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Explore DCIM vendors thoroughly before deploying a tool

DCIM is susceptible to change: The technology, the vendors and business needs all influence purchasing decisions. Investigate thoroughly before spending your money.

Vendor growing pains and changing business needs pose serious problems for some DCIM adopters.

Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) increases IT operations efficiency and performance. It is also an entire class of software that spans a wide range of features and capabilities. DCIM tools combine server management and physical asset tracking with facilities monitoring and management, unifying activities like load balancing and cooling for different densities.

If you're in the market for a toolset, thoroughly research DCIM vendors' product development, strategic alliances and even business stability, as well as evaluating your own needs and roadmap. Without information on DCIM vendors and their offerings, you could undermine the value of this significant investment.

Feature folly

Product and feature scope complicate selecting DCIM tools and future roadmaps. The concept of DCIM encompasses power and environmental monitoring, reporting and visualization, resource management, IT asset monitoring and management, predictive analysis and modeling, workflow management and more. Yet there is no requirement that a DCIM tool address any or all of these areas.

Vendors can supply functional point products and call them DCIM tools, marketed alongside complex and expensive DCIM frameworks with multiple modules bundled together. Raritan's DCIM offering, for example, is module-based, broken into Power IQ software for monitoring and reporting on the power and cooling infrastructure, along with dcTrack software, which enables capacity planning based on data and visual mapping for power, networks and IT equipment. By comparison, HP treats DCIM as a functional module within its Asset Manager framework. It manages, measures and optimizes power, cooling and space for companies that want to consolidate data center infrastructure and automate processes.

New vendors enter the DCIM market, some competitors forge strategic alliances, some companies merge or fall by the wayside.

This vast variation can cause overlaps with other dedicated products, such as a configuration management database, change management, network monitoring or other tools.

Version 2, 3, 4 and more

You've found a DCIM tool that accomplishes the level of integration and management capabilities you need. Will future editions of the product stay on this course?

DCIM vendors are always adding new features and capabilities while removing or ending development on others. Feature roadmaps are reshaped by changing vendor management teams, emerging industry standards/protocols and competitive pressures. A DCIM vendor might change its product to compete for a certain customer segment or because a new CEO brings a new vision.

Because DCIM integrates input from disparate data center components, communication is important. DCIM reporting and analytical capabilities rely on extensive intelligence gathered from an array of sensors and devices communicating across a variety of protocols, including SNMP, Modbus and BACnet.

Ask DCIM vendors if future editions of a tool will support existing protocols. If you're using BACnet devices and the DCIM tool's roadmap embraces SNMP instead, you'll have to replace some devices or live with blind spots in your environment visibility -- compromising DCIM's value.

A DCIM product such as CA Technologies' offering claims extensive integration with building management system (BMS) and IT management applications like help desk, workload automation, change management, workflow managers and so on. Future versions of the product must therefore support future versions of all of those other tools. If you're implementing a new change management tool and the DCIM roadmap doesn't support it, this creates a blind spot or adds manual integration work for the IT staff.

DCIM vendor market changes

The landscape for DCIM vendors is changing. New vendors enter the market, some competitors forge strategic alliances, some companies merge or fall by the wayside. If you've purchased a DCIM tool, a business move could affect its long-term availability, interoperability, maintenance and support. Be cognizant of changes in the vendors' business for important warnings about the DCIM roadmap.

Some market shifts will leave users in a lurch. Power Assure went out of business in October 2014, giving EM/5, Dynamic Power Management and Dynamic Power Optimization software users no product updates, maintenance or support. This is the most disruptive scenario because users must research and invest in alternative DCIM tools.

Also beware of mergers and acquisitions. With over 60 DCIM vendors clamoring for space in the market, mergers and strategic alliances are bound to disrupt smaller vendors and their customers. CommScope acquired iTRACS in March 2013, while Panduit acquired SynapSense in May 2014, and we're sure to see more as the market matures. Mergers bring new and more innovative technologies into the fold, but inevitably reset the product's future direction. The acquired product may stand alone, become a functional module in a larger framework, or simply be subsumed into another offering.

Partnerships are commonplace in DCIM as vendors jockey to win with comprehensive lines and support. If you're looking for a DCIM tool with high interoperability and granular management among specific hardware products or subsystems, investigate a vendor's partnerships. However, more subsystems means more complicated upgrades and changes. Schneider Electric (which acquired DCIM vendor Viridity Software in 2011) has long applied its BMS technologies in concert with IBM tools such as Tivoli Monitoring for Energy Management and Maximo Asset Management for Energy Optimization. Schneider Electric also partnered with cooling management vendor Vigilent to add a Cooling Optimize module to its StruxureWare for Data Centers DCIM toolset.

DCIM users should keep a close eye on vendor news, evaluate vendors' product roadmaps, and take the time to vet alternatives in the event that a replacement platform is needed.

What do you need from DCIM?

DCIM roadmap concerns aren't always on the vendor side. Changing business needs might render an existing DCIM deployment obsolete, or necessitate new module integration on an existing framework.

Map business needs to the current DCIM tool, its future developments and alternative products. If the current product cannot be expanded to add new features and capabilities, consider replacing it.

Modular DCIM platforms easily grow with additional capabilities as needed. Platforms like Emerson's Trellis have modules, including Inventory Manager, Site Manager, Power System Manager and Process Manager. Users might start with Power System Manager to control the entire data center power system, then add Inventory Manager if regulatory compliance requirements demand better asset tracking and control, then add Process Manager to help mitigate risks associated with change management tasks.

By comparison, tools like Nlyte's DCIM suite break down the process into somewhat more granular functional areas, including asset management, floor planning, power and data connection management, dashboards and reporting, capacity planning, workflow and process management, asset allocation and so on.

Understand the DCIM platform's strengths and weaknesses. Schneider Electric's StruxureWare platform emphasizes energy issues, providing modules that offer energy and carbon reports, energy inventory, alarms, capacity planning and efficiency monitoring, energy infrastructure monitoring, enterprise-wide energy, cooling, security, and environment monitoring and cooling system insight. Despite depth in energy and cooling management, StruxureWare might not offer enough help planning workloads, measuring performance or tackling other server- and system-level tasks.

About the author:
Stephen J. Bigelow is a senior technology editor at TechTarget, covering data center and virtualization technologies. He acquired many CompTIA certifications in his more than two decades writing about the IT industry.

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