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Five Challenges to Data Center Transition

I have found that DCT (Data Center Transition) challenges exist with all DCT related programs. The key is understating how the challenges will impact the program and how to address them early on.  Although, I understand those challenges, I still find myself faced with them on every DCT program I manage. The difference today is I work with leadership upfront in the process to make them aware of the challenges and how best to address them. The DCT practitioner must be able to anticipate how to tackle such challenges before they occur otherwise the team will struggle and lose focus. Challenges such as using DCT as an opportunity to perform technology transformation, not implementing a governance model early in the process, selecting vendors only because they are the lowest bidders, or failing to perform due diligence planning will create numerous roadblocks.


As a kid, I played little league baseball and in my adult year’s softball. A valuable lesson learned was being able to anticipate where the next play happens if I caught the ball. Playing third base, I was not sure if the batter would hit to ball to me or pop it out into left field, but I had to be prepared to make the play if the ball was hit to me. If there was a man on first base, I knew the play would be at second base. If there were a man on second and no one at first and the ball was hit to me, I would throw the batter out at first then be prepared to receive the ball back and tag out the second base runner if he should make the run to third.


Whether the PM played baseball or not does not matter. My point is the PM needs to anticipate challenges and prepare a plan of attack. There will always be unknowns that challenge the team that may become a risk requiring mitigation or an issue requiring remediation. The PM, through experience, develops key instincts and intuition to understanding such challenges and anticipating the next play. I have observed PM’s not learning from the game, but simply watching the game from the sideline, forcing them to be more reactive and end up dropping the ball or failing to make the right play.  


Getting Organized

Program effectiveness in DCT through general planning is not enough without an organizational plan in place to support the program. Governance and cross-functional collaboration along with cooperation is a necessity to ensure a smooth data center transition and satisfy the client. I coach PM’s that you can delight the customer on a migration, and the next migration disappoint the customer. The customer will always remember the disappointment. In DCT, the PM and team are only as good until their next migration. This ebook provides what I would consider a light, but an effective governance process to assist the project management practitioner to get it done right the first time.


Another area that requires upfront organization is ensuring the organizational technology assets are well structured. Configuration asset data will need to be mapped and validated before the transition can begin. These structured asset data points are the foundation for defining and implementing a working transition strategy.  In the case of a corporate merger, this could not be more important when working to combine, integrate or consolidate assets from within two organizations.


Poor Planning

The cliché “Poor Planning Leads to Poor Execution” still holds true more today than ever before due to the number of MA&D’s. DCT requires a well-defined and thought-out strategy, the right strategy, from the top down and a rigorous planning approach from the ground up. Having worked across multiple IT industries for 30+ years, it is more evident to me that masterful planning sets the right tone with leadership that, “we are in control." Stakeholder confidence in any program should be able to view the management strategy as an important factor for a successful delivery. Whether transitioning 200 or thousands of servers, a methodical, but repeatable approach should be the mandate.


Too much or not enough process can make or break a program. PMO standards and best practices provide a starting point to promote project management stability in governing the basics around planning, monitoring, and stakeholder communications. DCT requires more than a standard. It requires innovative use of tools and processes that drive synergies across the IT program organization. Master planning leads to developing a cadence in cross-functional team collaboration and execution that begins to imply the team is operating like a well-oiled machine.

I am well aware of the issues facing IT organizations under the government regulatory umbrella. The IT ecosystem is also required to adhere to governing process controls around data or electronic records management, insuring against data loss and the protection of intellectual properties when replicating from a source to target data center, and extreme care when touching systems or applications that operate medical or manufacturing devices. 


The pharmaceutical industry manufactures therapeutic products and services that potentially could have life impacting consequences on a person’s health. This is a core rationale behind rigorous regulatory and validated process and procedures. Not adhering to the regulatory requirements in IT could have severe consequences such as data corruption or loss of critical discovery, clinical, or manufacturing data that may pose a significant cost to the organization. In large organizations that perform research and development, millions of dollars are invested in therapeutic drugs by the time they reach the market shelves. Regulatory process as I know it creates traceability in the event of an audit. It took some years for me to appreciate the rigorous approach of product development before I adopted a rigorous mindset toward planning and developed of my own governing techniques to augment industry project management standards and best practices. 



There will always be some form of transformation related to a DCT. Transformation may affect a transition with exceptions that might benefit the transition, such as converting physical servers to virtual machines, reducing the cost of having to transport added servers.


The following transformations should occur post transition to prevent additional costs and timeline delays.


  • Technology refresh due to legacy systems. Define alternatives.

  • A business or infrastructure application, looking to replatform their application to a new architecture. This is too costly and time consuming, removing key resources from their DCT objectives. 

  • Remediation of system-related issues that might require an upgrade. This transformation should be considered if an upgrade is an absolute requirement.

  • Databases that might require consolidation or decoupling prior to a transition to remediate latency concerns, increases its viability or requires an application to be stood up in its own environment versus having to share resources with another application.


These represent a few of the most common transformations. Conduct an impact assessment to ensure what is being proposed as a transformation does not present a potential adverse effect or risk to the transition. If a stakeholder proposes a transformation, the program lead should push back until a request can be documented and approved by leadership. If the transition begins to develop scheduling problems, the ball should be put into the requestor’s court.  It is vital that the organization is aligned and focused on the same goals. I do understand that in some cases a transformation is inevitable. The PM will need to document and manage the risks and issues associated with such transformations throughout the course of the program.


