DCIM: What to Consider Before You Buy

Making a smart DCIM purchase decision requires a lengthy checklist of considerations

This is the second part of our five-part series on the countless number of decisions an organization needs to make as it embarks on the DCIM purchase, implementation, and operation journey. Read Part 1 here.

In part one of this series we examined the vendor promises for DCIM. If your organization is now ready to consider evaluating and purchasing a DCIM platform, be prepared to devote enough internal resources to the process of developing an RFI (Request for Information) or RFP (Request for Proposals). Even if you have already spoken to some of the vendors and seen a few web demos, it should not just be a copy-and-paste amalgamation of vendors’ marketing brochures.

Assemble the Stakeholders

DCIM systems cover a very broad range of areas: Facilities, Operations, and IT. There is a real need for a unified solution that can collect and aggregate information from facilities and IT systems and then be able to display it in a manner that is meaningful and correlates to some actionable items for all factions. Like any other assessment process of a complex multifaceted problem, the evaluation team members should be composed of managers and technical personnel representing those domains with a common holistic goal. Beware: the question of which of these domains are driving or funding the DCIM project can become an issue if the politics of IT-versus-facilities comes into play while developing the requirements.

Define Expected Functionality

A DCIM project has been compared to a major ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software implementation, potentially touching almost every aspect of an organization’s data center fabric. This is a time-consuming process in itself and should be done well before calling the legions of sales reps for the proverbial dog-and-pony show. Besides the usual purchasing boilerplate, the basic requirements should first focus the organization’s most critical overall long-term requirements, but also reflect the specific pain points that need the most attention. Clearly assign weighting factors to each requirement function, such as: mandatory, highly valued, optional, or future. This is not to say that during the multitude of vendor presentations they will not see a useful or “must-have” feature or function that the evaluation team had not initially envisioned. They can then consider adding it to the final requirements list.

The major areas that virtually all DCIM packages cover include basic facilities functions. Of course, no DCIM package would be complete without the PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) calculator. These “dashboards” provide visibility into the basic power utilization by simply gathering the fundamental energy information from the output of the UPS (roughly presumed to be the “total IT power”) and then compare it with the “total facilities power” (assuming that it was properly instrumented), and viola, it spits out a PUE result. This provides baseline information that hopefully will be used in improving the site’s power and cooling infrastructure energy efficiency.

There are also systems that include some form of CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) type functionality to monitor power and environmental conditions across the entire whitespace down to the rack level and can provide a graphical thermal mapping. This is an area that most BMS (Building Management System) tools have limited visibility in. One of the other management areas involves the ability to do a capacity management function and do “what if?” modeling. This can help avoid mismatch of the classic space-power-cooling triangle.

Other DCIM platforms are aimed more toward IT administrators which some IT-centric vendors have applied the new DCIM name to. These tools were formerly classified as IT “Asset Management,” or Network Management, but now also incorporate the ability to gather and correlate energy usage information.

Predominant Vendor Influence

There are presently approximately 75 vendors in the DCIM category, many of whom are smaller firms with DCIM as their only product. There has already been consolidation, which will continue to increase over the next few years. In most data centers, there are usually one or more incumbent major vendors that supply and support power and cooling systems, as well as the BMS. They naturally are the prime candidates to offer their own DCIM systems, since they have a foothold via the installed major facility critical equipment. Moreover, the financial stability and size of the vendor is an issue, and while it may be convenient, do not make the major incumbents the only vendors to be invited to participate in the evaluation.

While it make sense to consider these factors as part of the evaluation, vendor background and culture also plays a significant role in the product features and market segment they are focused on: facilities or IT. The larger players that primarily offer power and cooling equipment naturally tend to focus their product features toward the facilities manager, while those vendors that have a stronghold and history of IT enterprise software products play to the IT departments. Furthermore, these vendors are cross competing and continue to add features to be able to expand their functionality in order to broaden their appeal to all sectors.


While the essence of a DCIM system is the software, it needs to gather data points from a wide variety of hardware devices. For existing facilities this can involve indirectly collecting data from existing sensors connected to the BMS by means of a hardware gateway or some form of data export routine via a software interface with the existing BMS. This will involve system integration services, which typically require additional charges by the BMS vendor, as well as the system integrator.

In most cases a considerable number of environmental sensors need to be located throughout the data center white space, and additional electrical metering will need to be added to monitor energy usage of sub-systems (typically cooling). While the costs of the devices are relatively easy to quantify, the cost to install the devices can be very substantial and also may require shutdown of some systems or sub-systems. These factors and costs should not be overlooked.

Software License Considerations

Besides the price of the basic DCIM core software and optional modules, each DCIM vendor has differing license models. From the IT perspective it can be based on the number of monitored devices (servers, storage arrays, etc.), powered IT racks, or electrical monitored points (i.e. per circuit), as well as the environmental sensors. On the facilities side, charges may be based on the number of devices, such as generators, UPS, PDU, CRAC, CRAH, chillers, etc. Therefore, it is very important to clearly understand the various vendors’ licensing terms in order to project the present and future expansion costs.

Product Roadmaps

Like every other system, virtually every DCIM platform has evolved and added features over time. When evaluating vendor offerings, examine the product history (version upgrades) and the promised future roadmap. This can be in the form of separate modules or future feature and functionality version upgrades. What are the module add-on costs, or will they be included in the next full-version release? Many maintenance contracts covers software fixes but not major version upgrades. Of course, like any other evaluations, obtain customer references and speak to existing users.

The Bottom Line

If done properly, the selection of DCIM platform is not simply choosing an amalgamation of software and hardware. It is a philosophical commitment to a holistic approach by facilities and IT to work together to improve the overall energy and operational efficiency, and even availability of the data center. Organizations should not underestimate the scope and depth, as well as the staff time and effort needed to define the evaluation requirements, and to implementing a broad-scale DCIM project. When seeking vendor proposals, be sure they addresses all the additional aspects and projected costs for sensor installation and system integration, training, and annual support.

Coming up in the series: benefits and limitations, implementation challenges, costs (direct and hidden), and ultimately the cost justification for DCIM.

Read Part 1 here.

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