Five Essential Keys to Success When Relocating a Data Center

A data center relocation (DCR) is not just about moving servers and plugging them in at their new locale. In reality, DCR can be one of a company's most complex and challenging endeavors, writes Bruce Cardos of Datalink.

Bruce Cardos is a principal consultant at Datalink, a publicly-held data center IT solutions and services provider. Bruce is a PMI-certified project management professional who specializes in data center relocations. Bruce has planned and managed nearly 100 data center openings, closing, consolidations, and relocations. His experience also includes managing several data centers, as well as positions in data center network design and implementation.

Bruce-CardosBRUCE CARDOS
Datalink

A data center relocation (DCR) is not just about moving servers and plugging them in at their new locale.

In reality, DCR can be one of a company's most complex and challenging endeavors. With mission critical information and high-stakes money on the line, the failure of any key steps in the process can have potentially devastating repercussions. Valuable data can be lost. Expensive IT equipment can be damaged. Critical systems may remain offline for hours, days or even weeks as problems are resolved. Such issues can end up costing a company thousands--or even millions--of dollars in lost productivity and lost revenue.

To ensure your company's future data center relocation is successful, we offer five essential keys--all steps which occur before the first server is ever uninstalled and moved to the new location.

Key #1: Recognize DCR Needs Special Management Skills

Assigning a knowledgeable, experienced project manager (PM) is key to any successful data center relocation. While many companies have competent, professional project managers on staff, a data center relocation presents a different challenge. This requires a project manager with prior DCR experience. DCR project management involves identifying and pre-planning unique DCR issues that will impact creation of timelines. It involves managing associated people, budgets, and DCR risks. It also requires defining and executing the DCR's critical macro and micro milestones while overseeing the production of key DCR planning documents.

If you don’t have a knowledgeable and experienced PM on staff with deep expertise in data center moves, try finding a DCR partner with this skill set. Even if you appoint an internal PM (which we also highly recommend), you will want an experienced DCR professional to lead the project and transfer knowledge to your team.

Key #2: Equate Good Planning with Good Documentation

Complete and detailed planning is as important as the need for good quality DCR documentation. This documentation emphasis may surprise technical teams who've grown accustomed to having critical details 'in their heads'. When it comes to DCR, however, this informal practice creates a guaranteed, single point of failure. While there is no cookie-cutter approach to data center relocation, certain documents are necessary for every successful data center move.

The Big Four: Your DCR's 'Must-Have' Docs

At a minimum, DCR project information should appear in four main documents:

  • Where You Are Now: The Present Method of Operation (PMO). The PMO comprehensively documents what will be moved. It should include diagrams and detailed lists describing everything in the existing environment--from all hardware and software components to storage requirements, any logical or physical interactions, application dependencies, network connections, inventory lists and any support processes currently in use.
  • Where You Hope to Be: The Desired Future State (DFS). The DFS details the desired successful outcome of the relocation. This includes defining project attributes, success conditions, and details associated with the new placement of all moving components. As part of the DFS' expected end state, you should include enough detail to resume various service management processes, such as change management, incident management and configuration management. The DFS should also define any anticipated updates or IT changes (i.e., virtualization, enhanced storage, technology uplift for some or all servers, network upgrades, etc.).
  • Your Roadmap to Get There: The Design Plan. The completion of the first two documents defines the end of the 'Requirements Process'. After this process is approved, the Design Plan begins. This is the 'roadmap' for getting from the PMO to the DFS. It should convey a good understanding of overall processes needed to complete the relocation while defining any incremental budgets needed to acquire necessary components. Included in the design plan: Details on the various move groups, any new hardware and/or software needs, pre-requisite steps, known risks and their contingencies, a high level timeline, communication plan and the impact of client processes on the design.
  • Who Will Do What, When and Where: The Implementation Plan. The Implementation Plan is derived from the Design Plan. This includes all steps, dates, and responsible parties for the tasks to be accomplished in their proper order and with all the appropriate interactions and linkages defined. Included here is a Day of Move Plan which documents the hour-by- hour details for the move event(s) to be completed during the data center relocation. An updated project schedule is also included.

Continue for the next keys!

Key #3: Ensuring Everything's Done Right

This third key to DCR success depends largely on logistics. This means having the right people with the right skill set, at the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment. An experienced logistics specialist (either on your internal team or on your vendor's/partner's team) builds on your prior documents and successfully completes the project. This role includes determining the size and composition of the de-installation team, the packing team, the transportation team, the unpacking team and the re-installation team. It also involves supplying skilled technicians who work side-by-side with your team. Depending on the complexity of the move, the specialist may also refine the Day of Move script or schedule a test move prior to the actual event.

Key #4: Plan Ahead for Appropriate Resources

At the risk of stating the obvious, one key that's often overlooked is ensuring that you have sufficient resources to devote to the success of your data center relocation. Yet, we often see operations staff asked to plan and execute these moves by decision makers who have grossly underestimated its overall complexity.

To be successful, there needs to be the proper mix of resources—those who know the environment and those who know how to plan and execute a data center relocation. A firm will often engage an expert vendor/ partner to boost in-house resources. The mix may vary. Some may opt for 25% vendor and 75% in-house (where you do the planning and project management and the vendor executes the move). Others might opt for 90% vendor and 10% in-house (where the vendor provides the project management, planning and execution and you participate in the planning and execution as directed).

Key #5: Make Sure Management's Got Your Back

The final key to success, management support of the DCR project, seems obvious but is often overlooked. Management needs to be kept in the loop at all times and trusted to remove potential hurdles. Since DCR is expensive, the management team must understand the process at all times so it can report back to stakeholders and keep them informed.

The management team may also be called upon to support the potential prospect of deferring operational changes during the move. A data center that is changing all the time is much harder to move than one that has been stabilized during the planning process. By deferring operational changes, it may give the operational staff more time to participate in the process.

Can your data center move succeed even if you don't follow these five keys? While it's possible, following these keys will offer a much greater chance your move will go smoothly.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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