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How to pick data center infrastructure management tools

The rash of ever-changing DCIM vendors, the IT/facilities rift and other roadblocks make implementing DCIM a challenge. These tips get DCIM working in a real data center.

A DCIM implementation shakes up business processes and company organization charts. An informed project plan begets a successful DCIM data center deployment.

Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools see growing popularity. In the next two years, data centers worldwide will turn to DCIM tools for better troubleshooting and energy management, spending $1.8 billion on the segment in 2016, according to market research firm 451 Research. As more companies start down the DCIM deployment road, they need to avoid potential potholes.

Start simple and small. DCIM systems can solve a specific problem -- reduce server power consumption, for example -- or a broad suite of issues -- such as reduce the chances of hardware malfunctioning. Limit the initial project's complexity for a better chance of success. Collecting narrow performance data will increase clarity and minimize the chance of the project spiraling out of control. Start with one measurable metric, and don't exceed three; more than that, and the project gets pulled in a lot of different directions.

Set realistic expectations. Early data center infrastructure management tools made lofty promises of an immediate view of all systems and the ability to automate data center, facility and IT systems with one software package. The integration work was complex and timely, quashing hopes of quick and easy deployments.

Widen your management scope. Data center infrastructure management tools integrate traditional facilities -- building management -- functions with IT systems. When implementing DCIM, data center managers need to identify and engage with all of the business units affected by the project. Getting cross-functional cooperation early in the process is much easier than forcing it later on. Larger organizations should appoint a cross-functional project manager empowered to facilitate and drive the project.

Address potential turf wars early. Melding facilities and IT is never easy. Develop a plan at the start to acknowledge potential problems, outline reasons why the groups must cooperate, and work with the teams to develop a new organizational model that combines their functions.

This integration doesn't mean throw away your existing tool set. Standalone monitoring and management tools have value, and many offer specialized control and reporting features. These systems will remain important even as the company collects and consolidates more usage information via DCIM. Data center staff should tinker with the various tools available to find the system that best fits their business.

Ensure someone owns the project. Making one individual or group clearly responsible for various milestones improves the likelihood they'll be met. Appoint a manager or a cross-functional team responsible for owning, deploying, supporting, maintaining and maximizing DCIM. This leader must have the necessary authority to ensure completion.

The right data center infrastructure management tool

Evaluate a maximum of five DCIM tools or vendors. The number of suppliers is growing with market adoption; more than 50 companies offer DCIM systems. Focus on a few of the market leaders and vendors with strong financial footing. Don't be distracted by a few missing or weak features -- additional functionality will likely be developed to meet competition and customer demand. Check the vendors' recommendations, and any relationship between the reference and supplier, for an unbiased account of implementation.

Focus on vendor viability. Although the DCIM market is active, the number of vendors may dwindle. As one example, Power Assure was a startup backed by high-profile investors, including ABB Technology Ventures and In-Q-Tel. Despite raising more than $60 million in venture capital and supporting customers like NASA, Power Assure went belly-up in October 2014. Other startups may end up in a similar position, so proceed with caution when examining a match with your organization.

Emphasize open platforms. DCIM systems will eventually integrate with other tools in the racks, connecting to existing management systems, applications and databases. Standard interfaces ease that communication. Look for systems that at least support the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). Initially designed for network switches and routers, this standard protocol collects management data from a variety of devices. When supporting network polling via SNMP, DCIM platforms exchange management information with any other compliant systems on the enterprise network.

Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in data center issues. He has been writing about technology for two decades, is based in Sudbury, Mass., and can be reached at paulkorzen@aol.com.

This was last published in December 2014

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Where did you have problems implementing DCIM in your data center?
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Even though I knew how helpful implementing DCIM would be, the whole course was not a trivial task because of a few problems. Notably, we had to re-engineer all the operation processes of our data center, some of which we had perfected for a couple of years. We also had to design the workflows afresh. The idea here is not a disadvantage, but a means of forcing the equation because DCIM has a higher precision.
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