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Buyout could give stagnant DCIM tools market a boost

Two vendors in the highly competitive DCIM market will combine through a buyout to offer an integrated platform with monitoring and asset management functions.

Two major vendors of data center infrastructure management tools are combining forces to offer a broader integrated platform and to appeal to users who, so far, haven't shown as much interest as once hoped.

Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) is a software management tool that combines IT and building functions to present a holistic view of a data center's performance, including metrics about power, cooling, space and connectivity. 

But DCIM tool use is still fairly low, with no more than 15% of midsize to large data centers globally adopting DCIM, noted Rhonda Ascierto, research director at 451 Research.

Part of the anticipated allure of DCIM has been for new data center construction, where its cost can be low enough to not warrant a line item in new build or major refurbishment.

Nevertheless, existing data centers have adopted a "wait and see" attitude, she said, in part because many of the products today are fairly complex, and they may be waiting for DCIM to expand beyond what it can do today.

Many DCIM users may be trying to "boil the ocean" with a DCIM tool, and that can lead to frustration, said Josh Neyer, vice president of data center services at TransUnion LLC in Chicago.

Neyer found it easiest to start with entering asset details, such as make, model and serial number, and then transform the data center operation around a workflow based off the DCIM tool.

"That is a difficult thing to do, I get it," he said. "It requires organizational changes and adherence to the use of the product." Enterprises should come up with "a game plan about how they are going to adopt all the sophistication of a DCIM tool," he said.

TransUnion already has a building management system (BMS) for its data centers, but Neyer did not want to supplant that for a DCIM tool, even though several products on the market include it.

"We would have been buying a product that would be talking across the board, and we did not want that," he said, adding that he was happy with his existing BMS.

Some data center operators are realizing DCIM's promised benefits of increased operational efficiency within a system developed in-house or with openDCIM, an open source DCIM product.

"It is a need we are fulfilling internally," said Chris Alberding, vice president of product management at FairPoint Communications Inc., which operates two colocation data centers and one of its own in New Hampshire. FairPoint started with a former Nimsoft product, now owned by CA Inc., that monitored the company's managed services, and expanded it to include environmental, power and network monitoring.

"DCIM has been slow to see adoption because of the failure of deployments," said Doug Sabella, president and CEO at Nlyte Software, based in San Mateo, Calif. "Some of the biggest guys have been selling snake oil." He sees the DCIM software market on a "classic adoption curve," with high prices and low adoption.

Last week, aiming to address many of these questions by delivering an integrated platform, Nlyte Software Inc. agreed to purchase FieldView Solutions Inc. Combined, the new company will be one of the three largest DCIM vendors, alongside Schneider Electric and Emerson Power Systems.

This combination "is an indication of the market maturity and what customers want from DCIM," said Jennifer Cooke, research director at IDC. Some users have started with collecting data from FieldView software, but could then be left wondering what's next. That is where the data collection focus of FieldView's tools, and the analysis and DCSM focus of Nlyte together can be useful, she said -- not just collecting information, but leveraging it to make business decisions.

FieldView will strengthen NIyte's monitoring capabilities and help provide "more of a calling card" to get into larger data centers, including risk-averse bank customers, Cooke said.

Nlyte has customers for its DCIM tool mostly in financial services, technology, federal government, healthcare, and retail and consumer businesses. FieldView, a Nlyte partner for several years, counts some of the largest colocation providers in the world as its customers, including DuPont Fabros Technology Inc. The two firms already share some customers, which have used each company for their specialties in the data center, Sabella said.

TransUnion uses both Nlyte and FieldView products, and Neyer's data center teams use them "hand in hand," he said. The data center space team uses FieldView to determine the best place to deploy a new server, from a power and cooling perspective. Nlyte is then used to request the power, cooling, network and storage needs, and also serves as the asset management source of record and can help calculate the proposed power draw, he said. The two systems are not directly connected now, but an application program interface connection would be "nirvana," he added.

Improving views into the 'opaque' data center

An enterprise data center is a "living entity," but is often "opaque" to many companies, which may know more about the cost of a workload in the cloud than they do in their own data center, according to Sabella. DCIM tools promise to deliver real-time data about the cost of a workload and predictive analytics to help businesses decide where they can move workloads with minimal impact. Tools such as Nlyte's data center service management software (DCSM) also allow enterprises to perform incident management and conduct chargeback to business units for the energy used.

NIyte's and FieldView's tools -- both are SQL-based and Microsoft-based -- allow for rapid deployment from a single instance, without client-server architecture, to anything from tens of racks to hundreds of racks, which also means a lower cost for services, he said. Nlyte has focused on managing the IT side of businesses, along with workflow management and integration into an enterprise's IT service management. The company has had "limited capability" when it comes to monitoring, alarming and real-time data in the data center, according to Sabella.

"When you think about how a data center ebbs and flows during the day, unpredictably based on work volume, you can start doing the data analytics on it," Sabella said.

FieldView will remain a branded product and sold as a standalone option, Sabella said. Meanwhile, an integrated product has been in development for months and will be released at the end of March, combining asset information and virtual information with alarming and heat view mapping together. The long-term vision is of a core product with various modules that can be turned on and off.

Most data center managers want a function-rich suite, and DCSM will be the next innovation for DCIM and part of data center service optimization, 451's Ascierto said.

"That is absolutely where the next generation of DCIM will be," she said.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at [email protected].

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