What Lies Ahead for the Future of DCIM?

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The future of data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software is very bright indeed, with research analysts predicting growth to as high as 60 percent penetration by 2015. Although there are some large players in the sector, there are also a number of smaller vendors who may very well impact the market.

In reviewing the results of polling at the Gartner conference in December 2011, Jay Pultz noted, “Newer, smaller vendors can be significant players in the market. Seventy-two percent of data center managers polled responded that they would consider them versus larger, established vendors — especially if very innovative solutions were offered.”

DCIM customers are looking for solutions which will provide the information they need to effectively manage their data centers and won’t necessarily go with the status quo if a better solution presents itself.

New DCIM Functionality

As DCIM continues to mature, new functionality is making its way to the forefront. Some of the new functionality includes the following:

Automated asset location

Since one of the primary functions of DCIM is tracking the location of assets, automated location systems are now being offered by multiple DCIM vendors. Some of these systems use RFID tags (either passive or active) to determine the asset location within the data center. Others use asset-mounted tags with a physical connection to a location strip or a connection directly to the baseboard management controller (BMC) on a server to determine the asset location down to the rack unit. While not inexpensive, these systems eliminate the manual process of entering the asset’s location and also can be used to automatically track the asset’s movements.

Asset Auto-discovery and Change Management

Some of the DCIM solutions provide the ability to auto-discover detailed information about the assets. A DCIM auto-discovering a server, for example, might automatically enter detailed server configuration data including hardware (processor, memory, disk, network), software, network services, virtual machines, and so on. This auto-discovery process reduces the time and cost to collect the data while also eliminating the 10-15% typical error rate for manually entered data. Change management is automated on these DCIM solutions so any asset changes (hardware changes, firmware upgrades, software installations, etc.) will be recorded with no manual entry required.

Mobile Applications and Touch-based Technology

With the growing popularity of smart phones and tablet technology, some of the DCIM vendors have adapted their tools to these new platforms. Some DCIM vendors have even built their solutions from the ground up with this new technology in the forefront, providing feature-rich mobile applications.

Integration with Other Data Center Management Tools

With a wealth of data center management tools already in place, DCIM vendors are beginning to open their systems up to more outside integration. This might be as rudimentary as providing a pre-defined Excel spreadsheet for loading data into the DCIM but more solutions are supporting more sophisticated web-based APIs to allow data to be passed both into and out of the DCIM solution. Pre-configured “hooks” into CFD modeling tools or trouble ticket systems such as LANDesk or Remedy help to extend the functionality of DCIM tools.

Control Loops

As DCIM has matured from visual asset organizers to more full-fledged management capabilities, some DCIM vendors are beginning to take the next step into closed-loop control systems. Rather than simply alerting that an issue has occurred, some DCIM systems are now taking action to resolve the issue. In a traditional DCIM system, the loss of a CRAC unit would generate an alarm. The staff is notified and maintenance would be performed to restore the CRAC to service. A DCIM which supports event-based actions could identify servers which are at risk due to the CRAC failure and automatically move applications to alternate servers until the CRAC has been restored.

“What If” Scenarios

Some DCIM solutions provide the ability to model “what if” scenarios that can help you to plan data center changes such as the addition of new equipment, technology refreshes, equipment failure or even the planning of an entirely new data center. As DCIM solutions continue to mature, more sophisticated planning scenarios will be possible to accurately plan for changes before they are implemented.

What Should I Do About DCIM Today?

DCIM solutions, while still maturing, have proven themselves to be very effective tools in more effectively managing the data center. DCIM provides a complete picture of the current state of the data center and, as importantly, allows you to plan future data center capacities, including space, power and cooling resources. DCIM can manage power and cooling consumption and drive energy efficiency in the data center. As DCIM continues to mature and the cost to build and operate a data center increase, the ROI for these products will continue to improve.  Get started by putting together a detailed list of requirements. Since DCIM is intended to provide information, the requirements list should focus on the information you need to manage your data center.  Based on these requirements, you can then begin to evaluate DCIM solutions.

This is the sixth article in the Data Center Knowledge Guide to DCIM series. To download the complete DCK Guide to DCIM click here. Data Center Knowledge would like to extend a special thanks to Dave Cole for writing the DCIM Guide and to IO for sponsoring this editorial project.

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  1. Great article, a very lucid overview of what can be a nebulous area. Being one of those newer, smaller hardware vendors, we're particularly encouraged to see DCIM transition from a monolithic software blob to an open framework for the interoperation of software and hardware management agents. I've written a short blog post about this: http://blog.opengear.com/?p=521