(Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

Open Source DCIM Software Project Combats Spreadsheet-Based Data Center Management

You cannot improve what you cannot measure. It may be a persuasive argument, but it hasn’t been persuasive enough to deliver the explosion in adoption of Data Center Infrastructure Management tools vendors were promising a few years ago, when DCIM software was considered a big “emerging” market.

While few doubt its usefulness today, many companies have found it to be very expensive to implement. As a result, adoption has been growing, but perhaps not as quickly as the hype would lead you to expect several years ago.

But what if at least the tools themselves came free? You’d still have to pay up to get them running in your data centers, but you wouldn’t have to pay for software licenses. Most DCIM software vendors charge based on the size of your footprint, so you pay more as your infrastructure scales.

That free option does exist. openDCIM, an open source project born at one of the data centers supporting the US Department of Energy’s national labs. Its original creator, Scott Milliken, manages the Oak Ridge National Lab data center in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Now on version 4.1, which came out last month, openDCIM has been deployed in production at “hundreds of data enters,” Milliken said. In addition to the ORNL data center he manages, they include data centers that support numerous universities and research facilities, as well as private enterprise data centers. NASA, Israel Institute of Technology, the National Human Genome Research Institute, Red Hat, AT&T, and DirectTV Latin America are some of the examples.

The project’s number-one goal is to take away “the excuse for anybody to ever track their data center inventory using a spreadsheet or word processing document again,” according to its website.

There’s a misconception in the industry that DCIM is only necessary for companies that own and operate their data centers. In Milliken’s opinion, there’s a lot of value to using DCIM even if you’re only monitoring a single cage in a colocation facility.

As more and more data center capacity is outsourced to colocation providers, it’s going to become more and more important for colo customers to be able to manage that capacity intelligently. Colo providers increasingly provide DCIM capabilities to their customers as a service, but not all of them do.

Milliken will speak about the importance of managing your colocation data center environment and about openDCIM at the Data Center World conference in Las Vegas in March. Visit the event website to register or to learn more.

openDCIM isn’t the kind of open source project where the user has to spend many developer hours to turn core source code into a usable solution. The bulk of time spent on any DCIM software implementation usually goes to entering inventory data, but other than that, deployment of openDCIM doesn’t take long.

“This is the complete solution in terms of the data center asset management,” Milliken said. “You can go from download to running in 30 minutes.”

The project’s focus so far has been on data center capacity management. “There are a lot of things that the commercial packages do, especially when it comes to building control, that openDCIM stays away from,” he said. “openDCIM doesn’t really do management of any facility systems at all.”

The latest release features an improved user interface and an API, so that it can be integrated with other systems. While it’s too early to decide what the focus will be for the next release, one potential upcoming feature is compatibility with devices that use Modbus, the communication protocol widely used by industrial machines.

The addition of Modbus would greatly expand the range of devices openDCIM can monitor. “All your industrial controls are going to speak,” Milliken said.

There have been three regular contributors to the open source project, including Milliken, but about a dozen people have contributed code during the four years that it’s been in existence.

Want to learn more? Join ORNL’s Scott Milliken and 1,300 of your peers at Data Center World Global 2016, March 14-18, in Las Vegas, NV, for a real-world, “get it done” approach to converging efficiency, resiliency and agility for data center leadership in the digital enterprise. More details on the Data Center World website.

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About the Author

San Francisco-based business and technology journalist. Editor in chief at Data Center Knowledge, covering the global data center industry.

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