Now that 2016 is upon us, I find that the DCIM industry is really starting to settle out. Most of you know that I joined the DCIM industry before it was actually called “DCIM” (in fact for a brief period of time we all called it “PRIM” (Physical Resource Infrastructure Management, but through a combination of coincidences at both Gartner and Forrester, the term migrated to DCIM). I worked for many of the players in this space, and became deeply involved with all of the key vendors attempting to participate in this solution area, and in the process I even became friends with the vast majority of the pundits in the industry.
While I have ‘mostly’ left the DCIM category professionally in my ‘day job’, I still stay tightly connected to what is going on. In fact, I still get quite a few calls from researchers and other vested parties regarding what is happening in the industry or with one company or another. And as you know, I have my opinions and am happy to share.
First, let me say that DCIM is real. It can be the answer to real questions that are on the table now. Data Centers themselves are changing quickly, but the need to understand more about what is happening inside those centers has never been more urgent. Whether you own the cement or not, the “data center” is still effectively yours.
Did I say ‘urgent’? Yup, I did. let me explain.
Assertion: It is urgent to get your data center house in order. With the easy access to rented transactions and services through providers like AWS and GOOGLE, your challenge is to figure out how those cloud providers do the magic they do, and then either subscribe to them in a big way, or learn from them ASAP! You can choose either path, but time is ticking by and if you don’t make that strategic choice, YOUR REPLACEMENT WILL! Getting your house in order is not just about new ways to assure availability and capacity, but instead focuses heavily on understanding the fiscal impacts of every choice you make to the business. And in specific, reducing your cost per unit of work. If you don’t know what YOUR cost is per unit of work, then your house is NOT in order. DCIM can help you understand unit of work costing but you need to understand what you are missing to get there.
Unit of Work? What the heck is that?
It’s the reason you exist. It’s the reason IT exists. It’s the way you provide capabilities and services to your business and it’s the plan you signed up for when you became an IT professional. If you are the IRS, perhaps the unit of work you care about is processing an individual 1040 tax form. If you are eBay, then your unit of work might be displaying a page in its marketplace. At the end of the day, you want to know the cost for that unit of work (which for example at eBay is currently running about three-quarters of a penny). Tip: Thinking about cost per unit of work shows that you have traded your technologist hat for a business hat. And it is just common sense that over time your goal MUST BE to reduce the cost per unit of work.
So, which DCIM is right for you to help you get there?
Great question, and one I have been wrestling with for 10 years! Here’s the industry’s dirty little secret: there is no single answer! “DCIM” does not define a single set of capabilities, it refers to the whole roster of solutions that offer insight and/or control over the physical components found in a data center (or co-location facility, same story). Those physical components can be facilities oriented (CRAC, PDU, Genset, etc) or IT oriented (servers, switches, storage, etc). And to date, no single vendor has proven that they can address all (or even most) of the needs of the entire data center with any amount of credibility. (There has been a ton of posturing and wild vendor claims, but the reality is each vendor does one or two things very well, and the rest of YOUR actual and tangible needs will need to be met by additional vendor solutions)
So here’s my 2016 “DCIM GoTo” list of vendors that can deliver EXACTLY what they say and who spend a lot LESS time posturing about what they really do…
- Want great facilities monitoring of well-behaved (Network enabled) mechanical and electric gear? Then FieldView is a great choice. They collect data, normalize it, and then present it in a clean set of views and reports. Their technology is installed in hundreds of the world’s biggest data centers and their deployment process is an afternoon project. (Well, it gets a bit more complex when you have older equipment which communicates using ancient protocols, RS232 interfaces, or 20mA signally but they can get you there too). Update: FieldView is now part of Nlyte, so I would expect that their sales messages and pricing would be more attractive when combined. I would also expect that the actual technical integrations will follow over the course of the coming year.
