Podcast: An Argument for Open, Suite-based Data Center Management Tools

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

If you live by the adage that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, data center administrators have historically been operating at a disadvantage.  “We need better management tools so we can measure what we’re doing and see whether we’re improving or not,” says Kevin Brown, Vice President, Data Center Global Offer for Schneider Electric (and a frequent contributor to this blog).

Such tools are coming, he says in an interview for a podcast on the Schneider Electric blog, but vendors are taking different tacks, leaving customers to decide which is best. Brown has definite ideas on the question and uses a couple of analogies to illustrate them.

He sees vendors taking one of two general approaches to data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools, the first being the “spork” approach. A spork, of course, is a utensil that’s a combination between a fork and a spoon – a spoon with tines, basically, that’s used mostly by campers. While a spork isn’t particularly good at being either a fork or a spoon, it does have the advantage of being just one utensil, easing the camper’s load a bit.

Some vendors encourage users to ditch all their current tools, saying, “Buy our new management tool and it will do everything you need. It will be a spork,” Brown says. “It will be a spoon, fork, everything you need to manage your physical infrastructure.”

The other approach is akin to woodworking tools. It takes lots of different types of saws, for example, that each handle different sorts of cuts to collectively get the job done. “That’s another approach that’s starting to evolve in data center management tools. As opposed to saying you buy one platform, one framework that does everything, instead you should be thinking about a suite of applications that work together really well,” Brown says.

Another trend he sees in DCIM tools is toward open protocols, so different applications can easily share information with one another. “What we’re trying to do at Schneider is, any one of our applications will freely share all of the information that’s available,” Brown says. Customers can then build dashboards that collect whatever information they need, or have applications pass data to one another as necessary.  That is a big shift, he says.

“Historically one of the challenges with management tools is they’ve tended to be proprietary, making it very difficult to get information from them and to share information,” Brown says. “In the future you’re going to see these management tools be very open and easy to get information out of.”

For example, if a company is trying to find the best place to install a new server from a power and cooling perspective, they can use Schneider’s StruxureWare for Data Centers tool. Different modules within the tool address issues including power, cooling and monitoring, but can share data with one another such that operators can perform what-if scenarios to find the best spot for the new server.

But Brown is quick to point out that customers don’t need to install the entire suite to get value from it. “You can start with something simple today and over time evolve into having an extremely sophisticated management suite for your data center,” he says. “But you don’t have to do it all at once.”

Check out the podcast to hear our full conversation with Kevin Brown and learn more about tools that can make your data center management staff more effective and productive.

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