The Unknowns

Like playing baseball and learning how to anticipate the next play comes with the unknowns. Having personally renovated four properties or houses. These renovations involved cosmetic work, from painting, replacing carpet, floor tile, sheet rock, and in some cases replacing the electrical and plumbing systems. After my fourth property, I called it quits, focusing on renovating my technology career. Although I could have made flipping houses a career, I enjoy working, learning and working with technology more than installing sheet rock. With each property renovation, I became more refined at estimating time and materials as well as developed good instincts on anticipating the unknowns. No one could ever predict all the unknowns with a property renovation, but learns to expect the unexpected and have a fall back plan like extra cash.


For example, unknown to me, my last renovation required the replacement of the entire electrical and plumbing systems. The house was built in the 1960’s and not well cared for over the years. I could have hired contractors to do the work, but where is the fun in that. I had not performed any extensive electrical or plumbing work before this particular renovation, but I was game on learning some new skills. A large-scale DCT program will have unknowns, no matter how much teams discuss, analyze, plan and propose solutions, there will always be surprises that pop up along the journey. The key is being prepared to address the unknowns.


Selecting the Right Service Provider

My wife Diana and I are always on the lookout for new restaurants in the area. I have my own personal QoS (Quality of Service) grading system for dining. If I am going to pay top dollar then I expect great service, a great atmosphere, and of course, the food must be outrageously delicious. One week prior to writing this particular story Diana remembered a restaurant from years past outside the city that had been in business since the 1920’s. I really was not into it, but a happy wife makes for a happy life - so off we went. The building looked rustic, but not run down having appeared to have had some renovations. The interior walls and ceilings had the original corrugated tongue and groove pine boards that looked to have been re-finished a several times. The atmosphere reminded me of one of my favorite places to dine from my home state of North Carolina. It was a country feel like atmosphere with a flair of elegance. The table settings were beautifully set with white linens and place settings perfectly arranged. The wait staff was dressed in tuxedos. I thought, oh great how much this is going to cost me. Am I going to pay for the presentation and atmosphere only or will the food be as equally great?  I could not determine what I wanted off the menu because I could not take my eyes off the menu prices. The prices were much higher than I would normally pay so my eyes moved to the appetizer section thinking I would eat light tonight. Diana suggested that we order the four-course special. She also suggested a dish that I was not familiar with - so I just went with it. The waiter responded that was a great choice. The meal was over and as I sat back in my chair and reflected on the experience, I told Diana I could not wait to come back. When the waiter brought the check, I looked at the total cost and simply paid it with a good tip. The dining experience exceeded my expectation, and we are making plans to go back again. They delivered on QoS and earned my repeating business for years to come. It was the next day when I began telling family and friends, they needed to try that place out that it was great.


I have attended some impressive service provider sales presentations. The slides were impressive with all the right things said only to have watched them fall short on their promises. Great service is important for repeat business and word of mouth marketing. For a PM to successfully lead a team and deliver the project on time and budget is gratifying for the PM. The same should be said about a vendor. Be aware of how a service provider contract is worded and negotiated. Whether a fixed bid or time materials I dislike those infamous words from a vendor “Sorry, that’s out of scope." Really? Negotiate a contract to ensure flexibility to address those unknowns that pop up. A time and materials contract may be best suited for the client to prove out a new vendor, otherwise choose your words carefully when negotiating with new service providers.


I was hired to consult on a large-scale DCT to consolidate multiple data centers for a fortune 500 company that had recently acquired one of their main competitor’s. My role was to provide program oversight and act as the vendor single point of contact to the client. By the end of my first week, I realized I had been thrown into the lion’s den. The vendor leadership was too incompetent to lead their team of technology professionals. The vendor leadership was tired of being trampled on by the client for failing to deliver on their promises, so they put me in front and center of the client as the middleman. The program had been in progress for some time prior to my arrival, and it was a disorganized mess, although I tried to be optimistic about the situation. During my week, I saw that program severely lacked organization, governance and a disciplined migration planning approach. The migration team made up of ten migration project managers were managing to a 7000+ project schedule with each project manager having to update their sections of the schedule. It was a rat’s nest! The leadership in place was doing nothing, but barking orders to the team only to have the team continue to fall short, and it was not the teams fault.


I met with each PM and asked them to describe their migration planning process; they each described a different process to me. Rollbacks were the norm prior to my arrival. I initiated a technical debt model that displayed the cost of a roll back.  Rollbacks are the result of either poor planning practices or lack of cooperation across the team that includes both the vendor and client. In this scenario, the vendor-planning model was dysfunctional and the client was uncooperative in providing the needed resources at the time required for migrating assets.


In my first thirty days, I implemented an organizational framework that created the cooperation, collaboration, and process alignment that had been lacking. The client also signed a T&M to extend the vendor to complete the transition, as opposed to releasing the team altogether, to bring in another firm to finish the job. This allowed the client team to interact directly with the vendor PM’s versus having to work through a single point of contact. The client retained the top migrations project managers as I thought they would and released the vendor management team. I had made my exit before the contract was implemented, knowing my fate. However, before I left the team they had received multiple client recognitions that the migration team had begun to operate like a “well-oiled machine."  The DCT standards and best practices I had developed and refined over the years had been validated in that contentious environment.

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