Do You Know What’s in Your Data Center?

In Data Center with TabletAn interview with NetApp IT’s Customer-1 Director Stan Cox about the cost of doing nothing as data center expenses continue to rise.  


Improving data center efficiency is quickly rising to the top of IT priorities, as operating costs, energy prices, and capital investments steadily increase. Changes are needed to eliminate unnecessary expenses without sacrificing the quality or responsiveness of IT services. At the top of the list are automation, auto-discovery, and intelligent power metering which can deliver benefits that most data center professionals can’t afford to ignore.


Stan Cox, director of the NetApp Customer-1 program, which is the first adopter of NetApp’s products and services, discusses NetApp IT’s journey to a mature data center where the quality and consistency of IT service delivery is dramatically improving even while IT’s budget are being slashed in half.


What is NetApp IT’s biggest challenge in improving data center efficiency?
I would say NetApp IT’s biggest challenge is improving service delivery while reducing costs. We want to be both agile and consistent in our service delivery. We can’t do that without understanding the genetic makeup of our data centers and being able to connect the dots. This knowledge is the first step to streamlining processes, adopting auto-discovery of changing infrastructure, and then applying automation to our environment. Automation has allowed us to respond rapidly to changes, whether planned or unplanned. It also enables us to mature our operations using best practices.

What do you mean by maturing your operations?
As managers in today’s IT world know, we must find ways to be more efficient. I must answer questions such as: Why do you have X amount of data center space? Why is the monthly recurring cost to support your footprint? How can we do more with less?

I firmly believe I can’t answer these questions without knowing what I have in our data centers first. Efficiency improvements are a direct result of being able to identify logical to physical hosts, perform audits, and automate repetitive processes. This requires us to ask: What systems are involved in delivering a service? How do the systems connect? What do they support? How do they impact operations and users? Who is responsible for managing them? It’s very important to have this data in today’s cloud world. It also begs the question: How do we know if the cloud is a cost-effective option if we don’t have current and projected information for power, compute, network, and storage in our own data centers?


Do you know what’s in NetApp’s data centers?
A few years ago, we were planning a data center move to a new leased facility from a co-location data center which consisted of a mixed environment that had grown rapidly over a 10-year period. The move involved more than 300 racks of equipment and several hundred production Tier-1 critical applications. We realized that if we did not completely understand what we had, in terms of both functionality and inter-connections, we could not undertake a data center move. That prompted us to develop a strategy across all our data centers.


How did you gather the data?
We physically identified everything in our data centers and recorded it in our CDMB (configuration management database) before the move. We implemented formal processes for capturing, updating, and maintaining the integrity of the assets in the CMDB repository. Our data center managers, business analysts, architects, and application owners manually entered and checked the data. Configuration items mapped relationships/connection points. We took advantage of the CMDB’s auto-discovery function to analyze our host-to-application relationships and appointed a team that is solely responsible for maintaining the CMDB’s integrity.

Where is NetApp IT on its journey to maturity?
We have fully embraced the CMDB as our single source of truth on IT operations. It provides a fully integrated configuration mapping of assets for our business services down through compute, storage, and networking. By tracking the interdependencies, IT can identify the impact of the assets on data center power consumption, compute build processes as well as on hosted applications and supported business processes. The CMDB has been integrated with NetApp OnCommand Insight (OCI) storage management software to provide a current inventory of our storage relationships. We use automated daily scans to maintain virtual and physical machine data. We can use the CMDB to determine what business capabilities are being supported by public cloud providers to improve problem resolution and change management.

What else is involved in the journey to maturing your operations?
The maturity journey goes well beyond the CMDB. It involves a substantial change to the IT mindset from a collection of silos to one focused on excellent service delivery. A mature data center requires engineers who add value, not button pushers that spend repetitive cycles on key strokes, ticket requests, and manual audits. Our data center team and engineers are charged with understanding business needs.

The barriers between different teams in IT and with external groups had to be torn down and built back up with a deliberate focus on customers, not IT. Part of our maturity journey was earning the trust of our customers by consistently providing a resilient, flexible infrastructure that responds to their business needs. We discovered that maturity is not just process and technology; it also includes changing people’s roles within the IT service delivery model.


What are the benefits you’ve seen under Customer-1?
By harnessing the analytical power of the CMDB, we have benefited in many ways:  

  • CMDB data helps us automate repetitive tasks in many areas. For example, we are in the process of automating our capacity management to perform aggregate auto-balancing across our storage clusters using NetApp OnCommand Insight Workflow Automation.   
  • The ability to use auto-discovery has dramatically reduced the amount of time it takes to record changes to assets in our operations, freeing up time for more value-added activities.
  • With real-time data and intelligent power metering for all our assets, we can understand every ounce of power and cooling, from distribution down to the rack level and actively manage our operational costs.
  • By introducing orchestration and automation across our environments, we are now able to build HCE (holistic compute environments) within minutes.
  • By leveraging virtualization, the cloud, NetApp ONTAP, and open source, we can be more creative in the way we manage and deliver our services to fulfill our customers’ needs.
  • Regular meetings with Workplace Resources ensure we proactively plan for facility expansions and consolidations.


What’s next on your maturity journey?
We know that data center maturity is a journey without a set destination in time or deliverables. That’s why we designed a data center that is flexible enough to adapt to new technologies without requiring us to start over and rebuild every time. We use a Lego approach – add blocks as you grow. CMDB data and a mature power model help us project growth and identify the gaps which determine what to automate, what services to improve, and where we need to reduce costs.

A mature data center also gives us the freedom to incorporate technologies like the cloud to further enhance the agility and consistency of our services. We have designed a strong foundation for responding to both expected and unexpected changes without sacrificing the quality or responsiveness of our services.

For more on our CMDB, read How a Highly Evolved CMDB Dramatically Improved IT Service Delivery.

The NetApp-on-NetApp blog series features advice from subject matter experts from NetApp IT who share their real-world experiences using NetApp’s industry-leading storage solutions to support business goals. Want to view learn more about the program? Visit