Herman Chan, president of Sunbird Software, explores what data center infrastructure management really means and what it entails for modern enterprises and data centers.
Look up the definition of Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) from a few different sources and you’ll get different definitions from each. DCIM is hard to define, even today, because the term has a cloudy history with disparate definitions from different analysts and from each role in the data center based on their own individual responsibilities. We can’t change the past, but in this article, let’s set the record straight on what DCIM is today, what it is not, and most importantly, why all organizations can benefit from it.
A Brief History of DCIM
Prior to the arrival of DCIM in the late 2000s, Facilities Managers and IT Managers typically operated in their own organizational silos and relied on Building Management System (BMS) and IT Service Management (ITSM) software respectfully to help accomplish their given tasks. When DCIM hit the market as a new concept, industry analysts were quick to hype it, but they lacked a single unified definition. Did DCIM integrate IT and Facilities? Did it replace BMS and ITSM? Did it include computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis? Where does Electrical Power Management Systems (EPMS) fit in? Are IT and Network Systems Management/Monitoring tools part of the mix? Who in an organization should own DCIM? Questions such as these were answered by the multitude of vendors and analysts, all putting their own spin on it. The value of DCIM was apparent, but the broad and scattered definitions caused problems for early adopters. Customers viewed DCIM through their own experiences with their existing data center management tools, job responsibilities, and KPIs. Through no fault of their own, every customer had their own idea of what DCIM was.
With no clear definition of DCIM, many vendors took advantage of the situation and inaccurately marketed themselves as DCIM providers, which muddied the waters when early adopters were looking to purchase. These vendors could not deliver what they promised. They lacked completeness and depth of functionality, were difficult to use, and slow to deploy. They over-hyped visionary capabilities that could not be used in real-world environments. They did not scale for modern data center environments. Their modular platforms caused additional purchasing pain and deployment challenges.
Fast forward to today and the emergence of second-generation DCIM has earned high marks from customers. Enhanced capabilities such as zero-configuration analytics, automation via integration, ease of use, and super-fast deployments address the pain points of data center managers and allow them to make smarter operational decisions. Still, however, the troubled history of defining DCIM has left things unclear for how IT Managers, Facilities Managers, and other data center professionals should view DCIM as compared to other data center management tools.
Main Functions of Data Center Management Tools
Depending on the individual’s role in the data center, Data Center Infrastructure Management as a concept may include any or all of ITSM, BMS, and/or DCIM tools. Let’s set the record straight on the main functions of each.
- Refers to all the activities involved in designing, creating, delivering, supporting, and managing the lifecycle of IT services
- Includes all the discrete activities and processes that support a service, from service management to change management, problem and incident management, asset management, and knowledge management
- Includes tracking all corporate IT assets (servers in the data center, PCs, laptops, tablets, etc.) as logical objects and their configuration (Configuration Items), centralized within a Configuration Management Database (CMDB)
- Provides Service Desk Change Management for all changes and optimizes workflow across IT
- Monitors and maintains buildings’ heating, ventilation, and air conditioning
- Controls and reports on all major energy consuming equipment but lacks complete IT device and connection data
- Provides fault detection and alarming
- Schedules automatic period checks on equipment
- Manages physical data center infrastructure assets, relationships, and capacity:
- Locations of racks, servers, network, storage, and blades
- Utilization and capacity of resources to support equipment, e.g. power, space, and cooling
- Physical relationships and connectivity between equipment, down to the port level
- Monitors, trends, and alarms on equipment and resources supporting mission critical facility
- Automates visual documentation (e.g. rack elevations) by providing full 3D specifications of assets with high-fidelity front and back images, exact U position, and dimensional, weight, and data and power port information
- Tracks workflow within the data center for physical asset moves, adds, and changes of server/network equipment
- Tracks and monitors environmental conditions, energy efficiency, and availability, and use of key resources (space, power, cooling, and network/power connections)
With these functions in mind, you can see that DCIM bridges information across organizational silos, including Data Center Operations, Facilities, and IT teams to maximize utilization of the entire data center white space. An organization needs ITSM and BMS, but DCIM is the solution that completes the toolkit to have the visibility and information you need to properly plan and deploy equipment for data center projects to support business/IT services. Simply put, data center management is not complete without a DCIM tool.
