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Project Management Tips for Server Consolidation

Project Management Tips

Imagine that you’re the senior director for a $10 million server consolidation project that’s being proposed. Among other tasks on your plate, you need to ensure that appropriate resources are assigned to this project. You’ve assigned appropriate AIX architects, engineers, network subject-matter experts (SMEs) for LAN/WAN, data center and facility staff (rack/stack, power, cabling, etc.) application testers, financial architects, procurement, etc., to this project.

What are you missing? If you can’t answer this question, you’re in big trouble. The project manager, of course! He or she is the conductor that leads the project and, among other things, is accountable for making sure that the timeline, schedule and budget of the project are managed effectively. Picture the conductor at a symphony: That person may not be playing any of the musical instruments, but the success of the symphony all falls on their shoulders. In many cases, the conductor has started out as a musician—a big advantage for many reasons. He not only understands the musicians’ challenges, but also commands their respect. There’s a reason why many infrastructure project managers come from engineering roots.

What specifically do project managers need to worry about during a server consolidation? What’s different about this type of project? Usually the goal for server consolidations is to save money by decreasing the total cost of ownership (TCO). A central objective would also be to increase efficiencies—it will simply cost less money to support 10 physical servers than 100.

Then there’s the cost of taking care of the hardware. Maintenance contracts cost money and the fewer systems that you have under contract, the less money it will cost for your company to maintain the infrastructure. You’ll also require fewer people to administer your systems. In many cases, you’ll be asked to perform a TCO analysis, which will require you to really dig deep into understanding what you currently have. You’ll also need to work with your architects and possibly external vendors to get that TCO figure. Businesses don’t decide to upgrade their infrastructure and bring in fancy new technology so that you can add exciting stuff to your resume. They do it to save money and to a lesser degree to improve overall efficiencies, including resiliency, availability and performance.

If you’ve decided to migrate from another vendor’s UNIX to AIX, your production team may only be familiar with their current OS and hardware. As a technical project manager, you may find yourself as your team’s expert on IBM products and it’s important that you take the time yourself to understand the latest innovations and current versions. For instance, AIX is now up to AIX 7.2 and it’s important that applications that you’re looking to migrate are supported by this version. It’s always preferred to go with the latest supported version—but not at the risk of lacking support from your core applications. You should know about innovations such as workload partitioning (AIX), AIX live updates, live partition mobility and PowerVP (virtualization performance toolsets) to determine the value they can provide to your environment.

Furthermore, there should be a great deal of thought regarding the version of AIX that you will using for the project. It must be supported by the hardware that you are using. For example, if your consolidation was going to be more geared to upgrading the hardware and not necessarily AIX, be advised that AIX 5.3 won’t run on older POWER hardware, but interestingly enough, it’s supported on POWER8 as long as you are running full I/O virtualization.

Let’s look at the project itself. You’ll have to build out your resource plan to help ensure that you have the right technical resources to implement your project. If you don’t have the people in-house, you may need to bring in consultants or contract with vendors. It shouldn’t surprise you that IBM and their business partners may be a big part of your project, depending upon the scope of what is involved. After you’ve come up with the TCO number, defined the scope of the project and had the business case approved, you’re ready to kick it off. Many people perceive the project manager’s role as just writing a plan and making sure people perform their tasks. I wish it were that easy. The project plan itself is built out of many inputs. Ultimately, a project lifecycle includes:

  • A definition of the work to be accomplished
  • Deliverables that must be reviewed
  • Who’s going to be doing what?
  • How to control the different phases of the project

The five phases are projection initiation, definition and planning, launch or execution, performance and control, and project closure.

Let’s look at a server consolidation project in the context of these phases.

  1. The initiation is where the goals are defined at a high level. This is also where your business case is defined, and important stakeholders are identified. We’ve talked about TCO already, but it’s here that you’ll start working with the application people to make sure that they understand what is going to happen. You need to ensure that the critical applications are supported in your new infrastructure. If your OS is AIX and your application isn’t homegrown, it should be. If it’s a homegrown application, this could be a much larger effort than originally anticipated.
  2. The definition and planning phase is where you outline your roadmap and your project work schedule is developed. Resources, costs and the timetable are also defined, and roles and responsibilities are outlined. Who’s going to be building out the hardware and software, migrating the applications, etc.? Is it the vendor or your in-house resources? You’ll also be developing a communication plan and risk management plan, as well as a work breakdown schedule, which will help you visually illustrate the tasks of the project itself. You’ll engage your entire team to help you build out the plan—don’t’ do this in a vacuum, even if you know the tasks. Your team provides you with the tasks and you have to build out the plan and execute it.
  3. Project execution is where you develop the team, assign resources and direct the execution of the project itself. Status meetings and procurement are a big part of this. You need to make sure you have the right architects working with you to ensure that the hardware that will be purchased will be meeting your requirements. If you buy the wrong servers that don’t meet your needs, you may have to live with this decision for years.
  4. Project performance monitoring this is where you measure the project performance to ensure that you’re on track from a quality and delivery perspective. If there are scope changes, you manage them efficiently. You are able to work issues and clearly identify them. You will need to provide status reports to your stakeholders that clearly define in a one-pager, what is going on. You must know how to escalate when there are issues and this is sometimes not an easy task – as system administrators do not like to feel they are being ratted out to management because of delays and you might find yourself looking for a new job if you are not able to delicately, yet firmly know how to manage a project team and the challenges that every project has.
  5. Project closure: Every project has to have an end, even yours. The project manager is also tasked to ensure that there is operational readiness turnover to the folks in production that will be managing the new infrastructure. Just as the project manager will go away, in many cases, parts of the project team will also go on to other areas. The people that manage the production environment must sign-off on their readiness to assume responsibility for what you have built. Without the proper turnover, including documentation and work level instructions where necessary, the best laid plans will swiftly come crashing down. If you haven’t adequately ensured proper hand-off, including training for the people that will now be managing the new environment, you’re asking for trouble. While many of the rudimentary commands in UNIX are similar, the complexity of today’s UNIX OSes are such that if you don’t provide for appropriate training, you are doing a disservice to the staff and the company.

The project manager position is instrumental to any project, especially AIX server consolidations. To succeed, you should have strong technical skills and ideally come from a technical background. You should have good technical knowledge of the innovations that you are looking to bring to the organization. However, you must also leave the actual work to the SMEs on the team and you will need to show them that you’re confident in their ability to perform their work. At the same time, you need to manage the project like a project manager, not as an engineer or systems administrator. This isn’t an easy for many engineers and I know of many that have tried project management and failed miserably at it—you must be disciplined and professional to succeed.

Ken Milberg, CATE, PMP, is a diverse IT Professional with 20+ years of experience. He is a Power Systems Champion. Ken is a technology writer and site expert for techtarget and has also been a frequent contributor of content for IBM developerWorks. Ken has also been a freelance writer for IBM Systems Magazine and is a former technical editor. He can be reached at kmilberg@gmail.com



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