The number of vendors selling data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions is constantly growing and the solutions are varied to say the least. Some focus on specific measurement functions or on managing elements such as power or cooling while others may provide energy management functions encompassing the entire data center. (See Schneider Electric white paper number 104, “Classification of Data Center Management Software Tools,” for a complete description of the various options.)
While that can make choosing a DCIM solution confusing enough, add on the fact that data centers are constantly changing, increasingly becoming more standardized and modular. As that trend continues, some of the functions of current DCIM solutions will be built into the firmware within future data center modules while others may be offered as cloud-based services. Customers have to make sure that the DCIM solution they buy today will work seamlessly in these next-generation data centers. Keeping four key characteristics in mind will help ensure the DCIM decision you make today will be viable for many years to come.
1. Scalable, modular, flexible system
To keep up with changes occurring in the data center, DCIM systems must likewise be able to adapt, with the ability to expand, contract and customize as necessary. If DCIM software is difficult to expand or upgrade, customers risk compatibility issues over time – and eventually having to abandon the solution. To determine whether a DCIM solution is scalable, modular and flexible, ask the vendor about the cost and process for upgrades and additional licenses, including whether service is required. Also ask whether you have to implement the full suite initially or if you can pick what you want now and build on it over time, and whether reporting tools can be customized to your needs. Another good question is how difficult it is to add or remove IT systems and infrastructure components within the system – which you most certainly will have to do eventually.
2. Open communication architecture
Effective DCIM systems require an accurate picture of power, cooling, space and IT usage. To develop that picture, the systems must be able to communicate with devices and software from a range of vendors – and that means the DCIM tool must use an open architecture and protocols. If certain elements are left out of, say, the cooling picture, it could create fatally flawed results in terms of the how the data center is actually performing from a cooling perspective. To ensure the DCIM software is up to the task, ask the vendor for a list of supported protocols and then compare it to the devices and systems you need to manage. Also ask about available APIs and the process required to share data between the DCIM system and other management tools, such as a VM manager tool and building management system.
3. Standardized, pre-engineered design
Avoid management systems that are highly customized, one-off designs. As the saying goes, “unique solutions create unique problems.” Instead, look for DCIM software that is standardized and pre-engineered.
Standardized means the system is built on previous experience and proven best practices. And a system that’s pre-engineered will be easier to implement, operate and maintain because much of the programming work has already been done to enable the software to communicate with and understand outputs from power, cooling and IT systems. A standardized system may also come largely pre-configured to work with third party management systems, such as BMC Remedy or VMware vCenter.
To determine the level of standardization of a DCIM package, ask whether it’s based on a scalable, modular architecture and open communications protocols as well as how much knowledge, skill and time is involved in implementing and operating the tool. Also ask whether it can auto-discover and categorize various data center components, including third party equipment.
4. Active vendor support structure
In addition to the DCIM tool itself, you’ll also want to evaluate the vendor to determine its general capabilities and support structure. Try to determine the vendor’s level of commitment to the DCIM market, meaning whether it has a long-term approach and strategy or if it’s a startup with a short-term exit strategy. Also find out whether the vendor participates and cooperates with relevant industry organizations and to what extent they can span facilities and IT requirements. Ask about the vendor’s escalation path for support issues and how well trained its reps are in DCIM implementation and operations. Finally, ask whether the vendor has services available to install, configure, educate, and operate DCIM systems. Such services may be crucial depending on your level of in-house DCIM expertise and also indicate a certain level of vendor maturity.
To learn more about how to evaluate DCIM software, check out Schneider Electric white paper number 170, “Avoiding Common Pitfalls of Evaluating and Implementing DCIM Solutions.”