DCIM tools inch closer to facilities-IT department Kumbaya

Emerson Network Power is the latest to jump on the data center infrastructure management bandwagon, but a lot has to happen before it can be truly useful.

IT managers are from Venus and facilities managers are from Mars, and data center vendors want to help them find a common language with better data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software.

The idea behind DCIM is to develop systems that collect and aggregate information about critical data center systems, including IT gear such as servers and switches, but also facilities elements such as racks, cables, power and cooling systems.

That information has long been available, but locked in separate IT and facilities silos. The theory is that by looking at all the relevant data together, IT and facilities staffs will be able to make better decisions about how to configure their data center assets.\

Emerson Network Power is the latest to jump on the DCIM bandwagon, with news last week that it will consolidate all its data center management software assets under a common framework called Trellis. Trellis, which is promised for the fourth quarter of 2011, will bring together several Emerson assets, including the Aperture suite for visualization, inventory or optimization; Liebert Nform and SiteScan; and Avocent DSView3 and Data Center Planner.

“We’ve been on a buying spree,” said Blake Carlson, Emerson Network Power vice president for Avocent global software products. With the Trellis framework, Emerson hopes to offer a single pane of glass into data center information that can be viewed by system administrators and facilities engineers alike -- even CIOs. The framework will provide better scalability than today’s disparate products, and offer a service-oriented architecture (SOA) for integration with third-party products, Carlson said.

As good as all that sounds, some data center managers are highly suspect of any management software that comes from vendors that also sell data center infrastructure.

“I do have a bit of a problem when vendors are the ones pitching that,” said Timothy Happychuk, regional IT director for Canadian media company Quebecorp. “The reality is when you hand the keys to a specific vendor, don’t be surprised if they push for ‘improvements‘ in terms of the hardware/software/infrastructure.”

Data centers on the brink
Motivations aside, the stress IT is placing on facilities is increasing, said Sherman Ikemoto, general manager at Future Facilities. That company’s 6SigmaDC suite is a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling tool that helps data center professionals model power and cooling efficiencies in their environments.

“The problem is getting much, much worse,” said Ikemoto. “When we first started [in the mid-‘90s] power densities were relatively low, and [CFD] simulation tools could be used once to lay out the room, and the room would run well for a long period of time,” he said. But then, in the mid-2000s, “we reached an inflection point and power densities crossed a threshold where you need to simulate the data center at the outset, but also as you change your IT infrastructure.”

Future Facilities is responding with a new release of 6SigmaDC, which pulls information about the configuration of IT assets stored in DCIM software suites like Nlyte, SynapSense and RFCode. Integration with Sentilla and Modius is under consideration. Information is updated on a scheduled basis, and 6SigmaDC uses it to create an updated CFD model of the data center; previously, information was entered by hand.

“This links facilities and IT operations, and helps them consider their thermal and cooling environment; without the links, environmental factors aren’t considered,” Ikemoto said.

But despite signs of progress, most DCIM tools are nowhere near where they need to be, said Bob McFarlane, data center design principal at Shen Milsom & Wilke LLC, a consulting firm in New York City. Improvements to DCIM software “can and should and will” help the data center, but most tools simply aren’t there yet, he said.

“You look at power monitoring systems, they do an excellent job, but they don’t tell you about the IT equipment inside the cabinets. You look at servers, and there’s the availability of all sorts of information about internal temperatures, fan speeds and CPU consumption, but it doesn’t [map back to the power monitoring system],” he said. Some individual companies have dedicated programmers to create one-off systems, but they’re not generally available.

And once DCIM does start to provide true integration, the industry will need to tackle another problem: data overload.

“An [air conditioner] puts out 256 pieces of information, and that’s just one AC. What am I going to do with it?” McFarlane asked. Down the road, the DCIM challenge becomes “collecting thousands of potential data points and turning that in to information.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director at abarrett@techtarget.com, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.

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