Words of advice

Any project to move data from various servers' internal disks or direct-attached storage devices into a consolidated storage pool must be carefully planned and executed. Experts offer the following guidelines to help make projects successful:

Define requirements in advance. Know why you are consolidating and create metrics for measuring the strategy's success before you initiate it. Calculate the total cost of ownership associated with your current storage infrastructure, and then compare it to the anticipated reductions from the new, consolidated infrastructure.

Don't reinvent the wheel. Search for consolidation stories that mirror your infrastructure and business requirements. Find out what strategies, vendors and products were used and whether they delivered promised value. Then come up with a short list of potential solutions for your needs.

Know your applications. Ensure that the consolidation platform can meet application requirements. Storage technology is not generic, and certain components remain built to meet applications' specific data-centric requirements, such as frequency of updates, shared access and Redundant Array of Independent Disks levels. Consolidation without regard for application requirements can have devastating effects on application performance and stability.

Test everything first. Fibre Channel storage-area networks (SANs) are notorious for interoperability problems. Despite vendors' claims about interoperability breakthroughs, switches from one vendor will not always talk to switches from another. Moreover, minor revisions in the firmware or driver software for a host bus adapter or array controller may cause nodes to simply disappear from the fabric. If you lack the skills and knowledge to test configurations in-house, work with a trusted service provider.

Roll out in phases. A phased release of your consolidation strategy will help you spot -- and correct -- any problems before committing all of your data to the consolidated repository.

Think security. Depending on your strategy, consolidation may expose all of your critical data to a security threat; you are, after all, putting all your eggs in one basket. Keep your consolidated infrastructure separate from your general-purpose local-area network. Also, don't overlook technologies such as specialized encryption devices or virtual SAN software for further locking down the consolidated infrastructure.

Back it up. Before moving data to the consolidated platform, make a backup -- or replicate the data to another place -- to safeguard against problems in the transfer. Also, design redundancies into your consolidated platform. The only way to protect data is to make a copy, and next to skilled personnel, data is your most valuable asset.

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