Tracking All the Data: Data Center Infrastructure Management

By Darlene Bremer | Nov 15, 2015




Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software enables data center operators to manage assets and changes, plan capacity, and monitor power, environment and energy usage. At a 2013 Gartner conference session, Gartner analysts Federico de Silva Leon and Jay Pultz said their research indicates that, by 2017, DCIM will be deployed in 60 percent of North American data centers larger than 3,000 square feet.

According to Willie Bloomstein, director of strategic and solutions marketing for iTRACS LLC, Tempe, Ariz., DCIM is a strategic software-based enterprise solution that can include hardware components, such as monitoring tools, but the core intelligence, features and functionality are in the software.

“DCIM provides holistic insight and visibility into the physical infrastructure of both the data center’s IT assets and facility’s equipment,” he said.

DCIM’s function, according to James Cerwinski, director of software at Sunbird Software (formerly Raritan DCIM), Somerset, N.J., is to provide accurate and meaningful information about the data center’s assets, resources used and operational status, from the lowest to the highest levels of the power chain.

“DCIM’s goal is to provide answers so that data center managers can make better, quicker and more informed decisions,” Cerwinski said.

To succeed, a DCIM tool needs to continuously monitor and measure infrastructure resources in real time, then analyze and present that information in easy-to-understand visuals.

“DCIM deployments will integrate IT and facility management disciplines over time and centralize monitoring, management and the intelligent capacity planning of a data center’s critical systems,” said Robert Neave, CTO at Nlyte Software, San Mateo, Calif.

DCIM solutions typically have three pricing components, according to Bloomstein: software (priced by either the number of racks, power usage or facility square footage), professional services (which includes deployment and integration), and maintenance (including upgrades and technical support). The components of a DCIM software suite enable the data center manager to monitor the day-to-day operation of the facility; check assets; model the entire environment to see, understand and optimize power and network connectivity; handle potential moves, adds and changes of IT equipment; and optimize the availability of IT services.

“At its most sophisticated level, DCIM software can provide capacity planning, which enables the data center to plan for and meet future demands for assets, rack space, power equipment and network connectivity,” Neave said.

In addition to monitoring facility operations, capacity and change management capabilities, a true DCIM solution offers complete inventory management, including racks, servers, storage, network connectivity, the power chain and applications. It also offers other functions, including dashboards, reports, floor plan or rack elevations, workflow management, and open integration capabilities.

“A DCIM solution should be able to share information with other business and IT management systems, including building management and IT service management, so that the information gathered by the DCIM software can be leveraged to eliminate manual intervention,” Cerwinski said.

Demand drivers

Several trends are driving DCIM adoption, including capacity planning, asset lifecycle management, uptime and availability, more efficient power and support for heat-density cooling, data center consolidation, virtualization and cloud computing, increased reliance on critical IT systems, and energy efficiency and green IT initiatives.

According to Sev Onyshkevych, CMO at FieldView Solutions, Edison, N.J., the increased complexity of data centers is driving demand for DCIM.

“Facility managers want to have more visibility into the IT infrastructure being powered and cooled, and IT staff want to have more visibility into the physical capacity of the data center,” he said.

DCIM also enables data centers to fulfill growing demands to manage across multiple sites, in a hybrid environment spanning owner-operated data centers, and surrounding co-location, hosting and private and public cloud facilities.

Reducing cost and chaos is another important driver of DCIM adoption, according to Bloomstein.

“The operating costs of a data center’s infrastructure can be exorbitant if you don’t have the right information or enough visibility into what’s actually going on,” he said.

DCIM allows the data center to manage its operations and services within a single platform, database and interface in a more cost-effective manner.

“Finding ways to reduce capital and operating expenses and maintain service level agreements has become increasingly important as data centers have become an ever-more important aspect of many organizations,” Neave said.

Problems solved

According to Onyshkevych, DCIM software provides a holistic understanding of the data center’s IT and facility groups operations.

“DCIM allows the data center to solve problems surrounding efficiencies, power consumption, raising the ambient temperature, predicting and mitigating failures before they happen, increasing the value of currently available space, and networking capacity,” Onyshkevych said.

