Over the last five years, U.S. businesses have seen an uptick in mergers and acquisitions, with several big deals making headlines recently. In fact, The Atlantic published an article saying that 2015 saw nearly $5 trillion in deals, and this trend shows no signs of slowing. In 2016, we watched Microsoft acquire LinkedIn and Oracle acquire NetSuite for roughly $36 billion combined. Although mergers and acquisitions of this magnitude are undoubtedly complex, even combining small companies requires detailed strategic planning.
Think about it: if two financial institutions merge, each has its own internal data-storage solution and each is likely to have two or more disaster-recovery sites. That’s a lot of coordination.
Although it’s common practice for the smaller company to adopt the data center practices of the larger company, a merger can provide a great opportunity to evaluate current equipment, processes and personnel.
No matter the size of the acquisition, merging the back-end hardware and software can prove to be an enormous undertaking. Companies, however, can employ some common practices when merging data centers, regardless of whether a company is big, small or somewhere in between.
Perform an Equipment Audit
Performing an internal audit of all equipment will provide a complete picture of data-storage assets from both companies. It should include each asset by name, asset type, location and product serial number, if applicable. Having a complete list of equipment assets will help identify overlap and gaps in equipment needs, or call attention to a piece of equipment that should be phased out and upgraded. The audit will also be an extremely useful tool when it’s time to start moving and consolidating data centers.
Once you’ve accounted for all the pieces of equipment, you must document the applications and networks that connect the hardware as well. Hardware is only as good as its connected applications and networks. The application and networking audit should include the same details as the equipment audit.
Complete a Data Audit
Although equipment audits are fairly simple, data audits are usually more involved. Each organization is likely to use different email platforms, CRM tools and other software to manage day-to-day business operations. This situation creates various touchpoints of data in different departments. Here are some important considerations when performing the data audit:
- Is the data being stored in a way that makes it accessible when needed?
- Is data being stored in the appropriate hardware on the basis of how often it’s used?
- How much of the data solution is being utilized?
- Have data-storage systems been updated to meet or exceed security requirements for your industry?
Data audits should include data types, what data types each department creates, how much data is being stored and where data assets are being stored.
Create a Data Roadmap
The information collected during the equipment and data audits will help organizations take a complete look at their current data-storage configurations and aid in merging data centers while implementing improvements. Data roadmaps are helpful in developing a solution for consolidation and migration of data. Here are important items to consider:
- Examine the current state of operations. Take a hard look at how the organization operates, the needs of individual departments, company goals and current configurations.
- Develop an ideal state of operations. This step will require some research into best practices and a clear understanding of what a model data strategy would look like for the organization.
- Determine the difference between the current state and ideal state of operations. Once the gap analysis is complete, develop a strategy to move toward an ideal state of operations. This step requires some prioritization on the basis of what’s realistic and obtainable.
- Consult with a data-storage provider to discuss various needs for an individual operation. Discuss the various departments that are involved and how each department uses data, as well as the need for accessibility. Depending on the industry, you may face data-retention regulations. Having a full understanding of how information flows through departments and what the company growth model looks like will help determine what data-storage solution will best fit the company’s needs.
After completing the steps above, it’s time to develop a communication plan that’s clear and concise. Remember, not everyone in a company speaks the same technical language, so it’s important to create a data roadmap that’s easy for everyone involved to understand. This step will help ensure that there are no holes in the plan and that everyone knows how data is handled as soon as it enters the organization.
Determine Your Priorities
After gathering and communicating the collected information, it’s time to prioritize the transition strategy and implement any data-storage improvements to build an optimal data center that will serve both companies. As with any big undertaking, doing so will require some tough decisions. Since data management is complex, it’s important to prioritize equipment, software and networking on the basis of how it might improve workflow.
Automating and updating processes and technology can have long-lasting effects on all aspects of business. Improvements will also allow IT staff to help advance the business instead of working to maintain a “broken” system. If a new piece of equipment can complete a task faster, more efficiently or more securely, it’s time to start exploring.
Companies try to get the most out of their hardware systems, ultimately creating a security risk. Most new hardware and software solutions include encryption and other security features to protect valuable data. Hackers are becoming more sophisticated, however, and older systems are often the first to face a security breach.
The more knowledgeable a company is about its infrastructure needs, the less it will need to spend. If you’ve not performed a thorough audit to understand how much data storage you’re using and what your growth plan is for your company, you’re probably paying for a much more robust system than necessary. Organizations often buy data storage that doesn’t just fit today’s needs but will still work five years down the road. Scalable data is more appealing from a financial standpoint, and it’s an optimal growth strategy. Buying into a system that fits current needs, but can easily scale to fit growing needs, provides a more cost-effective way to operate.
Prepare for Migration
The last step before merging data centers is the migration preparation. This will involve a lot of thought and strategy to ensure a successful migration, while protecting valuable data:
- Identify all main players that will be involved in the migration and cutover process. They will include members of the solution-provider team (ideally the project manager, system architect, system engineer and software engineer, if applicable) and system administrators in your company. Everyone has a role and should be clear on his or her involvement during the installation, migration of existing data and eventual cutover to the new solution.
- Timing is everything. Because few organizations can afford to be offline and interrupt their backups, it’s vital to schedule a time that has little business impact. It might require taking a phased approach to migrating data to the new solution.
- Grab your marker, find a conference-room whiteboard and diagram your objective. What does the ideal outcome look like for your organization? The diagram should include all of the current storage platforms and disaster-recovery locations laid out on the left and new solutions on the right. Now, start connecting the existing solutions to the new using a simple line. This exercise will give everyone a visual representation of which new solution is taking the place of what current solution.
- Once you’ve identified the main players, set the timing and laid out the configuration, it’s time to communicate with all parties. This process can be as simple as hosting a meeting before installation. Make sure to provide a takeaway as a resource that employees can reference before, during and after implementation.
Perhaps most importantly, remember to run regular backups through the migration process. You’ll inevitably have stumbles; regularly backing up through the process could make the difference between a five-minute and five-hour or five-day down time, which is well worth the extra effort.
About the Author
Leo Salvaggio is president of Dynamic Solutions International and has spent over 20 years working with a wide array of customers from the SMB space all the way up to Fortune 500 companies and the federal government. For questions, please contact Leo at l.salvaggio@DynamicSolutions.com.