IT Management

BEST PRACTICES: LINUX WITH DATA CENTER RELIABILITY, AVAILABILITY, AND SERVICEABILITY

The 40-plus years of industry experience in the mainframe world has produced a set of data center “best practices,” which are processes and procedures that are often not well-understood in the distributed world. Issues such as religiously- followed backup procedures, disaster recovery testing, complete audit trails, thorough testing, change management, and robust security policies have proven their value repeatedly in the mainframe environment, and translate well to Linux. While perhaps it’s difficult to directly quantify their value, these practices have proven themselves, and applying them to Linux systems only further improves Linux’s value.

WHERE THE MONEY GOES

Savvy CIOs who have analyzed their IT budgets know that cost allocations have shifted over the years. Typically, costs are divided into four areas: hardware, software, facilities, and staff.

Twenty-five years ago, when a single machine of any power cost millions of dollars, required water-cooling, and could run (at most) a handful of simultaneous applications, hardware and facilities were a significant portion of annual data center costs. Software was largely developed in-house or even provided free by IBM, and changed relatively slowly. Staff costs were fairly predictable and static: Upgrading to a bigger machine usually did not entail adding staff, unless dramatic application changes were also undertaken.

Today, the equation has changed. In any data center, staff costs are by far the biggest piece of the pie. Hardware has become much cheaper, and the data center can get by with less elaborate building facilities. However, software costs have increased dramatically: Not only are products from Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) increasingly expensive, but software’s fundamental pricing model has evolved to include  fees based on machine size and number of “seats” (users).

These changes dramatically affect total-cost-of-ownership equations. Not only are costs in different areas, but they are in different categories: Hardware and software purchases are capital costs, whereas facilities (once built) and staff are operational costs. Operational costs are often easier to bear, since they come in small “bites,” unlike multi-million-dollar hardware or software purchases (although at $7,000 per square foot, Tokyo data center space drives up operational costs pretty quickly!).

Distributed computing has also led to growth of rogue or departmental servers: Real or perceived data center unresponsiveness leads a group needing a particular application to just buy a machine and get it running — never mind that doing so often involves significant amounts of someone’s time to install and maintain the machines. Unofficial support time being unallocated and untracked doesn’t make it free, and it usually comes at the expense of a real job not being done.

Machine-size pricing and applications available for multiple systems also contribute to this problem: When a group requesting an application on the mainframe hears that the software alone will cost $100,000 because the software is priced according to the size of the entire mainframe, they often switch to a “cheaper” version on a distributed server.

LINUX TO THE RESCUE

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