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Avoid BMS potholes in your data center with DCIM tools

The right DCIM tool steers the data center toward better performance and energy use. So choose wisely.

BOSTON -- Fitting a BMS and DCIM tools together into a functional infrastructure can be a real challenge, so it's best to leave it to the pros.

The data center infrastructure management (DCIM) panel at the 2015 AFCOM Symposium here this month discussed how their companies made purchasing decisions and meshed DCIM tools with an existing building management system (BMS).

BMS focuses on the temperature, humidity, power use and other intelligence systems in the data center. DCIM embraces a wider audience, like server positions, configurations, capacity planning and rack-level power and temperature monitoring. BMS isn't intended to handle the scope and granularity of tasks needed to watch over the data center environment, which is why data center managers include DCIM tools into their infrastructure.

DCIM is not a "thing," but rather a category of modules, said Sev Onyshkevych, chief marketing officer of FieldView Solutions, a data center monitoring software vendor based in Edison, N.J. You can pick and choose the best tools, or buy an all-in-one toolset.

The evolution of DCIM

At its peak two years ago, vendors previously disassociated with DCIM came out with new tools to incorporate into the data center infrastructure. During the "slope of enlightenment" period, data center managers bought DCIM modules, typically starting with IT asset management or monitoring tools. The hype has since dwindled, and most DCIM vendors have left the market. 

To integrate the two, a DCIM platform must be compatible with the existing BMS. Rack level PDUs, temperature, humidity, leak and air flow sensors, smoke and fire detection and intrusion detection, among other systems, must also be added.

The University of Massachusetts Medical School operates 50 IT closets and a 1.4 megawatt data center in Shrewsbury, Mass. that was built in 2011. It was designed to take advantage of the Massachusetts climate as much as possible, said David Plamondon, data center operations architect for the medical school.

UMass has a 100% direct air-side economizer that allows it to run without mechanical cooling about eight months out of the year, which saves money and reduces its CO2 footprint. Environmental monitoring is especially important for an energy efficient design.

The medical school is about 18 months into its full DCIM deployment across the facility and IT closets.

Implementing DCIM tools

Before you choose which DCIM tools to integrate, "You need a handle on what's inside the data center, and then focus on the 'what if's', tweaking things, simulating and predicting failures, etc.," Onyshkevych said. 

The first step in UMass's DCIM selection was to ask, "What do we want to do better, and what are we looking to get from DCIM?" With over 50 vendors in the DCIM market, such as CA Technologies, Raritan and Schneider Electric, and everyone -- IT and facilities -- operating differently, it was important to have a set of criteria to narrow the search, Plamondon said.

The UMass team broke down its requirements into three categories.

First: things it wanted to automate. Inventory tracking and asset management typically fall into this category, he said, along with environmental monitoring, even at a basic level.

Second: a list of must-have functionality. "For example, we wanted to be able to integrate with our existing building management system," he said. "If our operation was 100% colo this would not be needed."

And finally: a list of wants.

From there, the team was able to reduce the field to a handful of DCIM tools. Plamondon declined to say which specific vendors he used. Examples of DCIM tools include Schneider Electric's StruxureWare and Emerson Network Power's Trellis.

UMass considered pricing models and discovered that most vendors fell into two categories: price per endpoint and monitored device, or price per rack.

"We were looking at monitoring far more endpoints than racks, so cost wise a per-rack solution made more sense for us," he said. "This allowed us to narrow the field down even further."

And finally, UMass Medical's team performed an in-house trial. Over the course of 30 days, UMass got a feel for the software and decided if it fit into its environment and workflow.

A colo's DCIM needs

Telx Group Inc., a colocation provider headquartered in New York, has owned and leased infrastructure across 20 data centers and over 60 suites or floors in the U.S.

Instead of considering traditional DCIM services, Telx looked into industrial tools, said Rafael Valdes, director of energy management for the company. Telx needed all of its data in one place for its customers, so the IT team chose applications to implement, focusing on cost forecasting and containment and capacity management. It found tools that combined a predetermined mix of function and cost.

Fitting BMS with DCIM

"The data center is like a [school] bus," Plamondon said, and IT is the students. BMS has the bus on cruise control. While the bus moves at a steady rate, a driver must still steer and break when necessary. DCIM can fill in all of those gaps, he said.

With the virtualization of the data center, the UMass Medical School had to find a system to integrate with the virtual world -- like its VMware hypervisor.

"BMS won't be a standalone product in the next five to 10 years," Plamondon said. BMS is designed to be closed loop, where DCIM is open loop -- meant to be modified by the user.

While BMS and DCIM overlap, Onyshkevych doesn't expect the two to join. "I see a federation with BMS and DCIM. It's a confederation of different tools," he said.

Sharon Zaharoff is the assistant site editor for SearchDataCenter.com. You can reach her on Twitter at @DataCenterTT.

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