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Next-gen DCIM software holds insights for data center groups

From its roots in power and cooling, DCIM has emerged to provide IT, facilities and business leaders with unified monitoring of an entire technology infrastructure.

Running a data center is a complex and multi-faceted proposition. Seemingly basic notions like efficiency call for comprehensive monitoring and management beyond power and cooling to IT resources.

Data center infrastructure monitoring and management (DCIM) software helps blend facilities and IT disciplines in the data center. The rise of DCIM use presents organizational problems, however, as traditional facilities or building management teams engage in a tug-of-war with IT over control.

DCIM encompasses many technologies and is therefore not a single data center monitoring concept or tool. Each DCIM tool provides a varied set of features and functionality that monitor and manage the physical assets and resources found in facilities and IT. This breadth of capabilities makes DCIM software selection and deployment particularly challenging. Major vendors like Nlyte, CA Technologies, Raritan, Emerson and others are developing products to address the needs of their respective constituent market segments.

No two DCIM tools are the same, and each vendor plays to their strengths with distinct product architectures. For example, Emerson's Trellis offers a modular DCIM platform with units that assist with workflow tasks, and track and report IT assets, system health and energy usage and efficiency, along with another module for monitoring via mobile devices. Nlyte's DCIM suite offers a more granular range of facilities and IT capabilities: physical asset management, physical floor planning, physical power and network connection planning, computing capacity planning and reporting, workflow management and so on.

Ownership considerations for DCIM tools

Historically, facilities used building management system software to handle data center power and cooling. IT used various server or systems management tools for asset provisioning and monitoring. This siloed approach gave little reason for the teams to share information from disparate tools or regularly work together.

Each group looks for different pieces of information, so DCIM is a single 'point of truth' rather than different systems tracking different things.
David BrownCEO, Datotel

Then, CIOs began to target rising energy consumption and costs. Executives became wary of power, cooling and physical space costs. The green IT movement pushed concepts such as power and carbon usage effectiveness. Vendors catered to this increased scrutiny with tools to monitor data center energy use.

"As soon as facilities heard that IT was going to monitor CRACs [computer room air conditioning] and UPSes [uninterruptable power supplies] and such, they wanted to get involved," said David Cappuccio, a Gartner Research vice president specializing in servers and storage technologies. IT and facilities teams realized they had little choice but to work together.

Production-quality virtualization technology -- combined with ever more energy-efficient and capable computing hardware -- profoundly improved the use of computing resources, dramatically reduced server counts, eased energy use and almost singularly blunted years of anxiety about the spiraling energy and cooling costs.

This trend let DCIM software rapidly expand into more IT-centric tasks. "Today, the focus has shifted away from energy monitoring and efficiency towards asset tracking and utilization, which then includes energy usage," Cappuccio said.

Seeing eye-to-eye

DCIM ownership can be segregated into distinct groups. Deploying and maintaining a DCIM platform is typically within the realm of the IT operations staff who are responsible for providing the servers, storage, networking and other computing resources. The actual data center monitoring information and insights still swing between facilities and IT, which can share the same platform as complementary -- rather than confrontational -- stakeholders.

"Operations owns the [DCIM] product today, and everyone has access," said David Brown, CEO of Datotel, a cloud and colocation provider in St. Louis and DCIM user since 2009. "Each group looks for different pieces of information, so DCIM is a single 'point of truth' rather than different systems tracking different things."

For example, an IT operations group might install, configure and maintain the DCIM product, while other departments within the business use its monitoring and reporting functions. Facilities can still track energy use, manage a proliferation of intelligent building sensors, and plan for power system distribution maintenance or upgrades. IT leaders perform capacity planning, track assets and optimize workflows.

DCIM is also embraced by other business constituents, benefiting from the planning and performance insights of today's platforms. "We provide data center space, so the sales team can query the [DCIM] system to find capacity," Brown said. "This helps the client experience and lets us move faster, with better information."

Centralizing and sharing DCIM also improves application development and employee training. For example, DCIM tools often include comprehensive APIs that allow external programs to access and process monitoring data -- in-house software development will eventually use DCIM for better insights and to boost business processes.

"If business leaders want VM workloads to migrate between different racks based on the sensor data, this [use of DCIM APIs] is how it can happen," said Pete Sclafani, COO and co-founder of 6connect, a network automation solutions provider in San Francisco.

While facilities and IT have disputed the ownership of DCIM, modern deployments are firmly in the hands of the latter. Sclafani notes that facilities groups increasingly embrace the value of IT-related technologies. For instance, adding a TCP/IP-enabled Simple Network Management Protocol card to an HVAC unit integrates the cooling unit into the facilities monitoring scheme. This helps ease any remaining contention between groups. Still, the degree of cooperation and collaboration between facilities, operations and IT will depend on corporate culture changes and effective executive leadership.

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

Next Steps

One of the best ways to explore DCIM deployment is to see how others have managed it:

University uses DCIM in data center consolidation effort

Facebook's all-together approach to monitoring

Inside Schneider Electric's facilities and IT vision

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