The growing importance of data centers has had significant impact on mission critical facilities design, operation, and management over the past 20 years. In fact, the term DCIM (data center infrastructure management) is now used interchangeably with facilities management when discussing management of a building’s power supply, controls, and mechanicals. During this period, data centers and facilities management solution providers have made a critical shift from a primarily real estate focus (hosting, housing, etc.) to a value-added business focus, where remaining competitive requires a working technology partnership with customers.

These technology partnerships have been positive for the industry and can be credited for many of the innovations that have emerged over the past two decades. A recent example of a technology partnership with the potential to produce a game changing product is the one between building automation and management systems provider Envirotrol and mission critical power industry solutions provider Power Analytics. Under their agreement, Envirotrol is introducing a next generation integrated management system (IMS) that uses model validated analytics (MVA) to turn complex facility operating data into useful DCIM information.

JF: Utilizing a common open architecture, the IMS is comprised of two enterprise software servers, each running its respective system software for the electrical (EPMS), and mechanical (BMS and BCMS) systems. Applying MVA, the IMS aggregates operating data and turns it into useful facilities management information, which is delivered in real time to the facility operator via a single graphical user interface (GUI). The dual goal of the IMS is to 1) simplify the complexity involved in operating, monitoring, and maintaining multiple discrete systems for building mechanicals and electrical power supply; and 2) give the operator the capability to model real-time system performance to as-designed objectives, which can result in unprecedented predictability to the management of dynamic electrical networks.

Even if each system offers capacity, accuracy, and fail-safe operation, when you add them together you get too many individual layers and too many restrictions to support the big picture thinking demanded of the mission critical operator.

DC: I agree that the disparate systems situation doesn’t work. The amount of integration currently deployed in most facilities (which enables the blasting of multiple specific notifications to hundreds of people vs. just a single command center) is definitely an improvement, but unless you have a very knowledgeable person in front of every critical monitor 24/7, the time between an alarm and the response can still be too long. As time between data analysis and decision making increases, so does the opportunity for human error, which is the cause of approximately 60% of all downtime.

JD: In the past, two or more management systems were essential because the amount of data that could be reviewed and analyzed following a major system event (such as a utility power loss) often resulted in system lock-ups or critical information being buried 20 pages down. However, as data processing and storage capacities have increased and networks are no longer affected by building automation, diverse platforms are no longer necessary, so an IMS makes the most sense.

DC: It’s true that as electronics become less expensive and control capabilities get more sophisticated, interest in an IMS is definitely growing. It’s no secret that companies who properly tap operations data can gain a significant competitive edge over the competition, which means a truly integrated facilities management system that can provide access to data never before available would have a profound effect on the entire industry. However, the commercial computing industry tends to be frugal, which means the real challenge is to provide a system that meets an operator’s specific requirements at a price they can afford.

JF: By its very nature, a single integrated system is more affordable. Having multiple systems means at least two integration contractors providing, installing, and servicing two separate integration architectures, which can be a less than optimal and often inefficient way to manage a facility. Having one single integrated system speeds design, deployment maintenance, and expansion by lowering overall install and service costs.

JD: The manpower required for adequate oversight of the physical plant and building systems is definitely part of the constant squeeze on maintenance and operations budgets. My current solution is to spend roughly the equivalent of an FTE (full-time employee) each year in automation upgrades, monitoring points, and data analysis. As building intelligence improves and meaningful data analysis increases awareness of system performance, just-in-time maintenance — i.e., the elimination of scheduled maintenance in favor of performance-based maintenance — becomes more viable.

JF: In addition to the cost-savings of only one provider, an IMS using MVA can provide immediate improvements in operation efficiencies and costs when it comes to power usage. Understandably, mission critical operators are extremely risk-averse. Using statistical based analytics (SBA) to try and understand or predict performance is simply too risky. Rigid adherence to de-rated faceplate ratings or published manufacturer average usage ratings can lead to capacity decisions that are unnecessarily conservative, resulting in wasted capacity; or too aggressive, causing power outage. Because it supplies information on exactly how each piece of equipment will function in failure and steady state modes, the MVA-supported optimization in this IMS can provide accurate “what-if” simulations, enabling operators to make fully informed decisions and ensure the lowest possible risk of downtime or service fluctuations. This makes the IMS invaluable for modeling for planned maintenance, upgrades, and expansions. Having access to this constant real-time accurate information can help the most risk-averse operator avoid over-provisioning, which can eliminate stranded power and create unprecedented efficiencies.

