Data Center Transformation and Transition made easy – Part 1

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During the last 10 years, Capgemini has built a successful service offering addressing Data Center Transformation initiatives, including data center migration, relocation and consolidation projects.

At the center of operations is the DCT team in Malmö, Sweden, headed by Magnus Manders (DCT Manager) and Jan Eneström (Service Portfolio Lead). Building from past experiences and projects, the DCT team has gradually over the years developed a standard with regards to data center transformation and data center consolidation and relocation projects. Today, the team spans the globe with operations in the Nordics, UK, Central Europe, US & Canada as well as Australia, managing projects across most Capgemini geographies and countries.

We have asked one of our most senior Transformation and Transition managers, Ljiljana Katchkin from the global Capgemini Data Center Transformation team, to outline her experiences around data center migrations and transitions in order to secure successful transition and migration projects. In a series of blog posts, Ljiljana will outline 9 essential steps to ensure a successful data center transition project.

Introduction to Data Center Transformation and Transition projects

Data Center Transformation projects, specifically focusing on transitions, relocations and consolidations, are complex and highly dynamic initiatives. These projects are business critical – they touch virtually everything in the data center linked to the company’s legacy applications and infrastructure, normally leading to changes in the existing infrastructure set-up. There are a number of common challenges that we need to address during the course of the transition and relocation project:

  • How to handle the abundance of legacy infrastructure, both physical and virtual, with the added complexity of a high number of them lack documentation as well as ownership?
  • How to effectively manage utilization ratios, eliminating over-provisioning of environments as well as unnecessary hardware investments?
  • How to secure buy-in from application owners and help them overcome their reluctance to the project – in terms of estimating capacity needs for their applications as well as efforts for bringing applications and infrastructure up to current standards and expectations?

While the aim of every DC transition and relocation project is to migrate the business landscapes as quickly as possible and with as little impact on day to day operations as possible, the length of these projects typically range from some 6 to 18 months. This requires intensive planning, a sizable budget, most likely a new infrastructure as well as the ability to work across all parts of the business.

There are a number of steps that can be taken, tailored to the unique characteristics of DC transition and migration projects, which will help secure a smooth transition and relocation project:

  1. Creating awareness
  2. Developing a sense of urgency
  3. Establishing a sense of ownership, managing the blame game
  4. Securing the right skills in the right place at the right time
  5. Establishing a flexible governance
  6. Establishing the One Team approach and standardization
  7. Making use of an industrialized migration set-up
  8. Securing the cutovers
  9. Making sure you close the old data centers

Combined with the right tools, methods and accelerators, introducing these simple steps across all the phases of the transition project will help secure a more cost efficient Data Center Transformation and transition project, with less downtime and minimal negative business impact compared to otherwise.

Step 1 – Creating awareness
One of the key challenges with data center transitions and consolidation programs is to establish a communication flow that reaches all parts of the organization. This kind of projects affects all major business departments, explicitly or implicitly, involving a large number of people and stakeholders.

The first lessons learnt I want to come across is the importance of creating and maintaining awareness during all the phases of the program – be that analysis, verification, planning, execution or decommissioning phases. By sharing key information and setting expectations prior to actually starting the planning sessions, you take the first step of setting the scene for the activities to come. Transition and consolidation projects are often ambiguous and political by nature, surrounded by high level of uncertainty.

A first initial step is to create awareness about the initiative. A simple way of communication in the form of a communications pack, a presentation helping setting the expectations for all involved. As such, the communication pack needs to articulate the project and its background, what the objectives of the initiative are and what will happen moving forward.

As a minimum, it should also include the following topics:

  • Project timeline
  • Organizational chart
  • Reporting
  • Migration approach
  • Approval process
  • Clear expectations regarding the involvement of and participation from the client’s staff and the client’s organization.

It’s important to continue with this form of strategic communication throughout the whole project lifecycle – apart from the official reports and governance, a big part of that work includes less informal person to person updates, as well as regular updates in the form of a weekly newsletter to keep all relevant parties focused and aware.

Step 2 – Creating a sense of urgency

Creating awareness is only the first step of laying the foundation for a successful project. Once all relevant stakeholders are onboard and departments have been briefed, the next critical step is to create a growing sense of urgency by keeping a strict focus and time pressure.  All Data Center Transformation projects have one thing in common; a high volume of tasks being executed during a very short period of time, putting the project team under an extremely high pressure.

This is one of the key soft challenges of a DCT project – creating and developing a sense of urgency while keeping the right pressure and focus in order to deliver on time at the right level of effort. The difficulty is in balancing the right level of awareness and sense of urgency across the whole project life cycle. If you don’t do it right, it typically results in slow progress in the beginning and a maddening pace at the end, burning out people across the organization, while missing key deliveries. My experience? It’s necessary to establish the right sense of urgency already from the beginning and then actively manage the pressure levels across all the phases of the project.

From a human resource perspective it is important to remember that not all people respond to pressure the same way. For many the pressure to deliver and having a constant sense of urgency is a positive drive, for others it’s less positive. My recommendation is that developing a sense of urgency and the managing the associated pressure on the team members is an activity that should be carefully monitored & managed in order to reach milestones as planned while establishing a culture of “first time right”. However; this also applies to stakeholders in the client organization as well as third parties involved. It’s necessary, otherwise timelines and deliverables will inevitably start to slip.

Of course, the levels of pressure vary across the project lifecycle, but generally I’d like to categorize it as follows:

  • Analysis – CMDB & Documentation/Inventory – Creating awareness – normally medium pressure
  • Verification – Verifying findings through interviews – Developing a sense of urgency –  medium pressure
  • Planning – Planning and preparation of migration batches – Pressure to delivery on time – high pressure
  • Execution – Execute migration batches – First time right – very high pressure
  • Decommission – Keep decommissioning servers and “floor cleaning” – Keeping focus – high pressure
  • Close down – DC close down – Project Closure – low pressure.

A balanced approach with  the right level of pressure in each phase together with right level of escalations to keep stakeholders focused is the key to a successful and “first time right” delivery:

  • Too low pressure at the beginning of the project during analysis and verification (lack of the sense of urgency) often leads to a lack of focus in the planning phase and subsequent slipping of deliveries during the execution phase.
  • Too high pressure and unnecessary escalations in turn leads to burned out resources, resistance and high tensions within the project group. End results will be the same – missed deliveries. As Data Center transition and relocation projects are expensive, missed deliveries can lead to significant financial losses, especially in terms of delivering the value levers identified in the business case.

As the project is progressing and pressure is rising, regular project meetings combined with lessons learnt sessions are a good approach to reduce the pressure and encourage seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Such sessions should cover both “what went well “and “room for improvement”. Team members should be encouraged to adopt an informal, non-hierarchical set-up internally for these sessions as honesty is the best policy for acknowledging potential problems and identifying solutions to them. In case of multiple major cutovers, lessons learnt from past cutover(s) can be used as input for the next ones to avoid repetition of the same mistakes.

Sense of ownership and creating “one transition team” is essential for this approach and ease the “out-of-comfort zone” feeling so often present during Data Center Transformation and transition projects. This will allow you to create the right pressure, with the right escalations at the right time towards the right resources and stakeholders.

Part 2 of Data Center Transformation and Transition made easy will focus on the governance side of things: how to create ownership, how to manage the resources in an optimal way and how to create a working culture that allows you to avoid the blame game. Stay tuned.

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