Today's global organisations are inherently complex. Nowhere is this more evident than in an organisation's data centre. The scene is often chaotic: data centres with hundreds (if not thousands) of servers, storage units, multiple databases and dozens of operating systems - all needing to work together seamlessly to satisfy 24-7 user demands and business process application requirements. The problems faced by this major consumer goods manufacturer come as no surprise.

This organisation needs to take a holistic view of its infrastructure and move to a flexible but secure utility-style computing model through an information transformation program. The company's objectives should be to gain control of its assets quickly, to improve its ability to support the business strategy, to reduce costs and self-fund longer-term IT-enabled improvements that will drive greater business performance.

Here's a two-phased approach:

Phase 1 - IT consolidation program
This involves consolidating, standardising and integrating a number of critical IT components including the data centres, networks, applications and workplace.

Doing this means starting with an infrastructure strategy and plan. The company can use such a plan as a blueprint for transforming the current environment to a utility-centric computing infrastructure through a number of structured and controlled releases.

One of the organisation's key objectives should be moving to a smaller number of centralised and highly resilient data centres, with consolidation of most of its distributed servers within a smaller number of centralised servers. Typically we would expect a company such as this to reduce its overall server population by 30 per cent.

Ideally the company also would undertake an application rationalisation program. The program's intent would be to analyze the need for each application and to determine what additional initiatives can be undertaken.

The company should consider a Wintel rationalisation program to categorise the servers and address consolidation and standardisation by server category - for example, file rationalisation or mail consolidation. The company also should consider virtualisation software, such as that from VMware, the consolidation of business applications and the minimising of remote servers. In addition, Unix-based servers should be categorised and analysed for the type of applications being hosted and the development of a more consolidated environment. This would result in fewer platforms required for the same application portfolio.

For storage, this company should transition from its mixed environment to a tiered model that would enable it to provision, categorise and move data between tiers in a seamless manner. With tiered storage, the company would be able to maximise utilisation and cost.

A pre-requisite to effective data centre consolidation is a WAN with sufficient capacity and resiliency so the IT infrastructure can be centralised while effective network connectivity for user access is maintained. If the company had not already done so, it should move to MPLS for the WAN - achieving not only cost savings but also flexibility in terms of capacity.

The company also must review its telephony strategy and consider an IP convergence programme. Initially, it would use the MPLS network to provide toll by-pass between PBXs and then as appropriate replace the telephony infrastructure with IP-enabled PBXs.

The upshot: This company needs to undergo a two-phase transformation that will take it from its current state of disarray to a flexible, on-demand-style new data centre architecture.

As part of any IT consolidation program, the desktop should be evaluated to see if alternate methods of providing desktop services, such as thin clients, could be provisioned. Standardisation of the desktop also would be of high priority with a program to migrate all Wintel-based applications onto Windows 2003.

Along with the technology initiatives, the company must model the underlying IT organisation around the consolidated IT infrastructure. The organisation should be underpinned with robust IT Infrastructure Library-based operational processes and management tools that are able to monitor, alert and, wherever possible, implement remedial actions pro-actively, before incidents or problems.

Phase 2 - Infrastructure virtualisation
This organisation then would need to introduce a virtual layer into the newly consolidated and standardised environment. This layer - which would lie between the company's applications and its hardware - would capture a uniform snapshot of the IT environment and pool and connect IT resources that had been separated historically. On top of this virtualised platform, the organisation could install software to help manage and provision hardware resources and to balance and consolidate workloads continuously. The organisation would be able to:

• Move applications among various processing resources within its data centres to optimise performance across the enterprise.

• Allocate capacity and resources - such as utility-based data centres, mobile work scenarios, workload management and IP (voice and data) services - dynamically and automatically.

• Reduce the complexity of managing hardware from multiple vendors and eliminate maintenance "downtime."

• Implement a simplified interface between IT resources and business processes.

• Measure provisioning time for new applications in seconds (not days) and response times for change requests in minutes.

A number of emerging security technologies will become increasingly critical in an infrastructure transformation program including identity management technology.

The result would be a flexible, highly secure, on-demand architecture that is aligned with the business.

Nunn is a partner at Accenture. He can be reached at [email protected].