DCIM 101: What is Data Center Infrastructure Management?

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What is DCIM?

DCIM stands for Data Center Infrastructure Management. DCIM software is used to monitor, measure, and manage data centers, covering both IT equipment and supporting infrastructure such as power and cooling systems. It is intended to help managers achieve maximum energy efficiency and to help prevent equipment problems that lead to downtime.

DCIM Concept

Of all the questions customers ask us about at Schneider Electric, some of the most common have to do with the topic of DCIM tools. That’s especially true now that we’re in the next-generation phase of DCIM, which takes advantage of cloud technology and provides a significant step forward in DCIM capability.

With this as a backdrop, I thought it was time to lay some more DCIM cards on the table, so to speak, and try to cover the most common questions we get about the technology. Consider it a DCIM FAQ.

Schneider Electric DCIM FAQ

What is traditional DCIM software?

In their 2016 DCIM Magic Quadrant report, industry experts at Gartner define DCIM as “tools [that] monitor, measure, manage and/or control data center utilization and energy consumption of all IT-related equipment (such as servers, storage, and network switches) and facility infrastructure components (such as power distribution units [PDUs] and computer room air conditioners [CRACs]).” The report goes on to make clear DCIM primarily covers “the equipment that provides the power, cooling, and physical security necessary to keep the IT systems up and running.”

DCIM goes beyond basic device monitoring to enable data center operators to understand what’s happening in their environments, including power and cooling device status. The idea is to help managers prevent problems from occurring and to aid in planning for future requirements and optimum equipment placement. “All organizations with at least a moderate-size data center should consider investing in a DCIM tool, especially if they have a cost optimization initiative or are planning any significant data center changes,” Gartner advises.

As detailed in a blog post by my colleague, Kevin Brown, customers faced some challenges with traditional DCIM tools, including long deployment times and a high degree of complexity in terms of use and maintenance, including software updates. Some users complained the tools generated too many alerts, with too little information on what was causing them.

What is next-generation DCIM?

Next-generation DCIM is intended to address these issues. It performs all the same basic functions as traditional DCIM, but is hosted in the cloud instead of on-premises, which unlocks significant new functionality.

Because it’s delivered under a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, next-generation DCIM is far easier to deploy than its premises-based counterpart — customers can get up and running in a single day, Brown reports. Software, firmware, and security updates are delivered automatically, and disaster recovery is provided via a cloud-based backup cluster.

Next-generation DCIM also takes advantage of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML). and real-time analytics to offer more advanced features as compared to traditional DCIM. Schneider Electric’s solution, for example, pools anonymized data from multiple customers for benchmarking. By comparing real-time performance of a specific customer’s infrastructure to the expected baseline, it can identify when a given component is straying from the baseline and in need of preventative maintenance. This helps reduce downtime and maintenance costs. Rather than perform maintenance on a scheduled basis, whether it’s really needed or not, maintenance is performed only when actually required.

Next-generation DCIM is also a good fit for edge data centers, which likely have few or no IT staff on-site. No software is required at edge sites, and they can be monitored remotely — from any device that supports a web browser.

What are the main components of DCIM software?

DCIM software generally falls into two main categories: monitoring/automation and planning/implementation.

The first category deals with monitoring and automation of the IT room and facility power, environmental control, and security. It helps ensure the data center is operating as designed and provides user-configurable thresholds for alarms on physical devices, including heat, ventilation and air conditioning. It also reports on real-time, average, and peak power use, and measures power usage effectiveness (PUE).

Planning and implementation software focuses on helping IT managers facilitate data center changes, deploy new equipment for peak efficiency, and track assets. It supports “what-if” scenarios to help with planning and reduce total cost of ownership.

What are the benefits of DCIM — what problems does it solve?

DCIM helps customers with four key pain points:

  • Preventing downtime
  • Lack of remote monitoring and management
  • Managing equipment from multiple vendors
  • Dealing with a large number of sites with limited or no IT staff

Next-generation DCIM, especially, can help with proactive incident management by enabling facility managers to gain insight into both the current and future state of their environments. For both local and distributed sites, they can get complete visibility and real-time recommendations on how to proactively handle any incidents.

Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure™ IT Expert monitoring solution enables monitoring of critical physical infrastructure from multiple vendors. So, facility managers get centralized monitoring of all networked devices, including any configuration changes, from anywhere in the world.

EcoStruxure IT Expert also enables managers to optimize performance by comparing the performance of their infrastructure with that of peers around the world, and get data-driven recommendations on how to improve.

Another component of the Schneider Electric next-generation DCIM solution, EcoStruxure IT Advisor, provides additional benefits, including capacity optimization. It helps managers decide where to put additional servers and other IT equipment in terms of optimum operational efficiency from a power and cooling perspective.

EcoStruxure IT Advisor also helps reduce downtime by analyzing the data center infrastructure and using simulations to highlight areas suffering from a lack of redundancy or capacity constraints.

What is the Federal DCOI and how does it affect DCIM?

The Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI), established in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget Memorandum M-19-19, requires U.S. federal government agencies to “optimize and consolidate data centers to deliver better services to the public while increasing return-on-investment to taxpayers.” I bring up DCOI because DCIM is integral to optimizing data centers and because we have many customers in the federal government space.

How do I get started with DCIM?

To learn more about DCIM, visit our EcoStruxure IT page, where you can also sign up for a free trial. With how simple the new next-generation DCIM offerings are to deploy, and the benefits to be had, there’s really no reason to delay.

Can’t get enough DCIM Knowledge?

To fully understand DCIM, you have to start from square one, with a firm grasp on what that D stands for.

Bonus: What is a data center?

Simply put, data centers are rooms that house various computing, storage, and networking equipment to support the IT needs of an organization. Data centers come in many sizes, including huge facilities operated by internet giants like Google and Facebook. Enterprise companies also likely have centralized data centers of significant size, measured in various ways, including square footage and the total amount of electrical power the facility can support, which gives a sense for how much IT equipment it can house.

Large data centers consist of “white space” which is populated by racks housing IT equipment, as well as “gray space,” which is occupied by supporting infrastructure including switchgear, transformers, cooling infrastructure, and UPSs. Large companies with numerous locations in a given geographic area may also have regional data centers, which are typically smaller facilities that support surrounding offices and other buildings, and often act as backups for the larger data centers.

Trends including the Internet of Things and cloud computing are driving the need for edge data centers to provide more localized compute and storage. Edge data centers are relatively small facilities located in or near regional offices, retail stores, and the like. In some cases, they may even be micro data centers, which could be an enclosure that houses a single rack of IT equipment to support a building or a specific application, often one that requires low latency. Examples range from a micro data center supporting IoT applications in a healthcare facility to an outdoor micro data center supporting utility company monitoring applications.

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