“Doesn’t the IT department already know what hardware and software they have, how it interacts and which users those assets support? After all, IT supports its systems every day.”

It’s a valid question, and the answer, unfortunately, is probably “no.” Or, not in the detail required to successfully complete a data center move, consolidation or cloud migration without running into serious problems.

The discovery phase is the critical first stage of a data center transformation project. In a complex environment, this phase can last months, particularly if performed manually. But businesses are not static. While the discovery phase is ongoing, new equipment may be added or decommissioned, new virtual instances created, and applications changed. Consequently, unless care is undertaken, the discovery phase deliverable may be out of date before it is completed.

What Have You Got?

Many organizations embark on major data center initiatives without first understanding what assets they have and their relationships to applications, business processes, and internal or external services. Without a comprehensive and up-to-date inventory of your IT assets, a project could result in loss of critical services because an asset, service, or dependency was overlooked.

In most data centers, technology was added piece-by-piece over the years. A new server was brought in to support a newly computerized business function. A merger or acquisition amalgamated heterogeneous hardware and software and those most familiar with the acquired systems were no longer with the company post-merger. More storage units were added to accommodate new and/or growing databases. Networking components were added to improve connectivity and/or bandwidth.

A visual inspection of hardware and a spreadsheet checklist is an error-prone exercise, particularly if equipment is spread out over multiple locations. And what about all of those virtual assets?  Think of all the hypervisors, operating systems, apps, databases, middleware, and other supporting services that can run on a single physical blade server.  With all this to account for it’s no wonder why things get overlooked.

How Do The Pieces Fit Together?

Knowing what you have in your data center isn’t enough. You must understand how every piece interrelates and what business processes they support, essentially “what talks to what.” Consider again that if employees with critical knowledge leave your company, their knowledge may go with them if there is no up-to-date documentation.

Here are some questions to consider: Which storage units, networking gear, and physical or virtual servers support which applications? Who “owns” and uses those applications? What business processes depend on each application? What dependencies exist between applications and technologies?  How do I find all of this out?

Without first answering these fundamental questions, changes to IT infrastructure may result in some applications not working at all because vital components were not incorporated into the new environment or necessary linkages were broken.

I’ll continue on this theme, with my next post discussing what you need to learn in your own data center discovery.