Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) should technically be data center infrastructure measurement, mitigation, and management to accurately depict what facility managers expect from the system. The old adage, “You can’t fix what you can’t measure. And if you don’t measure, you don’t know if the fix worked,” rings true. Yet, in many data centers today, solutions are being implemented on gut feelings — the measure part is not active, which means the DCIM systems are nothing more than dust-collecting, inactive messes. But, avoiding this situation is simple —all it takes is a little research prior to purchase and implementation.
Companies not fully utilizing DCIM have cite a variety of reasons for their decisions.
- Never implemented DCIM, so it’s too hard now.
- Costs to update hardware.
- Costs to buy the software.
- Costs to populate it (one of the critical barriers).
- Perceptions about efficacy.
- ROI on the entire concept.
- "It’s not my facility."
- "But, I have a spreadsheet!"
When DCIM launched, it touted an answer to the runaway power consumption in data centers and offered actionable data, providing facility managers with crucial insights into the overall health of essential infrastructure equipment as well as areas for notable improvement.
There are are some pros, cons, and steps to consider when, or if, implementing DCIM.
Know Your Needs
A firm statement of need is essential to any new software implementation process. The statement of need should clearly communicate a company’s must-have functionalities, nice-to-have features, and a challenge to provide additional surprises and options. The statement of need will begin your request for information (RFI) document and draw a line in the sand, if you will, moving forward.
The best procurement process will include an RFI cycle. This is a chance to have vendors compete for your business while providing you the time to vet products thoroughly. The trick is to have a clear and concise statement of need in your document.
“Company X desires a DCIM package to perform the following ... ”
It is also a good idea to incentivize vendors for providing cost saving options, pricing, etc. For instance, you may find that a vendor can provide a site license, presenting a savings over a per asset cost. If a company expects single pane of glass services, automatic updating of specific parameters, paging/messaging features, communication with HVAC systems, protocols, permissions, access controls, and similar features, the statement of need should incorporate each. An RFI cycle will be beneficial, as you may identify elements you didn’t know were necessary/useful throughout that process.
The RFI process is one that IT has gotten away from in recent years, in large part, due to the “quick” need for solutions. This instant action is not only limiting but, in some cases, self-sabotaging. Giving yourself a chance to thoroughly evaluate various solutions is a good thing and will help prevent buyer’s remorse. There are some great name brand solutions, some free ones, and a myriad of others in between. The best DCIM package is one you will use. So, this step is vital to determine functionality within the systems. Some packages are going to provide services that may be redundant to other services in house. There is certainly no need to pay for the same service twice. Some packages will have functionality you didn’t realize exist.
Suppose you have existing portions of DCIM functionality. In that case, you can also use the RFI cycle as an opportunity to find out how if the new system can interface/use that data or if it will not interact at all — pieces of information that should be sorted out prior to purchase. For example, if in-rack PDUs offer some level of monitoring, you will want that incorporated into the solution.
Evaluation periods will be part of the RFI cycle. This period gives you a chance for vendor interviews, interoperability, proof-of-concept testing, and the like. In many cases, vendors will grant temporary access for test and development. There is nothing worse than buying a system just to find out that it won’t do what you require. People define functionality in different ways, and, indeed, vendor-to-vendor differences exist.
Moving beyond the RFI and evaluations is the time to determine pricing structures. It is likely that through the RFI process, you learned how the product is generally priced and implemented. In this formal quote process, the solution you seek will very likely be different than what you had in mind prior to the RFI process. Since you have learned about new functionalities and options, this is the time to determine the price tag for each. You may have on-floor assets that you don’t wish to actively monitor. You do not want to be charged for discovered assets as opposed to managed assets. This cycle is the time to sort out your devices under management.
Imperative in this cycle will be a listing of your components, assumptions, and wish list. While it may be evident from the RFI cycle that a company doesn’t have a feature, that doesn’t mean that they cannot develop it for you if you find it pertinent to your operations. They may also have partner companies that can offer that service or custom development through APIs. If you are going to select external resources (i.e., existing databases, other systems, or spreadsheets) to populate the system, now is the time to coordinate those efforts.
Time to Play
Just like kids during the holidays, we all look forward to new toys. However, this step is generally the one that causes DCIM implementations to either succeed or fail. With any luck, throughout the procurement process, the amount of time to implement has been identified, funded, and supported from the executive staff. Without the three former levels of support, the installation is likely to be unsuccessful.
Full and thorough inventories should have been part of the billing discussions. How the system populates can be enhanced by having much of the information upfront. Some companies are using interns to not only populate the systems but also as a training tool, helping to grow the necessary talent pool for future work. Other companies prefer to outsource the audit and population of databases to outside firms or hire temporary workers due to the amount of time it takes to manage the task.
Like any system, garbage in and garbage out. If you are using spreadsheets or prior information to input into the system, this is a great time to audit that information or, at the very least, spot audit it to assure that prior information has been accurately maintained. One problem with manual systems is that they don’t always get updated despite the very best intentions.
Now, Use It
As stated, the best DCIM system is one that gets used. Even better is the one that is used frequently. Some companies engage the system only when there are moves, adds, or changes, but working with the system will fine-tune the white space. When coupled with other insights, like CPU usage, one can start to see which equipment provides the best economies. The analytics can also highlight areas for improvement. Using thermal imaging and other data center tools, data center managers can maximize savings, become better environmental stewards, and protect valuable equipment.
Just remember, you can’t fix what you don’t measure, and if you don’t measure, you don’t know if or how well the fix worked. DCIM is an ongoing process that should be used often and not just when there is a modification to the floor. Thermal imaging will help verify results. Give the system as much information as possible. And most of all, allow your organization the time needed to correctly implement it, or it will do you no good whatsoever.