Data centers: rows and rows of towering mainframes in a huge, air-conditioned warehouse. Now and then an IT guy opens a side door, shuffles over to an access port, plugs in his laptop and checks temperatures, but other than that it’s the very image of humming (literally) digital idyll.
It’s easy to overlook the significance of data centers because they’re designed precisely to be overlooked–a geographical location(s) dedicated to all the nuts and bolts behind an enterprise’s network functions–but doing so also overlooks the fact that a huge amount of those network operations are intrinsically linked with mission critical operations. For a modern enterprise, especially one delivering all of its services over the internet, a service outage could mean hours of downtime and hundreds of incapacitated customers. A severe outage can sink a company–and has.
Data centers, however, along with other elements of enterprise IT, are starting to attract more attention. The demands on IT from both within the enterprise as well as outside pressures are increasing at equal pace, creating a need for a more comprehensive set of tools for data center managers to keep everything up and running at optimum level. Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) is the new software segment that addresses these needs.
Even as IT and network functions are now intrinsically linked with organizations’ most vital operations, there’s been a sort of cognitive dissonance at the upper echelons and C-level positions. Not to say that executives have been indifferent about IT, they definitely haven’t, but data center operations aren’t often seen past the narrow prism of performance:
Is everything still up? Can our clients access their stuff? Yes? Great! Let’s move onto the next item.
Any database administrator (DBA), IT manager or CIO will tell you, however, that there’s a whole world of additional variables that should be taken into account when evaluating whether or not an enterprise is doing a good job with its data. The cloud, as the name suggests, might exist in the ether, but data centers are the physical element tying it all back to geography. Without them the cloud doesn’t exist, so it follows that maintaining and optimizing the data center as a facility has a direct relationship to maintaining online fidelity.
Another change in the way organizations view IT is in the shift to viewing IT as a cost-savings center. By improving data center efficiency across the board–measuring how far temperatures can be raised safely to save on cooling costs, identifying underused “ghost server” gaps–DCIM plays right into this trend and in turn makes it a main part of its sales pitch.
In essence, DCIM integrates traditional IT management tools together with tools for managing the physical realities. Floor space, power consumption and heat management are three very physical elements that are essential to the operation of a data center, and the demand for all three keeps growing. DCIM software seeks to unify those facility management elements together with digital operations.
Michael Phares, global marketing & business development lead for Cormant, a DCIM vendor, said that his company defines DCIM as “a solution to document, monitor and manage both IT and key facilities infrastructure as well as the surrounding connectivity; providing actionable capacity, location, space, power and temperature data about the infrastructure as part of an overall process of success.” He added that they take it a step further, giving a definition of “DCIM success” as “the sum of DCIM solution plus process plus maturity.”
There are a few core components that Cormant defines as being essential to a DCIM solution, many of which are echoed by Raritan in its own introductory white paper on DCIM.
- Solutions need to be complete DCIM suites in single, mature solutions. DCIM solutions should model the entire IT infrastructure in the data center including power and data connectivity, related pathways, as well as non-IT assets and building systems. External system interfaces and data gathering need to be supported out-of-the-box.
- Visualization via dynamic rack and plan views along with dashboards displaying real time and historical data, mean that everyone from the CIO down can see precisely the information they require including capacity, trend, efficiency and environmental data.
- Solutions need to be uniquely configurable to record precisely the data needed, including importing all existing infrastructure information from whatever source.
- Solutions need to support multiple mobile data access methods, including handheld computers with barcode and RFID data capture, a web application for tablets, and multiple smartphone applications. Mobility ensures that changes are recorded as they are made yielding accurate, up-to-date and trusted records.
- Solutions should be easy to use as the data contained therein should always be up-to-date and accurate and therefore trusted for planning which will ensure long term adoption.
- We feel DCIM solutions should be priced according to the amount of infrastructure to be managed, providing a complete DCIM solution at an understandable price point.
As far as business software segments go, DCIM is comparatively young, having come into prominence only last year in 2012. It certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by analysts; a 2010 paper by Gartner forecasts extremely rapid proliferation, from one percent penetration in 2010 to a staggering 60 percent in 2013. Forrester has made similar claims.
The segment has already seen a handful of breakout leaders. Emerson’s Trellis and Schneider Electric’s StruxureWare are the two most prominent products in DCIM currently, with a number of other companies coming out with their own offerings (though as Forrester analyst Richard Fichera noted on his blog, major vendors HP and IBM are curiously absent).
Speaking for Cormant, another competitor in the segment, Phares said that awareness about the benefits of DCIM has traveled fast despite the segment’s newness. “Until recently, the two leading challenges (and hence opportunities) were apathy and unawareness. Now, however, most companies and organizations with decent sized data center, network and IT infrastructure are aware of DCIM and the benefits to their organization,” he said.
Phares added, however, that the relatively high cost of many DCIM solutions has become the new major barrier to greater proliferation, even as many organizations are now fully aware of all the benefits they stand to enjoy. He also said that it’s important not to see DCIM as something that will “take over the data center,” as monolithic, all-in-one software solutions have rarely seen much success in the IT world.
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