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Squaring the DCIM Circle

Data Centre Consultant Stephen Bowes-Phipps advises on Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM)

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How hard can it be? You’ve read the literature, you’ve witnessed the product demonstration at a trade show or exhibition and a salesperson has visited and shown you all the functionality that you’ll ever need at a bargain price. “Look at those fancy graphics!” “All you need do is sign-up!” If only it were that easy.

The first issue with many DCIM vendors is that they want you to buy the whole suite of functionality, irrespective of your needs. This represents an exorbitant budget commitment for features that you may never use, or use so infrequently that you may not realise any specific benefit. Some products cannot be separated, and others come modularised, so the more you want, the more you pay. Other vendors take a more pragmatic approach – providing you with the basic functionality, with plenty of added value trimmings and price it low so that you can realise maximum benefit for minimum cost. In reality, the jury is still out as to whether DCIM really can justify a measurable return on investment that would even begin to excite CFOs. If you’re dipping your toe in the water, the lower the cost, the better!
The second problem with DCIM is that your Data Centre may have been designed to support an engineer with a clipboard, not an IP-enabled monitoring and management subsystem that can provide real-time metrics from within systems, plant and equipment. In this case, your choices are fairly limited. You can (and should) at the very least have some basic power metering put into place which is addressable by the DCIM in question.
The next area of focus would be your environmental system (EMS), an, following on from that, the cabinets and IT equipment themselves. Finally, the next basic ingredient in the mix would be the plant and mechanical equipment. All this is achievable retrospectively, but it may come with a high cost in both monetary terms and in-flight changes to the facility that may necessitate planned shutdowns. Do your homework before you buy the product – not after!
The big question is, is it worth it? The Data Centres that I managed at the University of Hertfordshire for seven years were only truly controllable once I understood how they performed all year round, by month, day and even down to 30 minute timeframes. The profiles we recorded revealed any anomalies that may have resulted in an unplanned Data Centre outage or significant loss of energy efficiency. In one memorable, or notorious, instance, I discovered that a key piece of control equipment had not been switched back on after a service, causing all of the CRAHs to work 100% all of the time, burning money along the way. Pre-DCIM, this would not have been obvious except to the eagle-eyed. Quite apart from the day-to-day control and management benefits, I also undertook some innovative work to calculate the cost drivers within the Data Centres.
The easiest way to determine the value of any system is to imagine life without it. In the case of my DCIM, I could never have gone back to working without it and if I find myself ever managing Data Centres again, it will be the first thing on my shopping list!

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