The Data Center Move, Part 1

My posts are sometimes (nearly always) kind of long. I thought I’d try something different and break this one up into multiple parts.

Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3  | Part 4

Sometimes in life, the best experience comes from being in the right place at the right time. I studied enterprise networking for years while being employed in the SMB space. My short time with the Flagler County school system was my first enterprise-level job, but my role at my present company as network engineer has really been the start of my journey of “real” enterprise-level experience. In such a comparatively short period of time of being employed here, I have gained immense experience that I know will serve me well for the rest of my career.

My company recently migrated our 15-year-old in-house data center to a private cage in a colocation facility. Many people would view the thought of migration with dread. Many people that I work with did in fact dread it. However, I saw it from the very beginning as a somewhat unique opportunity to raise my awareness of various issues and learn as much as I could from the process. How often does a company move its entire data center? Indeed, many people working for a single company for many years may never experience something like this.

Technology, as always, marches on. Fifteen years ago, it made much more sense to run your own data center, if you had enough equipment to fill it. Our private in-house data center had, at one point in time, somewhere between 50 and 100 racks full of equipment, and a separate telecom room where all of the copper connections terminated. The data center was filled with many physical servers, primarily Linux machines and proprietary IBM midrange systems, as well as very large (and very heavy!) multi-rack SANs.

The telecom room also served as the demarc for various WAN technologies over the years, including T1s, DS3s, straight fiber, and at one point (before migrating to MPLS), the central hub for our former frame-relay hub-and-spoke WAN (this was well before my time here). We still have all of the original SONET muxing equipment in the wiring room, and many shelves for the T1 cards, with hundreds of pairs of wires running between racks. That in itself is something someone fairly recent to enterprise-level networking might not run into very often anymore.

Fifteen years ago, 32TB of storage would take hundreds of drives spanning multiple racks of equipment. In 2016, you can get 32TB across just four drives or less. Soon we’ll be laughing about how it used to take multiple drives at all to get 32TB of storage. Thanks to server virtualization, hundreds of former physical boxes can now be placed into a blade server chassis that takes the space of less than five of the former physical servers. Those former physical servers all required multiple individual connections back to the network, which usually required chassis-based switches containing hundreds of ports. Today, you just run a couple of 10G or higher connections into a hypervisor to be accessed by many VMs simultaneously.

All of this technology consolidation means that at a certain point, it no longer makes sense to run your own data center. It becomes a giant lot of wasted space and money. With consolidation, you might end up using less electricity, but you still have the infrastructure in place, including huge cooling systems, redundant power, backup diesel generators, etc., all of which cost money to maintain, whether or not they are actually used. It is at this point where relocating the data center to a colocation facility makes the most business sense. When you can reduce your data center footprint down to a tenth of its former size due to advances in technology, why continue paying for the infrastructure that you no longer need?

From the networking perspective, this entire move process has had many “firsts” for me with regard to getting firsthand experience. Some of what I have experienced are things that I read about years ago when studying for the CCNP. I remember at the time I was studying wondering if I would ever actually encounter some of these situations and be able to actually use the knowledge I was gaining. This move has made that knowledge come to life.

Part 1  |   Part 2  |   Part 3  | Part 4

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