There are a number of reasons why 2013 might be the year for Data Center Infrastructure Management. DCIM software has had a number of years to mature, addressing the need for high levels of discipline in the data center. There are various factors that have contributed to the emergence of DCIM as a priority for data center operators- even if many of them are still sorting out the best way forward.
"The economy led to a break/fix mentality in the data center at first, but we seem to be out of that now,” said Mark Harris, Nlyte Software’s vice president of marketing and strategy. “The energy crisis put a lot of adult supervision into the data center. A lot of questions were being asked, and a lot of those questions were about the physical makeup.”
DCIM provides a holistic view of the entire data center ecosystem, dynamically recognizing all the pieces and how they’re interrelated. It helps to plan ahead, both for growth and potential disasters (what happens when a piece of equipment is removed?). It is being touted as the ERP application for the data center. And as with ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), it is addressing a complicated challenge. When a device is introduced, changes or fails, it changes the makeup of these complex facilities.
Here are 10 predictions for what 2013 holds for DCIM, based on conversations with industry executives:
1. DCIM Will Evolve to Track More of the Business Happening in the Data Center
There are many DCIM offerings that provide limited infrastructure visibility, focusing on one part of the equation like energy consumption. Those that have the most success in the DCIM space will evolve to address monitoring and management of the entire data center environment. DCIM became a buzzword and hot topic predominantly because of increases in the price of power, the single largest line item in terms of operational cost. DCIM presented a way to lasso some of these costs and rein them in. But power management is just one—albeit important—piece of the total DCIM suite.
“More customers are recognizing the strategic value (of DCIM)," said William Bloomstein, market strategist for iTRACS. "It’s not just about power monitoring or point products, it’s about a holistic view.”
2. More Understanding = Better Informed Customers
The consensus among vendors is that a growing number of customers are asking informed questions. In terms of the hype cycle, potential customers are starting to understand what DCIM means to them. “Customers are starting to get the value. The learning curve is accelerating,” said Bloomstein.
A lot of vendors like Nlyte reported stronger sales in the second half of 2012, and believe this is the result of customers finally grasping the value of DCIM in early 2011.
“Very few vendors have broken out and said we’re knocking it out of the park,” said Harris. “Everyone’s made a few sales …but that started to change in the second half of 2012. The first half was still in the 'wait and see' mode. The second half saw business ramp up significantly.”
Most vendors we spoke with said that they’ve seen a tremendous amount of budgeting for DCIM on the part of customers. “There’s been a lot of curiosity, and this year  we’re finding RFPs and budget items,” said Harris.
3. It's Still Early, But the Market is Crowded. Consolidation Lies Ahead.
There are between 80 and 100 vendors claiming to offer DCIM solutions, and many will start sounding alike. “Most companies are scrambling," said Harris. "They are doing something in the DCIM category in the next 12 months. There’s been a tremendous amount of segmentation, and it’s confusing for the customer as to how to get it all working together.
"(The vendors) all do different things - one guy is bringing paint, the other guy is bringing beachballs,” Harris added. “You’re getting two stratifications, one is the integration suite, and the second is the enhancers.”
When the dust settles, expect around a dozen integration suites out there at the most. These suites will build up their capabilities through M&A and through organic means. thinning out the herd and forming more complete offerings.
4. Expect New Competition
“There are a number of companies realigning themselves and declaring themselves as DCIM vendors,” said Harris. The consensus is that there will be a bigger DCIM play from the big four – BMC, HP, IBM and CA Technologies – in 2013, with DCIM becoming an extension to their overall strategies.
5. Pricing Will Become Clearer
A recent Gartner report noted that the industry needs to make pricing more understandable and transparent, recommending that vendors move to what equates to a rack-based pricing model. In 2013 we will see a lot of simplification in terms of pricing DCIM, and the current favorite model is rack-based pricing.
“Complexity of pricing is getting in the way,” agreed Bloomstein. “Pricing is a very important part. Every vendor seems to have a different pricing model. The faster that people can come up with a consensus, the faster adoption can occur. The more customers can make comparisons between pricing models, the better for everyone. Make it easier for organizations to justify the purchase of your DCIM solution by shifting to a simplified, rack-based pricing model.”
"Pricing models are going to continue to be all over the board; per rack pricing will be the winner," said Harris. "The others will figure out how to be compatible (with the per rack model)." Harris also commented on the pricing descrepancies. "The numbers are all over the board, $500 to 5,000 per rack depending on the amount of functionality you want. Most suites will be $1,000 or less per rack."
The industry is increasingly recognizing the need for an open approach to DCIM. It’s not hardware constrained, nor software or modular constrained; “DCIM needs a bi-directional exchange of information,” said Bloomstein. “Proprietary solutions won’t be able to compete if they don’t integrate and play nice with the rest of the DCIM ecosystem.” That leads to the next prediction:
7. Ecosystems Will Form Around DCIM
Strong ecosystems will start to form around DCIM. There are so many vendors that offer very specific functions or pieces of DCIM that there needs to be an aggregation point. A lot of integration needs to happen for all these moving pieces to work together properly.” Unless they get two engineers working together, it’s just a marketing relationship,” said Harris. “How do we physically spend to make it work together? It’s a matter of putting the interfaces together.”
“It’s all about the data - the quality of data you have in DCIM will drive the success,” said Bloomstein. “For this you need bidirectional movement of data. At the heart of the true potential of DCIM as a strategic tool is the data.”
8. Visuals Will Take a Backseat to Capabilities
During these early days of DCIM, a lot marketing and flair is being used to attract customers. Customers will be able to look beyond visuals and focus primarily on capabilities as time progresses. A lot of vendors tout great-looking solutions, showing complex visual representations of infrastructure. What is now a differentiator will quickly become standard in the industry, vendors predict. Glossy interfaces will take a backseat to the true value of DCIM, which is the leveraging of information across all systems in a meaningful way, extending capabilities deeper.
9. Real-Time Data
The ability to collect data in real time is important, but is only part of the answer. The big vendors are strong in this area, but they’ll need to do more. Getting all the pieces working together is the ultimate goal.
10. 25 Percent Market Penetration?
Mark Harris from Nlyte had an interesting and exact prediction: "June of 2013 is when 25% penetration will happen." He sees “many, many customers doing something.”
What needs to happen?
Most vendors agree that the biggest hurdle is “understanding,” and making several parts of an organization comprehend the value of DCIM. Although the toolset can span facilities and IT, there are actually a number of organizations that need to have "buy in" and understanding. That includes the finance department, in addition to facilities and IT. The fourth group that needs to buy in is those involved with corporate social responsibility.
The data center is often the largest asset of an enterprise. It costs a ton of money. The key to success is really about making the organization understand. It’ll be about the delivery of smarter business alignment.