How to Shrink The Data Center: 4 Lessons Learned

Updating data center operations was a key goal when the integrated healthcare system for New York City's hospitals embarked on its five-year $824 million capital investment plan.

The NY City Health and Hospitals Corp. manages the $6.7 billion healthcare system that connects the metropolitan area's 11 hospitals as well as nursing homes, treatment centers and 80 city clinics. The data centers serving the hospitals had reached the end of their usefulness and required a large number of staff to support, says Corey Cush, assistant VP of infrastructure services for NY City Health and Hospitals Corp. Rather than renovating the 11 data centers, the NYC HHC decided on consolidation.

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"We have been able to save on power, we have been able to save on maintenance, and we have been able to save on the recurring cost of adding additional servers as we continue to expand our application and service portfolio," Cush says.

The healthcare system cut the 1,700 physical servers hosted in its data centers by 63 percent and reduced the staff needed to manage and maintain the consolidated data centers. The total savings should reach nearly $70 million over 5 years, the group predicts.

1. Fast virtualization saves money

To maintain its 11 data centers, the NYC HHC had a fairly painful upgrade cycle. Every year, the corporation had to replace hundreds of servers and supporting hardware. By quickly virtualizing their servers and reducing the number of data centers, NYC HHC saved about $8 million by avoiding those upgrade costs.

"The faster that you can virtualize, the more immediately you can realize the savings," says Cush. "When I go to do the budget next year, and I don't have to pay for 800 or more servers."

The server reduction efforts are still ongoing, says Cush. And while the number of servers is being slashed, the company is still expanding its application portfolio.

2. Consolidation allows greening of the data center

Along with reducing the number of facilities, the company has added green technologies, such as better cooling systems, to the remaining two data centers. Consolidation has helped that effort as well, allowing the company to spend on greener technologies because it only had to outfit two data centers, not the original 11 facilities.

"By far, most of these savings are coming up by running virtual environments," says Bert Robles, senior VP and corporate CIO for the NYC HHC. "By doing that, it contributed to the power savings and the environmental savings ... with more efficient cooling and heating exchange."

In addition, slashing the total data-center space from 21,000 square feet to about 7,000 square feet has saved costs as well.

3. Better service through standardization

Enforcing better standardization during the consolidation process has resulted in greater efficiency. The IT team has improved security and disaster recovery for the NYC HHC because complexity has been reduced, says Robles. Patches and maintenance can be distributed much more efficiently because the standards allow automation.

"There are huge efficiencies where we can do more with less, because we are not doing repetitive tasks, for multiple machinery, systems and applications," says Robles. "Now we can manage large-scale application environments and the machines that they are hosted on in a much more efficient way."

NYC HHC estimates that the company has improved efficiency by a factor of 10 in the past three years.

"You need to build it and show people that you can manage it efficiently," Robles says.

4. Don't forget the help desk

As part of the overall consolidation effort, the information technology team brought together the HHC's 15 disparate enterprise help desks into a single facility using the same monitoring tools and ticketing systems. Compared to before the consolidation, support issues are resolved more quickly, says Michael Keil, assistant VP of the service management office. In many cases, the help desks lacked 24-hour service. HHC sees about 18,000 calls a month, and expects that to increase to 35,000 - with about 85 percent of calls becoming a ticket.

"Everyone is looking at the same servers and the same data," Keil says. "You need to build it and show people that you can manage it efficiently as an enterprise-class tool."

Using BMC's Remedy IT Management Service Suite, NYC HHC supports its 20,000 users of its medical records system. Started in 2009, the help desk consolidation will save more than $1 million annually. The healthcare system expects to finish the consolidation by June of this year.

"We have one single source of truth now," Cush says. "Before, you had all these disparate systems all doing the same thing. Now you have a single service desk you can go to for information."

The consolidation will not stop at the data centers and the help desk, however. The healthcare network has 2,900 databases, which it has started on normalizing as part of the second stage of its consolidation process.

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Read more about data center in CIO's Data Center Drilldown.

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