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Early DCIM software users pay more than Johnny-come-latelies

The total cost of ownership for DCIM has dropped over the past few years as more data centers use the tech.

If you bought DCIM software three years ago, you've spent about 40% more than IT shops that buy it today.

Total cost of ownership (TCO) for data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software has dropped 40% in the past three years, said Jay Pultz, a vice president and analyst at Gartner Inc., during a presentation earlier this month at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla. TCO for DCIM will drop another 25% over the next three years, he said.

One IT pro who has been in the market for DCIM software this year is Jan Bates, systems operations director at UK HealthCare at University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.

UK HealthCare narrowed it down to two finalists that were asked to respond to specific scenarios presented by the organization's employees, including questions about compatibility with blade servers. UK HealthCare needed a way to get down to the blade and chassis level and get "the full picture" from the configuration management database.

"We are a very blade-centered data center," Bates said. "That was a big differentiator within the DCIM tools."

Her vision, after getting up and running with the DCIM product, is to get auto-discover tools that update it.

The ROI of DCIM software

A typical DCIM system costs less than 1% of the TCO of a data center. For example, DCIM for a 200-rack data center will cost about $80,000 annually, according to Gartner's research.

Bates is still working on ways to justify the cost and return on investment of buying a DCIM tool.

"It will cut down on the human error -- that is the reason I want to do it," she said. "Any time I have a human do it, it is error-prone."

Businesses should consider installing a DCIM system in the next few years because it solves a fundamental problem in the data center by bringing together monitoring of the IT and facilities systems, according to Pultz.

"I wonder how we were able to manage so well without resolving this problem," Pultz said, noting that the two parts of the data center have been separately managed for many years.

DCIM success hinges on the cooperation of IT and facilities teams in the data center. Pultz encourages enterprises to create a collaborative team to select a DCIM tool and give both sides an equal say in selection.

"The idea is to get IT and facilities working closer together and not have the artificial separation that has existed for years," he said.

Some key considerations when shopping for DCIM software is to ask about how well it works with IT service management platforms, to what degree it allows for automation and whether it will work across multiple data centers.

DCIM software vendors may not be household names to IT pros, Pultz said, because many come from the power and cooling industry or are DCIM pure-plays that don't have other IT offerings.

DCIM has been a "fussily-defined market" with 97 vendors offering a DCIM product of some sort, each one offering slightly different features, Pultz said. More recently, the specifics of what DCIM software should include has become better defined. Some of the top vendors include Schneider Electric, Emerson Network Power, CA Technologies and Nlyte Software.

It is a $250 million market annually with growth to $1 billion in the next few years, Gartner showed, with more than 5,000 enterprises running DCIM in data centers today.

How DCIM software helps data center managers

It is just as important for a data center manager to have insight into the building systems as it is to have insight into the IT infrastructure, since the building systems "fundamentally define" data center uptime, Pultz said. If a data center fails it will likely fail from the power or cooling systems that rust or wear out in ways that IT equipment does not, he said.

Increased density in the data center also puts more pressure on the power and cooling infrastructure, he said.

"Their jobs basically depend on it," Pultz said of data center managers. "If the data center goes down, they should basically be writing their resume."

DCIM also helps synchronize capacity planning for both IT and building facility needs.

It's 10 a.m., do you know where your server is? That is not an easy question to answer if you have a very large data center.
Jay Pultzvice president and analyst, Gartner

"Power systems have a very long lead time. You can't go down to Costco and buy another UPS for your data center -- it takes time," Pultz said.

A data center is optimized on day one, but over time -- after adding new servers, for example, the data center is not optimized for power, cooling and physical space.

Many enterprises have IT asset management systems, but those often do not show how servers are being powered -- something DCIM helps do. DCIM also helps data center managers understand how all parts of a facility are connected and interrelated.

"It's 10 a.m., do you know where your server is?" Pultz asked. "That is not an easy question to answer if you have a very large data center."

The value of DCIM is growing, getting closer to claims made by many vendors about three years ago that DCIM software would pay for itself through energy savings, Pultz said.

"It wasn't true three years ago, but it is starting to be true now," he said.

The next step for DCIM is to manage multiple data centers or integrate colocation data center locations.

"A number of the vendors are moving in that direction," Pultz said.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at rgates@techtarget.com.

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