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Notes from the Road: DCIM User Experience

In the fast-paced sector of Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM), there are dozens of DCIM vendors out there, each with their own products, user interfaces, and claims. For IT executives who are purchasing and using these tools, determining what is truly “usable” can be quite a challenge.

Gary Bunyan is Global DCIM Solutions Specialist at iTRACS Corporation, a Data Center Infrastructure Management company. Based in London, he works with data center (and data centre) owners and operators around the world to help them optimize their physical infrastructure. This is the first in a series of columns about “the user experience” as Gary traverses the globe working with buyers, managers and users of DCIM.


I’ve been around data centers for a long time (sometimes longer than I might care to admit) and I can tell you this: When it comes to the usability of a particular technology product or solution, the question you should be asking isn’t: How easy is this to use?

The question you should be asking is:

Can I do what I need to do – and how efficiently can I do it?

Or to put it another way:

Am I going to have to work for the tool, or will the tool actually work for me?

Take the rapidly-growing world of Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM). There are dozens of DCIM vendors out there, each with their own products, user interfaces, and claims of usability. For IT executives who are seeking to buy and deploy these technologies, deciphering what is truly “usable” (vs. of little use to them) can be quite a challenge.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to reshape the definition of usability in the DCIM world. Here’s my definition.

In full disclosure: I have a slightly different way of thinking about usability. I’m mostly interested in how efficiently business value can be generated by the use of the DCIM tool. This is what my customers tell me is most important to them and how they measure “usability.” To them, usability relates directly to their ability to generate a positive business outcome.

Usability isn’t about being "easy to use." It’s about getting the job done.

One root of the word “usability” is to be “of use.” When you’re attempting to manage millions of dollars of IT assets in one of the most complex entities on earth – the modern data center – you don’t need a pretty user interface which, when you pull back the covers, is lacking in usefulness. You need an interface that helps you get the job done – directly helps you manage the complex web of inter-relationships between the thousands of IT and Facilities assets sitting on your data center floor.

If you cannot manage the myriad of inter-dependencies inside the data center – if you’re stuck with a piecemeal approach that looks at fragments rather than the whole interconnected ecosystem – then you have a tool that is, ultimately, unusable. It may nudge you in the right direction, but it cannot get you to DCIM nirvana – a place where you have true intuitive point-and-click “command and control” over the entire physical landscape.

Usability Is About Information, Not Data

You can’t get the job done if you don’t have the information you need to make informed, knowledge-based decisions that drive positive business incomes. You need efficient (easily and readily available) access to the information required to accelerate not just decision-making, but smart decision-making.

Interactive 3-D Visualization offers a very usable solution. Interactive 3-D Visualization lets you manage the whole of the physical infrastructure using a visualized 3-D model. You literally point-and-click through this model, navigating through the data center to manage assets, power, space, connectivity, and other dynamics across both IT and Facilities. Talk about a user experience – Interactive -3D Visualization lets you tour your global portfolio of data centers, literally “walk” through your facilities, from a browser.

DCIM with Interactive 3-D Visualization delivers a holistic, in-context, “single pane” view of the data center and its complex web of interrelationships. It’s an open-systems decision support platform offering the user command and control over the entire physical infrastructure in a navigable “point and click” 3-D environment. Image courtesy of iTRACS.

By contrast, a more static user interface that provides text, spreadsheets, and static 3D images may look pretty, but ultimately, it creates more issues than it solves. Because no matter how clever it may look and operate, the user is still stuck with fragmented chunks of data that must be deciphered and put into some kind of context before they can be truly understood. Data without context = a user interface that isn’t of much use.

As many data center executives have said to me, Interactive 3-D Visualization isn’t just a pretty picture. It gives you the context critical for democratizing information and socializing management tasks at the operational level. Absent this, your time will be spent justifying your decisions with your peers instead of executing them.

Usability Lets Everyone Be In Their Own Roles

DCIM serves a lot of different masters. Each has his/her own requirements and expectations. The CIO needs something different from the Data Center Manager, who needs something different from the Technical Ops team, which needs something different from the Business Units and other “clients” of the data center. Everyone wants DCIM to meet their own specific information and management needs, with dashboards customized just for them. Dashboards with deep-dive analytics for making informed decisions – the kind of decisions that justify the investment in DCIM to begin with. The good news? Even in a usability scenario this diverse, the right DCIM solution brings everyone together:

  • Everyone has a single-pane, open systems view into the entire physical infrastructure –IT, Facilities, and Building Management Systems assets
  • Everyone has access (albeit to varying degrees) to the same rich repository of data about assets, power, space, time, connectivity, and process

From this perspective, usability isn’t about how much the individual user can get done. It’s about how much the whole enterprise can get done.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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