What was once a software category that lacked clarity is now fast becoming the de facto standard tool for complete data center management.
How Do You Know if ‘DCIM’ is Really DCIM?
Legacy tools that are marketed as DCIM are still on the market and prospective buyers need to know that the vendors they are considering offer a real, complete DCIM solution that’s supported by a viable provider. Often, DCIM software may be designed with Facilities or IT in mind and functionality could be heavily skewed towards those realms, overlapping with existing ITSM and BMS management tools. A comprehensive DCIM solution will primarily focus on the data center and complement existing ITSM and BMS tools, providing the following components:
- Live readings of sensor data. Data collection and monitoring with thresholds and alerts that can accommodate tens of thousands of nodes across multiple data centers such as intelligent rack PDUs, floor PDUs, RPPs, busways, UPSs, CRACs, and environmental sensors.
- Complete asset inventory information. Complete critical infrastructure inventory information from racks, servers, storage, network equipment including network connectivity, power chain, and applications.
- Multiple ways to visualize and report on data. Ability to visualize data center asset information easily and quickly. Information can be provided in dashboards, trend charts, reports, floor layout plans, and rack elevations.
- Change and workflow management. Processes and relationship mapping to create workflows, quickly and easily understand the capacity at every point in the power chain, see the relationships between devices, and know the impact of changes.
- Power and data circuit management. Ability to track all physical connectivity across the entire power chain and cable/data network, intelligently search for port capacity, and automatically validate connectivity prior to provisioning equipment.
- Comprehensive equipment template library. A complete models library that is continually updated and provided, and easily editable by customers.
- Open and compatible for easy integration. Fully documented and published API with out of the box connectors and plug-ins to support third-party systems like those from VMware, BMC, and ServiceNow as well as third-party facility equipment.
Defining DCIM in 2019: Second-Generation DCIM
DCIM has come a long way. Many early providers with incomplete and difficult to use solutions are no longer commercially viable options. Customers that deployed and experienced first-generation solutions are much smarter now, voting out those failed vendors from consideration. With the emergence of second-generation DCIM, the class of modern, elegant software that emerged from legacy products, users are now reporting high satisfaction rates and high return-on-investment. Second-generation DCIM combines enhanced versions of the monitoring and operations features with deeper functionality and usability enhancements for modern data center environments.
Today, there is second-generation DCIM, and then there is everything else. All DCIM solutions should be compared against second-generation DCIM as the standard.
The pillars that define second-generation DCIM include:
- Zero-configuration analytics. Without any tedious configuration effort, customers can automatically get pre-built dashboards, reports, and interactive visual analytics similar to what you’d find from commercial Business Intelligence tools.
- Data sharing and collaboration. Breaks down silos created by traditional practices that separate power, network, facilities, and other teams by introducing shared dashboards and team views that encourage information sharing and collaboration.
- Automation through integration. Saves time and simplifies data sharing by eliminating multiple manual data entry. Out-of-the-box ITSM connectors share data across disparate databases through automatic integration.
- Multi-vendor compatibility. Manage all third-party equipment with standards-based plug-ins and without being locked into specific vendors.
- Super-fast deployments. Deployment takes half the time of first-generation tools, with significantly fewer resources and effort, and users see benefits immediately.
- Scalability. Enterprise-class scalability that scales to handle millions of assets and sensors polling billions of data points daily without needing additional software licenses and server instances.
- Completeness of capabilities. Takes care of all the aspects of data center management such as asset, capacity, change, energy, power, environment, security, connectivity, visualization, and business intelligence and analytics.
Bringing It All Together
What was once a software category that lacked clarity is now fast becoming the de facto standard tool for complete data center management. Data center managers need second-generation DCIM to manage all physical, virtual, and logical data center assets, quickly plan and provision new equipment, make changes as needed, improve data center design, increase operational efficiency, and confidently plan capacity for future growth while increasing utilization of existing assets. Second-generation DCIM is the fast, easy, and complete data center management solution that bridges organizational domains and helps maintain uptime, drive efficiency, and boost productivity.
Herman Chan is the President of Sunbird Software.