A DCIM solution promises to help data center managers bring facilities under control, but it is not a panacea.

Data center managers are under the gun. Companies realize that to compete in the global marketplace, they need a strong data center to back them up. This puts the role of the data center manager front and center, as he holds the key to increasing infrastructure performance, cutting operational costs, and maximizing data center and power efficiencies.

Before setting out to achieve any goals, data center managers need to carefully define specific parameters to associate with them, i.e., the optimization program must include a desired result and set the metrics to measure progress. Asking four simple questions can lead to defined goals:
  • How can we control data center expenses?

  • Are we saving any energy from virtualization efforts?

  • We have space, but what about power and cooling capacity?

  • Can we consolidate and make sense of the multitude of data and alarms?
As the IT consulting firm ITOAmerica states, “Nearly every enterprise IT organization has its sights set on tightly aligning the IT function with overall business goals. This approach enables the IT organization to proactively address strategic mandates to lower costs, drive revenue, and mitigate risk…Data Center Optimization (DCO) solutions help IT organizations gain firm control of IT resources, a critical first step to business and IT alignment. Best-practice DCO solutions help IT organizations discover what they have, determine what they need and automatically implement the appropriate resources, all while controlling the impact of change and assuring business service levels.”


Accomplishing a leaner, more efficient data center seems pretty straightforward. But there’s a catch-the information explosion! According to IDC, there was a 62 percent increase in digital information between 2008 and 2010. The staggering volume of information that needed to be managed, stored, and optimized hit 1.2 zettabytes in 2010. According to a release by EMC, a zettabyte is equal to:
  • “The digital information created by every man, woman, and child on Earth ‘Tweeting’ continuously for 100 years

  • “75 billion fully-loaded 16 GB Apple iPads, which would fill the entire area of Wembley Stadium to the brim 41 times, the Mont Blanc Tunnel 84 times, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider tunnel 151 times, Beijing National Stadium 15.5 times, or the Taipei 101 Tower 23 times.

  • “A full-length episode of FOX TV’s hit series 24 running continuously for 125 million years.”
Based on these analogies, it makes sense that more information drives the need for larger infrastructure-more storage, more servers. In addition, larger data centers translate to more power, higher costs, and increasingly complex infrastructures to manage, making data center optimization sound pretty complex.


The big questions: Is optimization even possible? Can optimization be effectively achieved in the wake of this on-going data tsunami?

The answer is: Yes. And the solution can be found in data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools. Simply defined, DCIM is an approach to monitoring that effectively integrates information from tools that have traditionally been “siloed” with either IT or facilities. These systems include BMS, EPMS, NMS, UPS, SCADA, asset management, PQM, and the NOC. Rolling information from these disparate systems up into a DCIM tool provides the data center management team with a single lens through which to view capacity planning, risk management, power utilization, and overall efficiency.

Two screen captures show data gathered from two different data centers.

While many companies have a series of disparate management solutions in place, they don’t gather enough data and consolidate it into one place-with a single consolidated view-and translate it all into meaningful information for informed decision making. Successful optimization through DCIM will yield measurable:
  • Productivity: Effective DCIM optimization eliminates manual and labor-intensive processes such as technicians using “amp meters” or “amp probes” to gauge electrical consumption. A DCIM’s ability to conduct these tasks automatically and continuously allows labor reallocation to more strategic tasks.

  • Equipment Optimization: Optimizing the equipment already in place is key to cost reduction. Is it being used efficiently? Is the facility wasting energy or overpowering it? The only way to know is through a continuous, accurate measurement of power and energy consumption, as well as equipment utilization. A true DCIM tool can provide that picture, while increasing utilization by as much at 50 percent.

  • Energy Cost Mitigation: DCIM accurately “polls” energy usage-not only for circuits and panels that directly power computer equipment housed in the data center, but also for the larger infrastructure that regulates the power and cools the equipment, including CRAC (cooling) units, uninterrupted power supplies, switch gear, building controls systems, and electronic power management. The most efficient tool will use data collected from the entire data center to provide metrics as well as measures and graphics to monitor optimal power usage levels.


