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The DCIM tool and its place in the modern data center

As their data centers become more complex, admins should look to a DCIM tool to better manage disaster prevention, capacity planning, and asset and energy management.

A DCIM tool can be valuable for managing all the facets of the data center, from power and cooling optimization to power usage effectiveness tracking to asset and cable management. But how necessary is DCIM to accomplishing these things? A common belief is that a DCIM tool is just for the big boys whose operations are too enormous for workers themselves to manage.

The necessity of a data center infrastructure management (DCIM) platform depends on how admins run their operation, how concerned they are about reliability and how much more efficiently they could operate with good management information that is easily available. There is an implementation period and a learning curve, so buyers must know the reasons why their organizations should consider DCIM tools.

Disaster prevention preparation

Disaster prevention may be the biggest reason buyers look seriously at DCIM tools. This product investigation often follows an incident that came too close to disaster, or a real failure that the enterprise doesn't want to repeat.

The ability to view the full picture of the operation under a single pane of glass, and the accessibility of the history of alarms, incidents and automatic failovers, can be an invaluable tool for maintaining uptime, managing service-level agreements and quickly recovering when problems do occur.

Taking a serious look at DCIM is like checking the weather forecast for possible storms -- it might not entirely prevent an issue, but it'll go a long way toward predicting when they may occur so that an organization can be better prepared for disasters.

Asset management

Servers, storage, power and cooling are all costly, and funding for them is always limited. It's important to know the assets an enterprise has, where they are, and how they're performing, so you can maximize the cost performance ratio. When you keep track of assets with a static infrastructure management platform, you may end up with irrelevant and outdated information.

Dynamic asset management attached to a workflow system ensures that if inventory changes or moves, it's all automatically updated in a configuration management database, ensuring that all the data is relevant and accurate. For example, if you update an Excel spreadsheet, you may forget to update the information in other databases. A solid DCIM asset manager keeps tabs on a tool's make, model number, network ID, configuration, OS version, installed applications, cable connections and physical attributes, such as size, weight, voltage, connector type and expected power draw. It can also include location identification, power monitoring and cable connectivity presented in both database and graphic formats.

Improve data center capacity planning

Once you have your assets under control, you should have the ability to examine the potential impact of changes before you implement them. If you are uncertain about how much power or cooling capacity is still available in a given cabinet, you should determine the amount before you install new hardware and put it into service.

Likewise, don't buy new hardware with stranded compute or storage capacity, which wastes both budget and energy. Since human error is still the biggest single cause of data center failures, a system that helps manage and provide detailed tracking of movements, additions and changes can significantly reduce this risk.

Manage and monitor energy costs

The cost of energy can far exceed the cost of the hardware over its operational life. While it's environmentally responsible to minimize energy use, the biggest reason to save energy is to reduce cost. A DCIM tool can help to maximize performance and minimize risk of failure, and also provides the information necessary to monitor and improve energy usage.

Don't overbuy in the hopes of solving every problem in one fell swoop. You'll need to commit upfront to get the right training for your organization and to make the most of this important investment.

One of the most difficult parts of DCIM deployment is the age-old resistance to change.

One of the most difficult parts of DCIM deployment is the age-old resistance to change. It can be a challenge to simply do things a different way or to get disparate groups, such as IT and facilities, to agree.

Everyone will have different ideas about what to monitor and reporting priorities, but this debate alone could uncover operational and personnel problems that a DCIM tool can help resolve. In fact, both the existence of a DCIM tool and the cross-departmental communication required for its deployment can help bridge the gap that often exists between IT and facilities teams.

With a well-established DCIM platform, both parties can gain a better understanding of which information is important to the other. The ability for both entities to view information in a common system can significantly improve the reaction and rectification times.

DCIM implementation

A DCIM tool can be a highly valuable management tool for an enterprise. But, like any other implementation, it will be doomed to fail if admins undertake it with overly ambitious goals, unrealistic expectations or a lack of preparation.

Generally, it takes a few weeks to implement a starter package, depending on the size of the operation and the sophistication of the product. Set aside some preparation time before you start the actual transition.

Several facets in virtually every data center operation could improve with the assistance of the right DCIM capabilities. Monitoring is crucial to achieving reliability and efficiency. Regardless of your approach, it should be a routine part of your day-to-day operations and management. A well-developed DCIM suite could help your organization achieve this and much more.

Next Steps

Learn how DCIM software has evolved and the role it plays in the enterprise

How the merger of two major DCIM vendors impacts the market

Find out how DCIM tools help merge facilities and IT functions 

This was last published in May 2017

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