Let’s face it—servers are expensive. From cooling to licensing, they suck up money just like they do electricity. It’s natural that when it comes to paying the bills, the first thing to draw scrutiny is one of the most expensive. The real question is this: how do you reduce server maintenance costs without losing key functionality?
If you’re looking to tighten those purse-strings, here are nine ways to not only reduce overhead costs for your servers but also increase the services your IT department can offer.
One of the biggest ways to reduce your server maintenance costs, and perhaps the most obvious. Virtualizing your physical servers greatly reduces your infrastructure, energy and operational costs, offers greater redundancy, maximizes resource use and increases your business flexibility.
We’ve written a series of articles about the pros and cons of virtualization, as well as how to go about it for your business. The biggest key point to remember is that while virtualization does greatly reduce your server maintenance costs in the long term, it often involves a hefty upfront cost. Performing a P2V transition is a short term pain for long term gain.
2. Rationalizing Hardware
This may sound like a small thing, but it can yield savings of up to 10%*. Not only does going through your assets and inventory give you a clear idea of what you have, it also tells you if machines are being used effectively or not. Ask yourself these key questions: ‘Is this asset / device being used a lot?’ and then ‘Is it essential to business operations?’. If the answer to these is ‘no’, get rid of it.
Hardware rationalization can lower maintenance and support charges and reduce energy costs, typically more than $400 per server, per year.
3. SQL Server Consolidation
I’ll admit, this one is easier said than done. But SQL Servers are a significant bottom-line expense, especially if you’re paying software assurance costs (Which can be as high as 25% the cost of your annual license).
There’s plenty of reasons your SQL Servers probably aren’t consolidated. One of these is that SQL licensing is a pain to understand. But if you can reduce your SQL server deployments to only a couple of SQL Servers, your IT department can lower license costs, maintenance costs, hardware costs and environment costs (that’s a lot of costs!). The larger your SQL environment, the more you can reduce your server maintenance costs with SQL consolidation.
To perform this, you need to first understand the needs of your database. This means sizing up performance requirements and usage needs. I’d start by look at things like the CPU, memory, and disk I/O requirements for your SQL servers, and how many transactions occur per second for each of them.
4. Consolidate Storage
Consolidating your storage doesn’t just reduce your server maintenance costs—it also raises efficiency and frees up your IT department’s time. Having seven servers with direct-attached storage is far less efficient than having a storage-area network (SAN) with a single data storage pool. It’s far easier to manage and backup a single SAN then all those separate drives, not to mention less excess capacity is needed.
The other benefit is that consolidating your data storage really makes you look at how much data your business needs as a whole. That means there’s no wasted storage that is only being 20% utilized.
5. Hold Users Accountable
Remember when your parents told you ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’ because you’d use it without thinking? Well, users think that about data storage. They’ll use it all without remorse unless told otherwise, and it’s up to you to hold them accountable.
Chances are that half of your currently used storage space is full of junk that users haven’t deleted and don’t really need. By regularly cracking down on how much data is being hogged by certain users, you can greatly reduce the storage size your business needs along with the server maintenance costs.
6. Ditch Old Server Software & Hardware
If you’re using old server software before the age of power management (E.g. Windows Server 2003), your server is just chugging energy without consideration for you or your business. Not only does upgrading to modern server software give your business greater functionality, it will reduce the energy expenditure and the server maintenance costs of your business.
The same is true for old hardware from this era. Apart from being a large hardware failure risk (which in itself costs loads of money), it’s probably chewing through the volts. Just like virtualization, this is a short term expenditure to reduce your long-term server maintenance costs.
7. Pay Per Host, Not Per Socket or VM
If you’re running a virtual server, licensing can be a real pain. Some software companies charge you per VM—and if you’re running eight off a single host, that’s a license purchase per VM. Others may charge you per socket, which is good if you can fit a lot onto a single socket, but fluctuates in value depending on your hardware.
A third option which can drastically cut down on your server maintenance costs is finding software companies that only charge you per host. This means you only pay once and can have as many VMs or sockets as you want. The difference in cost between paying for fifteen licenses at $1k to $2k each, or just a single one, hardly needs to be said. This is particularly true if it’s an ongoing subscription cost.
8. Buy What You Need, Not What Everyone Has
When you go to buy software, there’s a certain illusion of safety in buying the biggest brand name you can find. A lot of us are guilty for doing this with everything from cars to food brands.
I remember going to buy the latest smartphone. I asked the retailer flat out why I would buy an iPhone when there was another brand right next to it—exactly the same price with five times the features.
“Because it’s an iPhone,” the salesperson flatly replied. And it’s true. People will buy something just because everyone else has it without regarding the features. We think it must be good because everyone else is buying it. This is known as Argumentum ad populum, and it may be inflating your server maintenance costs.
When it comes to server software, the most popular software is usually Enterprise-grade and very expensive. But to be frank, a small to medium business (SMB) doesn’t need this grade of software. Not only is it a waste of money and has functionality you’ll never use—usually an extra 1k per license—you’ll also get less personal attention from an enterprise-level software giant.
9. Modular Software Reduces Server Maintenance Costs
Once you’ve done an inventory of your software assets, see if there’s any modular alternatives—software that allows you to choose what tools are included instead of selling it as one big bundle. Chances are there’s a bunch of software tools you’ll never ever use in your current software package, and if you can reduce your server maintenance costs by cutting them, do it.
As much as I love a lot of Microsoft products, a great example of this is the Office Suite. Do you really need PowerPoint, Access, Outlook, OneNote, Sway, and Publisher? Going even deeper, how many of the many buttons in Microsoft Word do you actually use?
Of course, the point of this isn’t to tell you to get rid of Office—it’s about reducing server maintenance costs. See if there’s a modular version of your server-related software out there which offers only the tools you need at a reduced overall price. In terms of backup & disaster recovery software, BackupAssist is a highly modular solution that caters specifically to SMBs.
Got any other suggestions for readers on how to reduce server maintenance costs?