Ben Eshay is CTO of RiT Technologies.
Ever have one of those days which turn into weeks, where nothing seems to be going your way? Your boss is constantly nagging you to reduce the power usage in your data center in an effort to curb costs; a cable becomes loose somewhere (and it takes you hours to figure out where it is); a server goes down yet again, causing the network to crash. And just when you thought things were starting to go right – a power failure in the whole region has your data center shutting down for days. In this post, I am going to probe the concept of whether your data center is controlling you, rather than the other way around.
Pursuit of Efficiency
In the last few years, data center operators seem to be constantly struggling to take control of various aspects of the data center in an effort to attain higher efficiency - all this while attempting to reduce power usage and contain labor costs[i].
One reason why efficiency seems so hard to attain could be the fact that the parameters in all areas of a data center are constantly changing. Considering the magnitude of data centers, infrastructure managers cannot be expected to be experts in countless, complex technologies. For example, connectivity, services, environmental monitoring, workload management and asset management are just a few. With data center technology developing so rapidly, it is hardly possibly to keep up and prioritize all the different resources and assets involved. Moreover, it is extremely difficult when the various systems are disjointed, without being thoroughly integrated into one complete solution that has visibility and control over the entire data center.
It is clear that a data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solution is a prerequisite for running a data center. In fact, DCIM is so popular that in 2010, the DCIM software market generated $245 million in revenue[ii]. With so many vendors defining themselves in the DCIM “space”, it can often be confusing choosing which to implement.
Gaps in the Market
Currently there are three clusters of DCIM vendors according to Forrester; “data center facility and infrastructure vendors; IT management vendors and systems hardware vendors”. However, the Forrester report noted gaps in the market. For example, uploading of the asset database in most DCIM installations today is “relatively labor-intensive, such as staff walking the rows of the data center to manually collect data for the initial installation.” The market research company suggests that: “To effectively propose an optimal set of allocations, the software needs to understand the behavior of the system at a granular level, the potential workloads and the details of the power and cooling environment.”
One major problem with current DCIMs is the majority only offer management software that integrates third-party hardware. This is effective in combining information from various systems only to a certain degree. "Management" of devices in a cabinet ends up being restricted and limited only to information about those devices. To truly have a comprehensive DCIM, the software needs to fully integrate with all the hardware in a data center. This however is currently a time consuming and costly exercise.
On a recent online forum, a data center administrator commented, “Bottom line – does the DCIM do everything you need it to?” Doing everything “you need it to” is also not so straightforward, since keeping a data center’s assets controlled is not the same for every organization.
- Does the DCIM offer online monitoring of the physical layer, including cables and racks?
- Does the DCIM offer customization according to your needs?
- Does the DCIM offer continuous monitoring and updating in real-time of all your assets?
- Does the DCIM provide environment monitoring and power control?
Combining the Software with the Hardware
Current DCIM systems are made up of many disjointed elements, all operating with diverse goals. Few providers have both the knowledge and experience of software and hardware, including cabling and power. There are solutions which offer power and environmental monitoring, but most of these systems are software-based only. Manual additions are still required for hardware. The result is that the software management system cannot “understand the behavior of the system at a granular level, the potential workloads and the details of the power and cooling environment.” Furthermore, if the solutions do offer a cabling management component, it is very limited and often results in a static view of the network.
What is needed is a solution that encapsulates both hardware and software. This system should collect data in real-time of all the assets, environmental issues (including cooling and power), network status and physical layer devices – all in one.
Total Control of the Data Center
The pursuit of higher efficiency has definitely led more data center managers to take a closer look at other previously ignored aspects of their data centers, including the physical aspects. Having total control of the data center means bringing all the assets, both hardware and software, together into one system. Some companies are already attempting to do this by partnering, but seamless integration is still lacking. It is only a matter of time before the market consolidates with mergers and acquisitions, to give data center managers one harmonious system. One solution would reduce power and labor costs; and provide greater efficiency for all.
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[i] Forrester, “Market Overview: Data Center Infrastructure Management Solutions”, April 3, 2012