Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A peek into the (dire) world of Managed Service Providers

The other day I was able to have a conversation with the COO as well as the SVP of Technology for a mid-market MSP/Hosting provider. Their situation was probably typical and telling of the problems most IT operators are facing.

They have a mid-sized data center; perhaps a third of their business is co-location, with the remaining business being hosted applications. They seem to have healthy growth, but have hit the limit on their UPS -- and have no more power capacity.

Naturally, I asked the question of whether they've virtualized/consolidated. No, they said; can't do it for the Co-Lo applications, and their hosted apps don't lend well to virtualization.

Next, I asked if they knew how much unused capacity they had on existing machines; perhaps idle machines could be power managed, freeing-up power capacity for other machines. They didn't know (but would get back to me)

Finally, I asked if they would consider a utility-computing infrastructure for their hosted-service machines (which makes the best possible use of capital and energy). No, they said, they use local storage, and believed that use of shared (i.e. SAN) storage was "too expensive".

Wow. Here I had a really great set of technologists, a growing business, and architectures that are mainstream -- but it's resulted in a siloed, inflexible and un-sharable infrastructure, where even the global utilization is unknown. They are very likely operating far below optimal energy efficiency (not to mention operational efficiency), and there they are - hitting the limits of their UPS. This is a perfect illustration of "when that next app costs you $million" because you need to build a new data center to hold it.

My take-aways from this experience:
  • Use more shared storage - it will ultimately give you a whole lotta flexibility
  • Measure and monitor your server use, as well as server utilization - look for patterns where you can share power and/or hardware
  • Look at your global capacity -- if your total capital efficiency is below 50-75% then you should consider sharing (using virtualization and/or a Utility Computing infrastructure)
  • Look at your PUE - if your overhead equipment (i.e. cooling) is inefficient, you can re-claim power for your IT equipment by reducing the consumption of overhead/facilities.


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