Leading analysts also reinforce the power of DCIM. Gartner estimates that effective DCIM tools can reduce operating expenses by nearly 20 percent: “Other research has shown that DCIM solutions can reduce time to deploy new servers by up to 50 percent, extend the life of a data center by up to five years, and help attain a power usage effectiveness of 2.0 or less.”

And the market is responding. An article in Datacenterknowledge predicts the DCIM market is set to explode: “From established solutions to new entries, the Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) market is moving fast, as data center managers demand greater insight into the complex environments they manage. Last year (2010) Gartner predicted a 60 percent market penetration of DCIM by 2014, driven by increased power and heat density, data center consolidation, virtualization and cloud computing.”


Customers are experiencing real-world benefits from DCIM. For example, one large retail bank desperately needed a solution. The bank housed a 98,000 square foot (sq ft) data center comprising 2,300 server cabinets serviced by over 17,000 circuits. Given the size, the bank was faced with a range of problems, including:
  • Installers were unknowingly overloading circuits because of a lack of “real time” data regarding circuit utilization

  • Two electricians had to dedicate two months, including overtime weekends, to field test circuit usage in order to provide current power capacity data for planning.

  • Costs associated with expansion of server facilities were growing much faster than expected.

  • Lack of consistent information regarding power usage was resulting in loss of effective management control of the facilities.

  • Numerous circuits were limited to 30 percent capacity because of lack of real-time monitoring.

DCIM solution “watches” temperatures on a data center floor.

After a comprehensive analysis, the bank knew it lacked clear visibility into energy usage. By implementing a comprehensive solution, they immediately gained the insight necessary to rectify the situation, “We went from being virtually blind to fully informed,” said the customer.

The net result: the energy used-and where it was wasted-became apparent. With this information, the bank was able to clean load issues for all 17,000 circuits in less than three months. Additionally, the load on current circuits could be optimized before adding new and costly circuits for each new server.

Yet another customer reinforced the tight link of DCIM to lower energy bills, “DCIM has made a significant impact on our energy bills. During the summer of 2010- the hottest ever recorded in New York City-our power and cooling consumption in our two data centers did not increase. DCIM is really our ‘crystal ball’ for operations budgeting due to the detailed reports on long-term power consumption.”

The customer also noted DCIM empowered them to rapidly scale to address new demands, “Our data centers in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago must scale quickly to support increased demand from service providers, financial services, and enterprises. With the help of DCIM, my operations team can now handle-with the click of a mouse-what used to take hours of resources.”


A DCIM tool is not a panacea. The DCIM must include a few features to deliver real ROI: 

  • Web-based: Effective DCIM solutions provide anytime/anywhere access to ensure rapid response and smooth operations. The true monitoring solution should reside directly on the corporate network. User access and editing capabilities must be positively controlled.
  • Functionality Out-of-the-Box: DCIM must leverage business intelligence to ensure raw data are transformed to actionable intelligence. Tools must have the ability to graph all data points and trend them over time. Taking this one step further, DCIM must offer robust reporting-ensuring the right data is in the right hands for more effective decision-making.
  • Superior Total Cost of Ownership: Any good product ensures TCO maximization. It should support all protocols and vendor infrastructures. The solution must be designed from the “ground-up” to be easily supported and managed by users, e.g., user friendly and not require expensive professional services engagements to keep them going.
  • Real Performance Management and Efficiency: DCIM provides real performance management and energy efficiency. This means power utilization efficiency such as PUE, DCiE, RCI, and facility load; profile-based analysis; and defining a definitive starting point.  
There’s a lot to consider when deploying data center optimization projects, including a clear understanding of the company’s problems and goals. But once there’s a clear picture of the problems-proper goals can then be set to fix them.