedule to make certain the right people are onsite, the right people are on call, and everyone who is not needed is not jamming up the move site.

3 Identify the Risks

Risk and uncertainty shadow every project but loom large over complex projects such as data center relocations. Because a move involves multiple layers of personnel — both staff and contractors — identifying the potential pitfalls involves pulling together information from many people. If you have never completed a data center move before, you probably have little knowledge of all the risks and hazards that can await the unknowing relocation team. But you are well aware of the dangers of not having a functional environment when your agency’s users need it.

The trick is to develop plans that key off the loss of IT functions and to prioritize system needs relative to the mission. By having response plans for various scenarios, you can ensure that critical systems and applications remain available.

Each move has its own set of challenges, such as the destination not being ready for occupancy on time, delayed computer delivery or the loading dock not being large enough to accept the equipment. Not only do you have to plan for risks occurring, but you need to include time in the schedule to accommodate changes and adapt to modifications as issues surface.

4 Bring on the Right Resources

More isn’t always better when it comes to data center relocation and your personnel. Many project managers tend to overcompensate by bringing on everyone or even extra personnel for a move.

The plan needs to lay out a schedule for bringing on the right resources at the right time, without people tripping over one another.

Scheduling the entire data center staff, project staff, project management team and others to be onsite during the move will waste resources and cause confusion. Instead, build out backward from the schedule to identify key players connected with each phase and include only them during their particular phase.

5 Communicate

As with most any project, communication is a key to success. During the actual move, keeping e-mail and voice mail systems running will be invaluable. But long before that, instilling good project management up front will create a process for identifying all stakeholders and keeping them informed during every step of the planning, execution and completion of the relocation.

6 Take Care of the Little Things

In the initial planning, the team must focus on the details that can turn the new-facility dream into a data-access nightmare. These include verifying completion of backups, ensuring proper labeling of racks and equipment, and double-checking that the destination can support the weight and other requirements of the agency equipment.

For example, one large agency had done an excellent job of preparing its data center relocation efforts. It created a detailed plan that described each task in the move sequence. It crafted a schedule in Microsoft Project that timed all tasks. And it coordinated the schedules for the packers, movers, cleaners and data center personnel.

The problem was that the plan contained no “what if” time. The schedule called for completing system backups, shutting down systems, dismantling servers, packing everything and shipping it all over a period of three days.

But then the system backups failed and the notification to the stakeholders explained that it would take 12 hours to rerun them. Without the backups, the whole move could have been in jeopardy and the agency might not have been able to bring the system back up in the new data center. Rerunning the backups meant the technicians were delayed in dismantling the equipment. That in turn affected when the packers and movers could crate and transport the systems.

The failure in the backup routines disrupted the whole schedule. The experience compelled the move team to verify the usability of the system backups before proceeding to dismantle the servers.

If the backups had failed again, the agency would have had to reschedule the moving company, packers and technicians, and notify the new data center and system users of the schedule changes. If the backups had not been verified, the agency could have had an unusable system at the new data center and a much more serious situation.

Agencies can plan for the little things that can foil an otherwise successful move. Good project management guiding the relocation effort will increase your chance of success. By using mature and proven processes, you will be able to focus directly on the task at hand: relocating the data center.



Photo: John Wilkes Studio/ Jupiter Images