Because data centers are complex, dynamic environments with a need to manage people, power, networking infrastructures, physical assets, policies, and business attributes, managers need a way to avoid inefficient manual operating methods.

“DCIM software enables greater automation in managing the processes, policies and dependencies that exist in the data center and increase efficiencies,” Neave said.

The information gained from DCIM software also helps solve the problem of controlling and reducing operating expenses, according to Bloomstein, by enabling the more efficient use of existing resources, accelerating the deployment and commissioning of new IT assets, and keeping the data center aligned to the needs of the businesses it serves.

“DCIM enables the data center operator to run an agile and flexible environment and react quickly to changing needs or conditions,” Bloomstein said.

However, like deployment of enterprise-resource planning software, DCIM solutions require the alignment of problem, solution, processes and people, according to Cerwinski.

“Successful DCIM deployments often require fundamental changes of process and work practices in the organization to be successful,” he said.

So, data center managers need to partner with a vendor that can provide the right DCIM tool, help assess operations and identify the key problems that need to be solved.

“Without this first step, it becomes challenging to deploy the right solution,” he said.

Successful DCIM deployments also require the willingness of the organization to change its approach to infrastructure management.

“If the data center is open to embracing the DCIM concept, it can realize the benefits,” Bloomstein said.

The contractor and DCIM

According to Cerwinski, electrical contractors (ECs) need to be familiar with the attributes and capabilities of DCIM software so that they know which ones enable the user to model the power path from the data center’s uninterruptible power supply (UPS) through the power distribution units (PDUs), circuit breakers, rack PDUs, and down to the servers and switches, without allowing power capacities to be exceeded at any node.

Neave advises ECs to also become familiar with how the software helps data centers operate more efficiently so that the EC can demonstrate how it reduces costs.

“Knowing how the more mature DCIM solutions provide power monitoring, asset management, workflow, capacity management, analytics, network and power cabling management, and a variety of other key modules, electrical contractors can help data center clients operate more effectively,” he said.

Bloomstein said that the improved collaboration between a data center’s IT and facility departments and the better visibility into power consumption that DCIM offers is an opportunity for ECs to leverage this communication advance, especially in terms of the power infrastructure.

“With DCIM, electrical contractors should benefit from the improved collaboration within the data center and the visibility into how much power the data center actually draws,” Bloomstein said.

In addition, as DCIM becomes increasingly designed into the data center building cycle, electrical contractors that are familiar with DCIM solutions will be in a better position to be the team member that implements any efficiency improvements the software advises.

“The earlier DCIM is specified, the better. But it also represents a wonderful retrofit opportunity, as the power savings and other benefits achieved can offer the client a payback sometimes in a matter of months,” Onyshkevych said.

Future opportunities

As data center racks become smarter with sensors and other monitoring technologies, DCIM tools will provide even more insights from the information it gathers, resulting in even more sophisticated analytics to answer more complex “what if” scenarios, according to Cerwinski. He also expects to see continual advancements around the visual presentation of DCIM information with more customization for user needs.

“For example, an electrical contractor may want information presented on a smartphone to help pinpoint an issue in a power connection chain, whereas a data center’s chief information officer may want a 3-D presentation of available capacity to help evaluate if a new business service can be supported,” he said.

As cloud and co-location vendors have adopted DCIM, in part due to customer pressure, it will increasingly become a must have for these sectors, with the next stage being to offer people who have hybrid environments the ability to create a single “pane of glass” that encompasses all of the environments at their disposal.

“I believe we will see more vendors offering true dynamic what-if simulations of the power chain and other factors, so the data center and its electrical contractor can get a better handle on the resilience of the infrastructure,” Onyshkevych said. “We will also see more of plug-and-play interfaces between the various DCIM modules from different vendors, as well as with other applications.”

In the new construction environment, the issue of DCIM will inevitably arise.

“The more electrical contractors know, the more intelligently they can discuss DCIM and use their knowledge to add value for their customers,” Bloomstein said.

About The Author

Darlene Bremer, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributed frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR until the end of 2015.





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