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Asset management -- It's different in the data center

Asset management -- everybody does it (or should do it). But when it comes to the data center, asset management can be a different beast entirely.

According to at least two experts, a data center manager has more specific and sometimes less tangible assets that must not only be managed in real time, but also constantly monitored because their impact can be felt far and wide across the corporation.

While assets are usually synonymous with "inventory," data center assets come with an extra layer of complications -- they're dynamic rather than static, said Dean Lane, CEO of Varitools Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., and author of CIO Wisdom.

"When you think about asset management in the data center, it's all about making sure the business keeps running [and] maintaining availability for your customer," he said. "Inventory is a very small portion of what's going on."

Lane, a former senior director of IT at Symantec Corp., added that data center assets at their lowest level include the number of boxes and their serial numbers -- things you can see. But things you can't see -- like the air conditioning required to keep those boxes from overheating -- should count as an asset and be quantified and tracked.

Greg Lenox, president and CEO of Entuition Inc., in Norcross, Ga., calls assets like AC and T1 line access "logical assets" and believes they're every bit as important as physical assets such as hardware, boards, cables and racks. Unfortunately, some data

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center managers don't realize the two types of assets are equally important.

"If you miss the logical, then you've missed a big part of the equation," he said. "People fail in this area a lot because they look at assets as something physical they can hold."

Lenox said data center managers need to remember that asset management means a complete end-to-end set of lifecycles where you proactively monitor and manage the uptime, health and connectivity of particular assets. He offers four key points to remember when working on a management strategy.

  1. Remember that the layout of the space in the data center (grid, floor space, tile space, racks) is literally an asset, as are every cable, connection and card inside a device. "Make sure you've collected and modeled all the physical and logical attributes within the data center," he said.

  2. Proactively (from a preventative standpoint) head off problems that might pop up so you can direct workloads to the areas where an outage hits. This is the hardest aspect of data center asset management, according to Jevin Jensen, director of IS technical services for Mohawk Industries Inc., in Calhoun, Ga. "Testing all the power, fire and cooling components in a live environment is the hard part," he said, adding that managing assets is still easier in the data center than it is at remote locations "where you can't lay your hands on it."

  3. Make sure processes are understood and in place for ad hoc outages that require a quick reaction. "Tasks need SLAs in place to make sure you can take on the outage ASAP," Lenox said, although he cautions against letting contracts dictate strategy. "Make sure your strategy is in place and an agreement is set for the service level of customers the data center is serving," he said, "then build contractual relationships around those SLAs."

  4. Understand you can do this stuff manually, but it would be nice to have automated tools to do granular task management, asset management modeling and event correlation that affects your data center. "Automation is what makes you quick and helps understand your environment before it goes south."

But not everyone believes that automation is the magic pill for optimum data center asset management.

"I spent a huge amount of money trying to automate, when in reality I could have sent someone to count things," said Wyly Wade, director of technology for San Diego-based General Land Corp. He cautions not to get overzealous with automation because of the rapid cycles of change in IT. "The industry is changing so quickly, you may be paying less [for technologies like radio frequency identification] three years from now," he said.

Wade thinks the biggest mistake a data center manager can make is failing to determine which level to start tracking assets.

"We've all made the mistake of inventorying items that are too small," he said. "Put in a threshold and live to it."

"Plan, then re-plan at an appropriate interval and stick to it," agreed Lane. "And monitor what's going on especially when boxes are added, more air conditioning is required or additional wiring is needed.

"Again, it's all about making sure the business keeps running."

This was first published in June 2005

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