- Feel like high quality and intelligent power at the rack level is part of the insight you seek? You probably need to get Legrand or ServerTech PDUs. They can offer a level of instrumentation at the outlet level (if you care) or at the branch level (which you need) and each supplies highly capable management software to leverage their hardware PDUs intelligence. Above all, they are solid citizens (that won’t fail to deliver on Job #1: providing clean power over long stressful periods of time). Keep in mind that dense racks exceed 20kW these days, so delivering solid power under these high loads is not an easy task. Legrand and STI understand this and can help you too. (And if you happen to have any other brand of intelligent PDU already, head on over to Sunbird for their PowerIQ vendor-neutral software solution to manage ANY brand of intelligent network-attached PDU)
- Want to understand the 1000’s mini workflows associated with all of the devices in a data center and all of the related asset provisioning and decommissioning? Want to see where every IT device is installed and connected at any point in time? Or maybe where the next new server is best placed? Nlyte would be a good choice and their solution is focused on the contents and context of each rack. At any point in time, they can allow you to visualize all of the racks you maintain in near perfect fidelity as they exist today, or over the course of future projects once completed. Update: See FieldView notes above as Nlyte purchased FieldView in February 2016.
- How about 3D fly-through views of your data center with the ability to turn layers on and off to allow focused visibility into the physical subsystems in production? Commscope’s iTracs makes sense. For a facilities and cabling oriented DCIM goal, this could be an essential element and visually stunning to watch. Note: “real work” in a data center gets done in 2D, so be careful not to get enamored by the art of iTracs, and try to stay focused on the value you seek. iTracs is an amazing solution for the maintainers of cable (data and power) and the associated flooring subsystems.
- Feel like working deep through the fiscal model of your data center and studying the impacts of your various proposed changes on Opex and Capex? Want to quantify the TCO in a defendable way? CFO breathing down your neck to translate your tech-speak into dollars and timeframes? Think Romonet as they understand every aspect of the data center business and allow each component to be included in their fiscal modelling.
- And what about those environmental sensors? So many data centers are still running blind when it comes to heat and humidity sensing, and yet the technology is cheap and effective. Temperature and humidity may no longer be a major factor in wide-scale equipment failure (since the manufacturers have widen the ranges quite a bit), but those issues play havoc on energy COSTS. RFcode does a great job in delivering sensors that work hard and feed into very visual at-a-glance dashboards. They are installed in seconds and begin reporting immediately. They are low-cost and included batteries last for years! And even better, their sensor data feeds are natively supported by most monitoring solutions on the market today.
- And finally, Discovery. This is an age-old problem. Now it would be great if some magical software could figure out WHERE a server or switch was installed, but thanks to the 80-year old 19-inch rack standard, we are not going to see that in any non-proprietary fashion anytime soon. There simply is no agreed mechanism to do so at the rack level and even the new OCP rack spec ignores this physical placement need once again. That said, No Limits Software is currently the deepest and least intrusive way to figure out WHAT is installed in the rack. It digs deep inside the device operating software and paints a clear picture, right now to firmware version numbers. Discovery can play a huge part in profiling what you have in the data center, firmware versions, installed software, etc. and when fully executed, can provide an accurate inventory of everything you have.
So what about Emerson and Schneider? It is still not clear what their end-game is. They DO provide value to their customers, but tend to have their maximum value within their own installed base. The result, many end users consider Emerson and Schneider as element managers for users of their own equipment. Most exciting, as data centers become more software-defined, both Emerson and Schneider have indicated that they have a solid set of offerings and longer-term vision for delivery of automated and self-adjusting data centers over time. (Emerson has a video on YouTube which puts that timeframe around the year 2025). And what happened to CA? Humm…. After they backed away from the whole DCIM wave recently, it is my expectation that they will simply extend their existing ITSM and ITAM tools to include some of the extended asset information being sought.
Make 2016 the year that you challenge yourself to be an active listener when talking to DCIM providers. If you listen carefully you’ll hear them say what they do REALLY well, and you’ll hear what they consider a minor area of interest. Try not to put words in their mouths. They want to say “yes” to most everything, so be smarter this year. Understand that for the foreseeable future, you’ll need multiple tools to understand the physical layer and the resulting business metrics that go with it.