Joe Latrell, IT manager and lead programmer for GetMyHomesValue.com, a real estate data services company, knows that it's all too easy for even a knowledgeable and experienced IT veteran to make mistakes while managing a complex server-consolidation project. "You have to think about everything," he says. "It can be a minefield."

Server virtualisation projects are usually easy to justify on both financial and operational grounds, but that doesn't make them foolproof to execute. Pitfalls, such as inadequate planning, faulty assumptions or failure to quickly detect postdeployment glitches, can entrap consolidation project leaders and team members at almost every stage.

"Every time [we] felt that we covered every base, that every single thing had been looked at... that's when the danger started," says Latrell, whose project experienced a variety of woes, including underpowered servers, configuration snafus and budget constraints.

Avoiding disaster while keeping a complicated consolidation project on schedule and within budget isn't easy. In fact, Latrell believes that making at least a few mistakes along the way is inevitable. "It will go wrong: Be prepared," he warns. "On the other hand, planning and learning from others will keep you from making the big and obvious mistakes."

While even the most thorough, painstaking planning can't completely eliminate project mistakes, building a detailed virtualisation design and deployment strategy will help minimise the number of gotchas. "Planning is really key for server consolidation," says Justin Gallagher, senior IT consultant at KDSA Consulting.

Five steps to successful server consolidation planning

  1. Begin by researching. Having solid understanding of the different consolidation techniques and technologies will help you pinpoint the approach that best meets your needs.
  2. Set operational and financial goals. Identify exactly what you hope to accomplish in terms of scope, performance and costs before you begin designing the system.
  3. Create a schedule. To minimise disruption to everyday business and IT operations, set a timeline with defined benchmarks. Be sure to build in some extra time to accommodate inevitable project setbacks.
  4. Put it in writing. A document describing project goals, system design details, integration specifics, server management responsibilities and other key points will help you, your team and external partners stay on track.
  5. Build support. As with any major IT project, getting buy-in from stakeholders is essential for a successful consolidation initiative. Make sure your business users understand the benefits, and any pitfalls, of virtualisation.

Thorough planning creates a road map that helps managers gather the knowledge required to avoid most major problems. "I think people aren't spending enough time thinking about the issues of the existing workloads and how you migrate those into a virtual environment, and what does that mean in terms of cost structure, ongoing expense and high availability," says Jeff Nessen, IT consolidation practice manager at Logicalis, a systems integrator.