Notes from the Road: Unlocking the Data

Gary Bunyan is Global DCIM Solutions Specialist at iTRACS Corporation, a Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) company. This is the fifth in a series of columns by Gary about “the user experience.” See Gary’s previous columns: DCIM Simplified and Why Flexibility in a DCIM Tool is Important.


I’ve been in a lot of conversations recently about visualization and its role in the management of physical infrastructure. This has become an increasingly important topic as users evaluate and make decisions about their Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) vendors. Many vendors talk about visualization but what do they mean? Is it an interactive 3D model or a static visualization? Is its value centric to the DCIM solution only? And why should the user even care?

Recently, I was visiting one of my clients in Europe, a large data center operator who is managing Tier 4 data center facilities. We were taking a data center “virtual tour” in our model. He was excited about the opportunity to access information that he can use to actively manage tens of thousands of interconnected assets. He was especially interested in using the environment to uncover – and resolve – inefficiencies in power and space that were costing his company potentially millions.

He turned to me and coined a phrase that says it all: “Your virtual environment unlocks the data in a way I didn’t think possible.”

What he was referring to was this:

There is a tremendous amount of valuable data “locked inside” the physical infrastructure, buried in devices and/or applications. This is data not just about power usage or energy efficiency, but data about the full range of operational issues that DCIM is poised to help manage – power, space, server utilization, business output and more. If this data remains buried, then the potential of DCIM to change the game in infrastructure management ­­– to drive informed, fact-based decisions in capacity planning, cost containment, tech debt, cloud, big data, and much more – is severely limited.

If, however, that data is made:

(1)    visible – collected, aggregated, and presented in a way that makes it meaningful and understandable;

(2)    context-rich – enriched with the context of space, connectivity, and Time to provide a holistic understanding of the entire interconnected ecosystem;

(3)    socialized – shared across the data center community quickly and ubiquitously; and

(4)    actionable – presented in a way that it can be instantly acted upon in a dynamic decision-support environment …

then DCIM can truly become transformational. This is what my customer was talking about!

Step One to Unlocking the Data:  Making it Context-Rich

So how does a DCIM system “unlock” the data buried in the heart of the data center? By collecting, aggregating and analyzing data about both individual assets and the interconnected environment in which they are operating. For example, it’s not just the server that feeds data to your dashboards. You’re getting a convergence of relevant data from multiple points across the ecosystem – data coming from very diverse sources. So you get context-rich data about each asset that includes:

  • The asset itself – model, buy/lease information, its line of business (LOB), applications, and other core data.
  • Its power usage and environmentals – real-time power consumption, thermal readings, etc.
  • Its spatial context – where the server is physically located.
  • Its end-to-end power connectivity – the asset’s position in the power chain and all of its power-related interdependencies.
  • Its end-to-end network connectivity – the asset’s position in the network and all its network-related interdependencies.
  • Its disposition in Time – the state of the asset and its impact on the environment at any point in time, whether it’s past, present, or future.

Step Two to Unlocking the Data:  Visualizing It

How does all of this information get shared so that it can be productively used? In a virtual model of the data center that offers a complete and true representation of everything in the ecosystem – a vivid 3D environment that validates the axiom, “a picture’s worth 1,000 words.” Humans are innately visual creatures, making a virtual model the perfect environment for bringing information to life that leads to swift, collaborative decision-making.

Screenshots from DCIM

“Unlocking the data” means pulling it out of the infrastructure and turning it into valuable management information, making it instantly understandable, actionable and available to everyone who needs it. In a single screen, you can access information about an asset, its line of business, its power usage, CPU usage, network connectivity, physical location and other core data. Image courtesy of iTRACS.

DCIM gives everyone – IT, Facilities, and Building Systems Management – access to the same rich repository about assets, line of business, power, space, time, connectivity, workflow and process in an easy-to-understand visual environment. Ambiguity about the infrastructure is erased since everyone is literally seeing the same thing.

You don’t have to chase down the information – it is right there. You don’t have to try to interpret it – all of the complexity is rendered in an easy-to-understand visual representation. Interdependencies are instantly understandable. And you don’t have to struggle to act upon it – just point and click, right inside the virtual model.

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