Why the perfect DCIM software is still a dream deferred

There is a lot of hype surrounding DCIM monitoring tools, but DCIM has inherent limitations. Here are the top five challenges hampering DCIM adoption.

Over the last several years, DCIM has been progressing; it now comes in all types and sizes, but is that a good

thing?

Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) is intended to provide administrators with a complete understanding of a data center's performance. The goal is to use energy, equipment and floor space as efficiently as possible. DCIM software helps organize a company's infrastructure and facilitate data center management. But DCIM must overcome several obstacles in order for it to be totally effective. Here's a list of the top five reasons enterprises struggle to adopt DCIM in the data center.

1. Lack of definition

DCIM is one of the least defined innovations in the data center today. The definition of DCIM varies among vendors. There are dozens of companies offering DCIM products and/or capabilities -- monitoring, capacity planning and cooling control, to name a few -- but some might call a product "DCIM" while others might qualify it as tangential. "There are about 20 companies in DCIM but others that call what they do DCIM, but it's not totally accurate," said Tim Regovich, CTO of FieldView Solutions.

But is there a value in limiting DCIM to specific terms? "What does it matter? If you have a problem, you have to find a solution that meets your needs, who cares what it is called," said Jeff Klaus, general manager of the Intel Data Center Solutions Group. The trick to DCIM product selection, then, is to ensure that the features of any particular product actually provide the insight and control that you're looking for.

2. Too many options

Adoption levels for DCIM software are low. Data center managers have a good reason for being hesitant with DCIM software: With over 50 different options from at least 20 vendors, managers have too many possibilities to consider. It's overwhelming.

Vendors have difficulties providing a single tool that caters to both groups that control the data center: IT departments and the facilities team. IT and facilities must coalesce before moving ahead with DCIM. Facilities folks don't acknowledge the data center as anything other than another building unit with a handful of specialized needs. But to IT folks, the data center is several highly interesting systems enclosed by a building. Efficient use of monitoring tools requires collaborative efforts between IT and facilities, but vendors are often unable to appease both teams' expectations and end up trying to meet only some needs.

It's important to carefully evaluate any DCIM product and determine what it's capable of before committing to the investment.

3. Who owns DCIM within the company? How is it best used?

It is unclear who has the control over DCIM operations and management. The facilities team pays the power bills but IT is responsible for handling the DCIM software in the data center. IT doesn't want the installation of a package of monitoring and management capabilities that caters mostly to the facilities team. A facilities-like infrastructure management bundle may negatively affect the efficiency of IT's complex systems architecture. On the other hand, the facilities department doesn't want the DCIM software that controls the chiller plant to have a focus on server management. So, companies buy several tools and try to incorporate them to make an all-inclusive DCIM setup.

Sometimes, vendors will sell software to data centers, but when they try to implement the software, they see that they actually need features that they don't have.

Users don't always know how to embrace what's available in the tools that they have, and don't have all of the information about their monitoring tools. When users consider making the switch to other vendors, for example, "they don't realize they already have server-by-server access [in their current DCIM setup]," said Klaus.

Before settling on a vendor's product, make sure to do plenty proof-of-concept testing, preferably in a lab environment. "Model everything before you procure it," said Robert Neave, CTO of NLYTE Software. Configure the reporting to warn when things go wrong, like too much heat from a failed air conditioning unit or loss of battery integrity in the uninterruptible power system. It is the buyer's responsibility to understand their own needs, from facility and server rack points of view.

4. DCIM vs. BMS

Most data centers already have building management systems (BMS) to track the power used by IT equipment and air conditioning systems. This sensor network is owned by the facilities team. BMS applies its own monitoring software and communication procedures. DCIM is a variation of traditional BMS in some data centers. But when an administrator implements new DCIM monitoring software in the data center, the DCIM tool might struggle to work with the BMS. Both monitoring tools track overlapping information -- power usage in the data center, for example -- which means you might pay for two products doing the same work. Why pay for two when you only need one?

When two systems overlap like this, it may be necessary to phase a BMS out of service, or select a DCIM tool capable of providing integration with the current BMS platform.

5. Expensive, but necessary

You don't need to shop around to know that buying DCIM on top of your array of existing monitoring and management tools is pricey. But how do you budget for DCIM software? Paying is the simplest part of the process.

Before making the jump to DCIM, organizations must evaluate the product and consult vendors to determine which prospective tools accommodate their current systems, tools, sensors and other monitoring devices.

First, determine what you need accomplished. Then, evaluate the products and establish what has to be deployed to achieve your goals. Finally, pay the bill.

There might be discrepancy among IT and facilities. DCIM is meant to merge the two groups. If IT and facilities are not yet unified, then budgeting for new software will only get more and more difficult.

This was first published in February 2014

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