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Whether your company has completed a recent merger purchased some new infrastructure, or simply changed its computing requirements, it’s inevitable that you’ll deal with infrastructure sprawl at one point or another. For the uninitiated, infrastructure (or server) sprawl occurs when there are multiple endpoints or servers that are under-utilized, taking up space and consuming resources without adequate returns.
It’s as common a staple of your profession as software updates or frustrated end users. Okay, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic. But it is an incredibly common challenge.
As a sysadmin, it’s your job to deal with server sprawl, like it or not. You need to get your business’s IT infrastructure back down to a manageable (and more importantly, efficient) level. Because otherwise, you’re not only wasting time and money, but also leaving a potential cybersecurity threat unaddressed.
Here’s what you’ll need to do if you want to consolidate.
Step One: Name Your Problem(s)
First thing’s first, how do you know you’ve got a problem with server sprawl? Did your organization just complete a huge merger which resulted in a ton of redundant infrastructure? Is your IT department too understaffed to handle the server load it’s been saddled with?
Or maybe sprawl isn’t really a problem yet. Maybe instead, you’re just looking to consolidate; to reduce the operational cost of your infrastructure or your organization’s threat surface. Either way, you need to start with an understanding of why you’re looking to consolidate, as that will inform what measures you take to reduce sprawl.
Step Two: Map Your Network
Once you’ve nailed down the issue with your architecture, your next step is to put together a comprehensive map of every server, device, and endpoint within your organization. If you don’t know where anything is, you can’t effectively consolidate, after all. Consider using a network mapping tool like ConceptDraw.
Some enterprise mobility management and endpoint management platforms also provide a visual map of your network, but I’d advise against installing them if you’re in the midst of a consolidation project. That’s likely just going to cause more complications on top of what you’re already dealing with.
Step Three: Figure Out What Everything Does
Now for the (not at all) fun part. You need to figure out how you’re using your infrastructure. Over the course of a few weeks to a few months, monitor the activity on each server and endpoint. Figure out how and when each system is being used, and pay particular attention to systems that seem to be dealing with an unusually low load (or an unusually high one).
The idea here is to augment your network map with notes on which systems are not being effectively utilized - this will allow you to move to the next phase of your consolidation project. Make sure you also jot down the name of each endpoint, along with its function, operating system, and security level.
Step Four: Make a Plan
Next up, you need to figure out what you’ll do about all those ineffectually-utilized systems - and that’s largely contingent on what your objective is. The most important thing to remember here is that when dealing with infrastructure sprawl, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ plan.
"There’s no magic bullet: it takes a systematic strategy that encompasses specific elements from solution design and implementation to training and support", explains IT Pro Portal’s Barry Cashman.
When devising your strategy, consider…
- The needs of each department within your business, and how this consolidation may impact them. Can you help them do their jobs better or more efficiently with this consolidation? If not, it might not be a good idea.
- Whether or not new technology exists that you might use to replace outdated architecture. Legacy infrastructure is one of the chief contributors to sprawl, but in many businesses, it’s a necessity.
- How the cloud might play into your consolidation efforts - if you can manage it, a well-managed IaaS platform suffers from none of the issues with organic sprawl that plague traditional hardware. And even if you don’t consider IaaS, there are plenty of infrastructure management solutions that can make consolidation significantly easier, and ensure that organic sprawl doesn’t happen at as quick a rate.
- If it’s worthwhile to move to a new data center, or if you can simply shift the workloads from some workstations to others.
- If your IT department might simply need a new approach to manage emerging infrastructure like smartphones, tablets, and IoT devices.
Sprawl is an issue that plagues almost every organization at one time or another. By understanding how your endpoints are being utilized, examining your management solutions, and creating a solid consolidation strategy, you’ll equip yourself to tackle the challenge without needing to reach for an aspirin.
Better yet, you’ll look like an IT superhero for doing so - and who doesn’t enjoy that?