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Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) Tools

Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) Tools
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Next generation data centers are taking advantage of Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) tools -- coordinated management solutions that bridge the gap between IT and facilities management.

Every data center is designed with the future in mind; if it wasn't, either the data center shouldn't have been built in the first place or it wouldn't be very successful. One of the major differences between how these data centers operated five years ago and how they operate today is in how they are built and managed. Five years ago it was common for data centers to be built with the future in mind and this was done by over-engineering as much of the infrastructure as possible; this way as new devices were implemented the required power, interconnections and physical racks would already be in place. The problem with this practice is that it is very expensive because each of these extra pieces that are put into place may not be used at all for a number of months or years as demand grows towards their use.

Today's data centers are taking a more coordinated approach and utilizing Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) solutions. This article takes a look at the different elements that are typically included in a DCIM solution and how they are used to help manage and run a more efficient and stable data center.

DCIM Solution Overview

Traditional data centers are split into two main groups that are responsible for managing the different parts of the data center. One side is the facilities group and the other is the IT group, each of which is responsible for different aspects of the data center:

  • The facilities group is typically responsible for a number of different things including power, environment, physical security, cabling, lighting, plumbing, etc. This group typically uses some type of Building Management System (BMS) to manage their pieces of the data center pie.
  • The IT group is responsible for everything else; from the servers and devices in the racks, to the applications installed on those devices and the management of those devices. This group typically uses one or many pieces of software to manage their elements from IT Service Management (ITSM) software to Network Management Systems (NMS).

This could work perfectly in a vacuum where neither of these groups relies on the other; however, this is the exact opposite of how things work in real data centers. The IT group is in effect the customer of the facilities group. The different elements that the facilities group is responsible for is what the IT group relies on. The IT group can't run their devices if they don't have power, or a conditioned space, or adequate security.

In the past, the two groups were typically brought together through some proprietary solution, formal meetings and communications, talking with the facilities management and staff directly, working with Excel spreadsheets that were handed off as a rough diagram of how the IT staff would like something connected, but without the knowledge of where things existed in the actual facility.

To bring these two groups closer together, the Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software was born. Thus the primary purpose of DCIM software is to bridge the gap between the IT and the facilities management teams.

DCIM Solution Focus Areas

A DCIM solution plays a role in a number of different areas and because of this it is typically divided into several main pieces, which can then be implemented all at once or individually as the DCIM implementation moves forward. The good thing is that many of the high level DCIM vendors have categorized their software into very similar groups, making comparison simpler and more affected by the equipment and systems deployed and the management preferences of the organization.

When each of these pieces is placed together it is intended to provide a comprehensive solution between the BMS and ITSM systems. This includes a system that is able to monitor (and in places manage) everything, including: the power coming into a building, through the lines through distribution systems to the racks into the Power Distribution Units, and into the servers/devices; as well as the same paths through the heating and cooling systems and the networking cabling paths through and into each of the devices.

The next question is how this is organized inside the DCIM solution. Generally these solutions are split into a few primary pieces:

  • A planning piece that includes asset and inventory management,
  • An operations piece that includes live statistics and monitoring of equipment (facilities and IT),
  • A monitoring and managing piece that focuses on power configuration and monitoring.

It is important to note that each of these pieces doesn't live in a vacuum, they can communicate between each other to populate the appropriate data. The overall concept is to provide a specialized interface for each of the existing positions within an organization but with a complete map and understanding of how things are populated and connected together. Let's take a closer look at the individual pieces of a DCIM system.

  • Asset And Inventory Management

The asset and inventory management part of DCIM includes the individual management of each of the pieces that are placed within the data center, however it is not limited by this title as it also includes a number of different tools that utilize this information. Tools that perform change planning, historic power consumption and efficiency, energy cost, part of workflow management, capacity planning, power planning, heating, cooling and ventilation planning, over time performance; or generally tools that offer a slightly longer view of the data center. 

Another piece that is sometimes added includes high level resource management and reporting, which is focused on executive management and because of this, the reporting is not as granular and more focused on larger scale trends. This can also be offered as a software as a service (SaaS) product.

  • Data Center Operations And Management

The data center operations and management piece is typically focused on the parts of the solution that will be used by day-to-day operations staff. This includes live monitoring and possibly management of each of the devices within the data center. With most solutions this includes a vendor agnostic list of devices from power to cooling to security to the environment. It also includes a live representation of where things are placed within the data center, alarm and threshold management of many different variables, which could be used by any operations individual to troubleshoot a variety of different troubles. It also can include another piece of a workflow solution that bridges between inventory and planning and day to day operations.

  • Power Configuration And Monitoring

The power configuration and monitoring piece is focused on power, how it comes in, how it is distributed and what its current status is. Most solutions provide a way to visualize and monitor the complete power path, this way if there is a failure in this path, each of the devices along the path can potentially be warned of additional risk. For example, if there is a problem at a distribution point that powers the primary or secondary lines coming into a specific rack, the devices in the path now are at a high potential risk. With these solutions, this information can be seen in real time and can be mitigated in real time.

DCIM Tool Comparison

It is important to note that since there are multiple DCIM vendors there are going to be pieces of their solutions that overlap into each of these focus areas, this is what makes each of them unique. The best solution will come down to coverage and organizational preference of the implementing organization.

As the data center continues to evolve it is important that the different elements within it all evolve with it, up to this point this has created an environment of disparate management structures. Technologies and systems like those offered by DCIM solutions allow these different structures to be bridged together to the advantage of everyone.

On the following page we take a closer look at some of the top DCIM solutions and what they have to offer.