The Looming Zombie Apocalypse in your Data Center

The midseason premiere of “The Walking Dead” aired on February 12 and it ends on March 18. For those of you not aware of this hit show, it tells the story of a group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by zombies and is based on the ongoing comic book series The Walking Dead.

During season two of The Walking Dead, the group of survivors is spending time at a farmhouse, where the owner is keeping and feeding a horde of zombies “alive” in his barn. Included in this zombie gaggle were friends and members of his immediate family. He viewed them as people, even though they would kill anyone they got their teeth on.

Believe it or not, zombies actually exist in your enterprise environment. No, I do not mean the slow walking undead brain eaters. Nor am I referring to the “computer science” definition of a zombie which refers to the bots that infect computers to distribute spam, or a zombie process in Unix.

I am referring to zombie services that you still support, and you may not even realize it. What is a zombie service? These are services and their underlying components including applications, servers, and virtual machines where you have allocated resources and may be actively supporting, yet there is no measurement of demand, quality, or cost, nor any knowledge of exactly who is using these services.

Zombie services come in many forms and many ways. The prevalence of public cloud environments such as Amazon Web Services – where any department manager with a credit card can easily add cloud computing and storage capacity – makes it easy to create a resource-eating IT corpse. What happens when the project is over, yet the billing continues due to lack of effective reporting?

Many enterprises have a whole throng of resting zombies, just ready to get all riled up. These are the horde of data center, desktop, and mobile applications that are no longer used. Many of these applications are set to update automatically, providing a consistent overhead added to your infrastructure that you may not even be aware of. And if your organization has a consumerization of IT initiative, you may be inadvertently enabling the spread of the zombie plague as you may not know what applications are on the employee devices.

And many people speak about virtual sprawl, a chaotic hard to manage mess. It often starts as something innocent, such as the quick virtual machine created for a product demo, occasionally with a domain controller and a DNS. If its existence is forgotten, it will add to the impending zombie apocalypse.

Zombie services are expensive.

In October 2010, Informatica commissioned Dynamic Markets to conduct a survey of 600 IT, sales, and marketing professionals. Those who took part in the survey were at middle manager level or above, in a company size of at least 250 employees.

Seventy-five percent of those surveyed IT workers say they have enterprise applications that have not been used in three years. These unused applications represented on average a quarter of the total number of apps on the system. 46% of those surveyed say the company will not remove these applications or their databases just in case they are needed at a later date

These unused applications can place an enormous cost burden in terms of resources, power, and managerial time, up to an estimated €2 million, or $2.6 million per year.

How do you know if you have any zombies lurking in your enterprise? Try to answer the following questions. If you answered “no” to more than 5, you may have a presence of the walking dead in your environment:

  • Can you easily allocate resources for strategic projects?

  • Do you know the real costs of project resources?

  • Are you able to identify the appropriate resources with the right skills to meet demand?

  • Is your helpdesk able to efficiently route issues to the appropriate resource?

  • Do you have a fully developed portfolio of standardized services?

  • Are the majority of your user requests chosen from a Catalog of standardized services?

  • Do you collect usage metrics for each service?

  • Do you have complete visibility of service usage by user, department, and business unit?

  • Are you able to measure service costs and consumption in financial terms?

So what is the antidote to the zombie service plague? Contrary to what you might see in TV or the movies, it is not a 12-gauge shotgun blast or a carefully placed machete slice. Here are some survival techniques to keep the zombie hoards at bay:

  • Define a portfolio of standardized services. You cannot manage what you have not defined.

  • Create standardized request processes with appropriate approval policies. The requests follow these processes or they are not supported.

  • Measure service consumption in both financial terms and operational metrics. You will be able to tell anyone how much they consumed, and how much this costs.

  • Publish usage and cost reports for all to see. Transparency helps spot zombies before they get close.

  • Charge for ongoing use of services. Not many business managers will allow a hit to their budgets for unused services.

  • Make sure you have effective asset management and license compliance systems and policies in place. This will help prevent the zombie from animating in the first place.

If left untreated, the zombie infestation in your data center can quickly overwhelm your resources and budgets. The outbreak can become an exponentially growing crisis, resulting in a collapse of civilization and your IT organization, as you know it.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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Eric Feldman

Eric Feldman has more than 25 years of experience as a senior architect. With a focus on the areas of service level management and IT asset and financial management, Feldman has specialized in designing and implementing solutions based on CA Service Catalog and CA Service Accounting. He has spoken and been published in multiple outlets on the topic of service management.

This article has 1 comment

  1. very good points made about “service tracking and awareness”.  

    This is **also** a signifcant concern for overall business security risk & compliance….older applications that are not kept up to date, probably lower audit and monitoring, if the services are even known about.

    Risk and IT security reviews should also be carried out during the zombie service review.

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