DCIM: Moving Beyond the Physical Aspects of the Data Center

June 21, 2017
This is the fourth and final entry in a Data Center Frontier series that explores the ins and outs of DCIM systems.

This is the fourth and final entry in a Data Center Frontier series that explores the ins and outs of data infrastructure management, and how to tell whether your company should adopt a DCIM system. This series, compiled in a complete Guide, also covers DCIM key functionality considerations, and DCIM system implementation and training. 

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The Bottom Line

DCIM may have primarily started as facilities focused BMS/BIS type platform with some enhanced data center features, however the nature of the entire data center centric computing infrastructure and the enterprise IT architecture itself has changed radically since DCIM’s inception. In 2014 there were approximately 75 DCIM vendors, consisting of both small startups and major well-entrenched players. Since then, some DCIM vendors have been shaken out or consolidated into larger vendors. Gartner’s Hype Cycle seems to have perfectly depicted the way DCIM has been perceived by potential buyers. Starting with the “Initial Peak of Inflated Expectations”, followed by the depressing “Trough of Disillusionment” and moving upward on the “Slope of Enlightenment.” DCIM vendor offerings have now finally entered the last stage of the cycle: the “Plateau of Productivity”. DCIM has now moved far beyond just a glorified PUE console, and products are now in the third, fourth or fifth generation of development.

Currently available DCIM solutions offer a wide range of solid functionality and features, moving way beyond just the physical aspects of the facility and are delivering the promises of a holistic overarching toolset to align the physical and logical elements of the data center.

Vendor background and culture plays a significant role in the product features and market segment offered. The larger players that primarily offer power and cooling equipment naturally tend to focus their product features toward the facilities manager, while those vendors that have a stronghold and history of IT enterprise software products play to the IT departments. Vendors are cross competing and continue to add features to be able to expand their functionality to broaden their appeal to both camps.

Currently available DCIM solutions offer a wide range of solid functionality and features, moving way beyond just the physical aspects of the facility and are delivering the promises of a holistic overarching toolset to align the physical and logical elements of the data center. However, each organization’s data center business objectives and operational expectations are different. The litmus test for the most suitable DCIM solution is one that offers open integration and the key functions that your own organization determines to be most useful and cost effective, with easily understood dashboards and visualizations that are meaningful to Facilities, Operations and IT staff. So how do CxO-level executives interpret and evaluate the promised deliverables and decide if DCIM is needed when these divergent factions within their organization may not even agree on what DCIM means, much less who should specify, purchase, install, and operate this miraculous DCIM system?

To the facilities manager the expectation of DCIM may be primarily like their existing BMS/BIS systems that are already in place (and some facilities managers may not see much difference, nor do they see any additional value to their responsibilities). However, most BMS/ BIS systems are not designed specifically for data centers and as such, generally lack the ability to provide much more granular and data center specific information beyond alarms and the basic operational status of the power chain and cooling system components. As previously noted, most BMS systems only monitor the main cooling system components and typically do not monitor the temperature in the IT racks, which is critical to ensuring IT availability.

For the operations manager, DCIM functions as a tactical tool provides more granular information, increasing availability through real-time monitoring of IT power draw and environmental conditions down to the rack or even device level, alerting operators of immediate problems, and analyzing and detecting developing issues. It also functions as a workflow management platform, designed to better organize, create work-orders ranging from optimizing the placement of new IT assets (cross-checked against available space, power, cooling and network), to work-orders for provisioning power and network connectivity. This offers the benefits of reduction of staff workload, while reducing risk of provisioning errors, resulting in improved employee morale and overall productivity.

[clickToTweet tweet=”DCIM can optimize the utilization of existing data center facility and IT equipment, resulting in improved TCO.” quote=”DCIM can optimize the utilization of existing data center facility and IT equipment, resulting in improved TCO.”]

To the CTO, DCIM should be a crystal ball to help to optimize the present computing environment and to help foresee how to plan and anticipate future growth requirements, as well as accommodating requirements of ever changing IT systems that come to market.

Ultimately however, from the CFO’s office, the bottom line underlying question is “Where is the ROI”, to which some answers are straightforward, while other benefits are not quite as clear. There are multiple benefits to a successful DCIM project, some are directly cost justifiable (i.e. improved energy and operational efficiency), while others are less tangible, such as increased overall data center availability, as well as enhanced staff productivity and resource utilization.

In the end, there may be no one perfect DCIM solution, but there are several very good vendor offerings that should be closely evaluated to see which offers the best match to your organization’s requirements and which features will best address the areas which need the greatest improvements. Once that is established, you can then base your final decision on expected direct cost saving and indirect benefits to determine if a DCIM system is needed, and if so which one will provide the best value.

DCIM’s capacity planning and modeling capabilities will allow your organization to better anticipate the need to increase capacity to meet demand, or conversely to delay or defer the need to add another data center or lease more capacity from a colocation provider.

As a strategic management platform, DCIM can optimize the utilization of existing data center facility and IT equipment, resulting in improved TCO. Moreover, its capacity planning and modeling capabilities will allow your organization to better anticipate the need to increase capacity to meet demand, or conversely to delay or defer the need to add another data center or lease more capacity from a colocation provider. Therefore, to address the question; yes, when all the functions are appropriately implemented, DCIM can be considered as a worthwhile long-term strategic investment, with solid operational and financial justifications.

This series on DCIM systems also covered the following:

You can also download the complete report, “Data Center Management Infrastructure: Strategic Investment or Unnecessary Expense?” courtesy of Sunbird. 

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