Trust me, I'm a consultant

That tech expert you hired to advise you on your data center upgrade may have your best interests in mind after all

To customers looking to upgrade their technology, a piece of advice: It's OK to be cheap. But if you pay a consultant good money for their expertise, you'll save yourself time and aggravation in the long run by heeding their recommendations.

About 10 years ago, I did consulting work at a company that was in the awkward stage between a small business and a midsize enterprise. The company needed to upgrade its data center and add servers to accommodate new clients' data -- in the cheapest way possible.

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The "data center" was a 20-by-30-foot space in the middle of the building that used to be a conference room. There was no raised floor or dedicated HVAC unit. It had a metal shelf in the middle with 12 desktop PCs running Windows NT 4.0 and a snake's den of extension cords running every which direction from the two power outlets in the room. One 20-amp circuit ran the whole show.

My manager put together a proposal that would help the company jump to the next level, prioritizing so that the owner, "Jim," could get an idea of changes that would meet current needs and help reach long-term goals.

Jim liked our ideas, but strongly disagreed with my manager about some of the recommended immediate changes, such as environmental upgrades: "The room has worked just fine until now. I just need more computing power, not HVAC, an electrical upgrade, or a raised floor."

Because my manager disagreed, Jim felt like we were trying to squeeze more money out of him. My manager backed down from his recommendations and went with Jim's pared-down plan. We would put in a rack, three fast new servers, a SCSI-attached storage array, and a UPS. Over the next few months, we would migrate everything over to the new servers and decommission the old ones.

Two weeks later, the equipment was delivered and we arrived onsite to set it all up. Six hours, three paper cuts, and a pile of cardboard boxes later, everything was racked and ready to roll.

Fleeting success

We started hitting power buttons, and for 10 glorious seconds the new equipment roared to life. Then the lights dimmed with an angry buzz and the whole data center went dark -- the circuit was overloaded. We unplugged the new servers, popped the breaker back on, and powered the old servers back up.

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