Our Panel’s Conclusion on DCIM Tools

Those who do not follow my blog may be confused without some background. Teladata is a consulting firm focusing on data center technologies. They saw a huge gap between IT and facilities that is making data center operation less efficient. That is well illustrated in my previous blog.

I had the opportunity to moderate a panel session at this conference to investigate the current status of data center infrastructure management (DCIM). For details of this session, see here.

These were the panelists:

  • Chuck Rego, Chief Architect, High Density Data Centers at Intel Corporation
  • Pam Brigham, Director, Global Technology at Equinix
  • Phil Reese, Research Computing Strategist at Stanford University

This blog is a summary of that session. (It is almost impossible to moderate a panel and take notes at the same time.) There are many ways you can structure a panel discussion. One extreme is for the moderator and panelists to share a common scenario, even down to the details of Q&A. Of course, the other extreme is to set a big theme and a direction for the discussion, and let the conversation take its own course.

 
 
Data Center Projects: System Planning

I took the second approach, mainly because the panelists’ three data centers were drastically different, making it extremely difficult to ask each person the same question. On one end of the spectrum, Phil Reese has data centers for researchers at Stanford University and is starting to use a commercially available DCIM tool. On the other end, Pam Brigham’s company, Equinix, is in the colocation business worldwide, and she uses homegrown tools. Chuck Rego produces a set of DCIM tools at Intel and uses other commercially available tools.

Technical difficulties prevented my monologue slides from being included in the presentation. But I said the following in them:

  • DCIM tools are software and hardware tools used to design and operate data centers effectively. This definition may qualify almost any tool as a DCIM tool.
  • In general, a tool has only one function.
  • DCIM tools came out of the different needs and categories of data center operations. Therefore, there is no standard for sharing data and no common communications protocol.
  • Very little information about use is available.

There were no clear disagreements about this explanation. However, Chuck was a little skeptical about any tool being a DCIM one. I am not 100% sure, but I think I heard that energy management tools were not DCIM tools. I take a very liberal stance on the definition of DCIM. If we take the meaning of DCIM literally, any DCIM tool should directly touch the infrastructure. Energy management tools may not deal with the infrastructure directly but they do indirectly. If we draw a line to define what is a DCIM tool and what is not, it would be too cumbersome. I suggest putting everything into this category.

There were a few more topics discussed, although I am sure I forgot others:

  1. Homegrown tools were developed when no tools were commercially available.
  2. A dashboard display that integrates several tools’ results would be desirable.
  3. Some kind of standards are necessary.

As for item #1, both Pam and Chuck said why they developed their own. Pam needed to provide some kind of automated way to let sales guys know what colocation space is available at which data center, with some detailed specifications. One such tool is web based and provides information instantly. When there is no tool commercially available, you need to develop your own. Pam said she had been looking into commercially available tools, but none of them satisfies her needs yet. A tool needs to be flexible and customizable because no two data centers are alike. A tool without any flexibility may apply to one data center but not to another, even though you own them both.

Chuck’s case is interesting. He developed several tools as a suite to meet his needs but ended up making them commercially available. So Intel eats its own dog food.

I think both Phil and Chuck brought up item #2. Phil is using SynapSense to monitor his data center. He also has some CFD tools. Down the line, he will need more tools. It would be very desirable if these tools were integrated with one display window, rather than multiple windows, to make it easier to grasp what’s happening at your data center.

Item #2 brings up item #3. To integrate tools together, we need a common platform for sharing data and a communications mechanism. But because each tool was developed to perform one function and one function only, this need was not taken into consideration. However, there is some movement in this direction. Future Facilities now teams up with other companies, including Intel, to integrate their tools together.

In summary, the DCIM segment is in its infancy. Its definition is not even agreed upon. There is going to be debate over whether a tool belongs to DCIM. That would confuse the market, but it is a process we need to go through to mature this segment. But one thing is clear. Someone with a lot of weight behind him should take the initiative to set the standards in this segment. Chuck, how about you?

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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2 Responses to Our Panel’s Conclusion on DCIM Tools

  1. Michael Phares February 9, 2012 at 1:54 am #

    Ken, I thank you for this post and for your candor regarding the ambiguity surrounding how DCIM is defined. The company I work for, Cormant, Inc, has been using the more broad term IT Infrastructure Management (ITIM) because we’ve seen most customers express the need to extend the documentation, tracking, monitoring and management of their data & power channels of connectivity, all inter and cross connected equipment (many times both passive and active), as well as many non-IT infrastructure beyond the data center into the enterprise and campus areas. I believe that in order for an ITIM/DCIM tool to be truly useful it must be as you pointed out “flexible and customizable”. I’d add to that mobile/portable to be able to capture installs, moves, adds and changes where they occur… in the field. NOT requiring a technician or engineer to come back to his desk or keep paper records in order to have updated records… because then the battle is lost before it really even starts. Again, I appreciate you writing this about your panel moderation and hope that if anyone has any holistic IT infrastructure management needs in the data center and beyond, they’ll take a look at an incredibly configurable, overwhelmingly mobile, and truly vendor-agnostic solution.

  2. Paul Avery February 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

    I was sent the DCIM Panel results issue of your blog and found it very interesting. I am the inventor of a DCIM solution, AssetCentral, which is relatively new in the marketplace from AlphaPoint Technology. I would like to humbly suggest that what I created and we have developed, AssetCentral, might serve as a potential platform for defining the DCIM segment. From the outset we strove to create a tool of extreme ease of use, great flexibility, customize-ability, manageability, and accessibility with a unique visualization capability. Having a wide open architecture, we play nice with almost any other tool willing to play with us. (We have just completed an integration with APC’s power monitoring application.)

    I am well aware that saying these things and proving them are two very different things in the world of marketing. That is why I ask for 30 minutes of your time to do a remote demonstration for you via GoToMeeting. I have found that AssetCentral has to be seen to have what we have accomplished fully appreciated.

    This is a direct quote from the IT manager of a Dutch company after seeing AssetCentral in action last month.

    “I think it [AssetCentral] looks really, really great. To me, it’s almost too good to be true. I have spent a long time trying to find a system that I thought was easy enough to use and that didn’t cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

    I may be indulging in overkill, but I want to make the case for you to take a look. These are some of the successes we have had in the short time we have been around:

    AssetCentral is being used to track all the assets of a major department of City of New York at in all its locations – IT assets currently, with the intention to expand to the use of AssetCentral to track all valuable physical assets “wall to wall” in the department. Other departments have shown interest in adopting AssetCentral as on the way to expanding the use AssetCentral citywide.

    One of the largest employment websites in the world used AssetCentral to track assets in three of its data centers in Massachusetts. After three months, the company announced that it was rolling out AssetCentral globally, adding 47 more locations into its data base.

    A global food company is currently in the process of the implementation of Asset Central in Southern California and Chile, they have stated that AssetCentral performance will be carefully monitored with the potential of a wider application within the company.

    A large southern university, after looking at a wide range of competitive solutions, chose to implement AssetCentral. They are nearly ready to go into production.

    AssetCentral has been in use by a moderately sized New Hampshire college for a year. It has been found by the college’s IT administrators to be so easy to use that the program is being managed almost entirely by students.

    A media conglomerate based in Des Moines, Iowa is in the process of transitioning from an unsatisfactory solution to AssetCentral to track its assets in all of its 21 national locations. Here again a comprehensive search for a user friendly method of tracking and maintaining accurate knowledge of their IT assets resulted in AssetCentral as their final choice.

    Paul Avery
    Founder – Director
    AlphaPoint Technology

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