Enterprises that run their own data centers must cope with a complex array of responsibilities, including how to power and cool equipment, install and maintain hardware, meet compliance requirements, provide security, ensure disaster recovery, monitor the performance and capacity of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of servers – oh, and save money.
It’s a tall order, one made all the more challenging by the explosion of data in recent years from mobile devices, the anticipated data deluge from the Internet of Things, and the development of powerful analytics software.
For enterprises eager to make their data operation more agile, efficient and reliable, data center infrastructure management (DCIM) is an incredibly useful tool, says Domenic Alcaro, vice president of mission critical software and services for Schneider Electric.
At a recent data center conference in New York, Alcaro describes DCIM as “an attempt to corral all the data that’s being exposed in the data center — things like temperature information, airflow information, computing power, server utilization – bring it all together, apply analytics, and make some decisions based on those analytics.”
The types of decisions enabled by DCIM span a wide range of key facility challenges, Alcaro says, including capacity planning, faster response to business needs, maintaining availability, reducing CAPEX/OPEX, data center consolidation, risk and asset management, and operational efficiency.
The power to plan
On the planning side, both facilities managers and IT managers frequently must answer questions regarding where to place a new server, how and whether it will impact the existing branch circuit, the consistency of server CPU utilization and whether data can be consolidated on fewer servers.
“DCIM helps you answer all of these questions,” Alcaro says. And even if DCIM can’t produce an instant and definitive answer to a data center question, he says, “at least it gets you down the path of resolving the situation.”
By using DCIM software, Alcaro says, data center managers can view dashboard data for individual servers that show usage patterns, efficiency and capacity. This is invaluable for determining whether a server is actually being used and, Alcaro says, is decidedly superior to a technique many data center pros still employ.
“I’ve heard that some data center managers, when they suspect a server is potentially being underutilized or not utilized at all, they actually pull the plug on it and wait a week to see if anyone complains,” he says. “And if nobody does, they figure it’s a candidate for consolidation.”
Planning is imperative for a well-run data center, but the real value of the facility comes from its operation.
DCIM can provide a lot of answers to operational questions, such as PUE (power usage effectiveness), whether and where hotspots exist, the status of pending projects, what equipment resides within the data center, and the overall health of the facility.
“This software allows you to understand your capacity and demand, and do some things to make them more closely match,” Alcaro says.
DCIM software also provides real-time heat maps showing data center managers air temperature and velocity throughout the facility, helping manage the data center environment more efficiently.
Data center analytics
Just as enterprises now can leverage data by applying powerful algorithms to understand customer behavior, analyze business processes and explore potential outcomes of projects and campaigns, data centers can use analytics to answer a number of important questions.
Among those, Alcaro says, are how much it costs to run the data center, how operational expenses can be reduced, whether an energy efficiency initiative has succeeded, and whether regulatory requirements have been met.
“And this is a big one,” Alcaro says. “When will I have to build another data center?”
Add it all up, he says, and DCIM delivers a number of benefits to a data center, including:
- Annual cost reductions of 10% to 30%
- A return on investment, typically, in three to 18 months
- Dramatically improved efficiency
- Faster response to business initiatives
- A holistic view of the data center
“Overall,” Alcaro says, “DCIM helps you gain control of your infrastructure so that it doesn’t control your business.”