SaaS simplifies the DCIM journey

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Stefano D’Agostino, MSc, MBA, PhD, MIET, Software Solutions Business Manager Data Centre, IT Business, Schneider Electric, discusses the role of Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) in the optimisation of data centres.           

The old adage “What gets measured gets managed” underpins every investment in software across a wide range of disciplines. Monitoring and analysing data from inventory control through manufacturing processes to delivery times helps organisations to identify supply chain bottlenecks, isolate flaws throughout the business process and identify opportunities for improvements.

In the field of technology asset management, there is a long history of using software tools in the areas of premises management the operation of IT and communications networks.

Sadly, the corresponding tools used to monitor the equipment and processes in data centres have seen disappointing levels of acceptance. Despite the proven benefits of DCIM (Data Centre Infrastructure Management) software in helping to drive efficiencies in individual areas, such as cooling optimisation, the sales of such tools have been far less than expected.

There are several potential explanations for this. One is size and complexity of these systems which acts as a barrier to adoption. To gain maximum benefit, one has to invest heavily not just in the software itself but in the training of personnel to use it. The installation of metering points to gather all the data necessary to feed the analysis is in itself a major project, requiring disruption to operations and maybe even alterations to premises.

Finally, the lack of industry standard approaches to collecting and analysing data means that most solutions are proprietary to a particular vendor, with all that entails in terms of locking customers in to a single company’s vision which may or may not be in harmony with the development of a particular data centre’s operations but which makes migration to another platform difficult and expensive. As a result, some data centre operators have declined the opportunity of investing in DCIM altogether system, feeling that the risk is too great and that much of what it offers can be delivered by existing tools.

An approach adopted by some DCIM vendors to allay these fears is to offer DCIM as a service. Of course, remote management of IT equipment and supporting infrastructure by third-party service providers is nothing new but the enhanced services offered by systems controlled by DCIM software certainly could be.

At the moment what many remotely managed services offer are reactive and operational; service providers gather data via the cloud from a server or software installed at the data centre and respond to preset alerts if a problem is encountered with an individual piece of equipment. If possible, such problems can be solved remotely; otherwise a service engineer can be dispatched. Data centre personnel can view their status remotely using a variety of access devices including smart phones.

Such monitoring systems offer the usual benefits of software as a service—deployment at high speed and low cost, flexibility to add new software features, removal of headaches surrounding software updates and backups—but they fall a long way short of the promises originally made for DCIM systems.

A remotely managed DCIM service could offer much higher value to data centre operators. Instead of monitoring individual physical assets, such a service could allow more strategic decisions to be made.

A data centre manager could use a DCIM tool to identify stranded server capacity which might be put to better use running virtualised applications currently running on other servers freeing them up for alternative use or for removal to reduce costs. DCIM also allows much better insight into the energy use by a centre, and can inform choices on what cooling effort is needed for a given server load and how it can be managed efficiently.

At an even higher level, DCIM can assist management considering whether to move certain applications to the cloud or maintain physical assets on-site, taking into account the cost of servers themselves, the amount of space they occupy and the cooling effort needed to maintain them.

Such decision-support capability delivered as a remote service has the potential to combine the intelligence of DCIM with the cost benefits of the service model. So why are services like this not more widely available?

Part of the challenge is a lack of standards as already mentioned, especially around the physical layer including the cables and patch panels that connect the elements of a data centre together. Frequently, information about the physical layer in data centres is held in manually produced spreadsheets which are prone to entry errors, frequently out of date and often formatted according to the whim of the engineer or technician who originated them. Fortunately, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) is addressing this issue with a new standard (ISO 18598) which will make it easier to gather and record information and make it interchangeable with DCIM and other asset-management software systems.

Hopefully these efforts will inspire confidence in the adoption of DCIM systems, either in entirety by individual data centres or delivered as a service by specialist providers.

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