JD: Power is the integral analysis for building operations. While people and data processing equipment are prone to temperature and flow conditions, power analysis also provides a predictive element to how a plant is performing. Looking at power can tell an operator (or a mathematical algorithm) how a piece of equipment or system is performing, what efficiency it is achieving, and if there is any deviation from historic norms for similar loads and conditions. It becomes easier to focus the attention of maintenance personnel on problem resolution when it’s highlighted by system performance. Full analytics allow the operations manager to focus the right level of resources on the right equipment, which can reduce unexpected system failures and optimize operations.

JF: Accurate electrical modeling is made possible in the IMS via the continuous application of the MVA to live electrical data and the provision of this conditioned information back to the solution server. The use of MVA lets the operator model real-time system performance to as-designed objectives, bringing unprecedented predictability and manageability to dynamic electrical networks.

DC: Optimized power and performance should definitely be key objectives of an IMS, and the predictive capabilities of the IMS should also be totally quantifiable using MVA. After all, it is only recently that IT and DCIM vendors began to integrate the exchange of performance data. Imagine what it will mean when we have a single platform that can identify each server, monitor multiple separate sensors in each one, and then take predictive actions for cooling and power capacities.

For an IMS to make a real difference in reliability and efficiency, however, it all comes down to the integration provider. The provider must be able to ensure that the system will integrate with the electronics of every piece of equipment already in use and every piece added to the system in the future. Without these interfaces, the system won’t be able to interpret all the data that impacts a facility’s performance, and won’t be worth the investment over the long term.

JF: The key to interface writing capability and to leveraging current and future investments from an IMS is the use of open architecture and readily available, non-proprietary system components and software.

In the earliest generations, open interoperable systems (OIS) could talk to any component within the system, but couldn’t receive information. Today’s open systems facilitate uninterrupted two-way communication between devices and networks, regardless of manufacturer. Open architecture provides an enterprise approach to systems integration, allowing for real-time design, simulation, and monitoring of the entire facility while allowing for complete customization to accommodate specific systems monitoring needs.

To maximize the speed and ease of both installation and operation, the IMS should also incorporate HTML web-based deliverable software. This allows for the use of multiple communication platforms (which can be turned into common language objects), ensuring quick and easy access to technological support for troubleshooting and upgrades.

JD: Today, yesterday, and tomorrow, the primary challenge for the facility operator (and the building management services provider) remains the same: do more with less.

Minimizing the need for physical presence by operations personnel is critical. The advance of building monitoring into an integrated monitoring platform is finally achieving the dream of the “smart buildings” of the 1980s that don’t require the resourcing or manpower to ensure the technology platform is reliably supported by critical building infrastructure. Thanks to these technological advancements, today’s mission-critical operator can manage more information from a remote location than a 20-man staff could achieve on-site 30 years ago.

As integration improves and technology partnerships make interoperability the standard, there is no question that integrated building management systems will become an essential component of DCIM.


Jeff Farlow is the CEO of Envirotrol, which supports some of the largest international corporations and mission-critical facilities in the Southeast. By integrating building systems under a single, web-based interface, Envirotrol provides solutions that better equip personnel to control, operate, optimize, and maintain building performance. Under an exclusive agreement, Envirotrol incorporates power supply software solutions from Power Analytics, which are used by energy intensive mission critical facilities in the electrical system planning, operation, and smart grid market space.

Dennis Cronin is the COO at Steel Orca where he also serves as digital computing center subject matter expert. He has more than 37 years of experience designing, constructing, and operating mission critical facilities, is one of the founders and director emeritus of the 7x24 Exchange, is a columnist for Mission Critical Magazine, and an active blogger and speaker on mission critical subject matter.

John Diamond co-founded DAS Associates in 2009, focusing his efforts on new business ventures in mission critical environments. John has experience performing failure analysis, technology site optimization, site selection and migration, construction project engineering, testing and commissioning, and site reliability. John was on the team from DLB Associates that designed and constructed all of Google-owned data centers worldwide.