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Top Five Data Center Issues: DCIM To the Rescue

Making sense of information about the data center from power, cooling, rack space and CPU availability, as well as UPS devices, PDUs, chillers, HVACs, generators, branch circuits, is the role Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) tools. Sev Onyshkevych of Field View Solutions writes about the common challenges in data center management and how DCIM can be used to address them.

Sev Onyshkevych is Chief Marketing Officer of FieldView Solutions, which produces Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) solutions.

Field View

In the past, managing a data center was pretty straightforward.  But due to the inexorable trend of processing more and more data, the management of these facilities grew in complexity. Complicating the situation, operational decisions at the data center now include such factors as power, cooling, rack space and CPU availability. This is in addition to other information gleaned from IT systems, and related to the facility infrastructure components such as UPS devices, PDUs, chillers, HVACs, generators, branch circuits, etc.

In order to gather and make sense of this massive amount of data, and conform it into plausible information suitable for decision making, the industry is turning to Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) tools.  In fact, DCIM tools are quickly becoming the solution of choice to control skyrocketing energy costs for data centers worldwide.  In the report “DCIM: Going Beyond IT”, Gartner analyst David J. Cappuccio states that data center managers cannot control costs unless they have a real-time data center software offering to render an accurate view of facilities and IT components.

DCIM tools go beyond the outdated method of storing information in separate, vendor-proprietary, software silos that offer limited reporting capabilities.  While overseeing all the necessary parts of the data center’s operations may be complex, DCIM is designed to make device and system monitoring easier, flexible and more customizable across a wide range of user requirements.

So how can DCIM tools simplify my operations?

To help address this question, here’s a list of the top five data center issues that DCIM tools address and how they might help almost anyone responsible for the operational integrity of the facility to simplify their jobs.

#5 Energy Efficiency

Data centers are increasingly under attack for their energy consumption and costly operations.  According to a 2011 New York Times-sponsored study by Jonathan G. Koomey, a consulting professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at Stanford University, titled “Growth in Data Center Power Use 2005 to 2010,” United States’ data center power consumption increased by 36 percent over that period. Electricity used in global data centers in 2010 likely accounted for between 1.1 percent and 1.5 percent of total electricity use, respectively. For the United States, that number was between 1.7 and 2.2 percent.

Cutting energy usage will help organizations save significant money, while changing the public perception of data centers being "energy hogs" with a "greener" impression.  To reduce energy consumption, it must first be accurately measured.  The measurement  must start with a baseline view of what energy every part of the data center is actually consuming.  And to be accurate, this view must include all areas such as IT equipment, power distribution infrastructure, and ventilation/cooling infrastructure. This is an often time-consuming and manual data extraction process to which nobody looks forward.

This is where the value of DCIM tools comes into play. DCIM solutions automatically extract current energy usage and accurately display overall trending information.  In many cases after deploying DCIM for monitoring, data center operators – for the first time – receive a holistic view of their entire energy consumption, coupled with a trending pattern to help spotlight areas of concern.

Since many data centers are designed with substantial redundancy to optimize uptime, availability and to handle potential peak loads that have yet to be experienced, there is substantial inefficiency built into the infrastructure.  After implementing DCIM, many data centers are able to reduce their power consumption by 15-25 percent, or more.

#4 Monitoring

No doubt, day-to-day system failures have underscored the need for proactive response to potential data center uptime threats.To help facility managers and IT personnel control these issues, more and more operators are turning to DCIM’s real-time, alarming/alert engine—that offers visibility across all aspects of the data center.

For example, DCIM’s monitoring capabilities provide a high-level view of data center operations while also enabling a drill-down process to focus in on minute details such as temperature fluctuations in hot and cold aisles. In addition, DCIM tools can also monitor generators and their power output.  Just these two areas can provide a very useful, at-a-glance indicator.

Proper monitoring also helps enable an effective call-to-action. In the event of a pending issue, alarms can be sent via e-mail, phone or pager, allowing proactive steps to be taken to correct problems before they become critical. In addition, continuous logging of all alarms and alerts empowers data center operators with a chronological, forensic, review of events to strengthen the infrastructure and improve disaster recovery plans.

#3 Capacity Planning

It’s no secret that many data center managers lack the systems visibility to determine if their facilities are truly running at peak capacity.  Traditionally, operators have left plenty of room for error so uptime isn’t interrupted—a strategy known as "capacity safety gap," or "over-provisioning.”  This strategy wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars of unused space - not to mention wasting power and cooling.  In a day and age of CFOs deferring capital expenditure budgets, many data center managers’ expectations of having additional data center construction have been unfulfilled, leaving about 30 percent of data center managers worried about running out of capacity.

Using a DCIM solution, data center operators can pinpoint where they have unused physical, power and  cooling capacity, allowing these to be planned and optimized, without overloading or exceeding power, space or cooling limitations.  This will allow the data center to be used to its full potential – and stretching the capacity of existing infrastructure can save tens or hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in construction of additional space.

#2 Performance Management

One of the greatest challenges facing data center operators is ensuring that power and cooling is operating at its highest energy efficiency.  One of the best methods to maintain this accuracy is via accessing a real-time data source that provides up-to-the-minute metrics such as Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and Data Center Infrastructure Efficiency (DCiE).

DCIM is a powerful ally when tracking the energy efficiency of almost every data center aspect from individual circuits to HVACs.  Using a DCIM solution, operators can automatically collect all power, cooling and infrastructure data.  This allows them to view both real-time and energy performance trending.  DCIM also provides analytics and views at the server, rack, room, data center facility, regional or global levels.  With this insight, operators can compare rack-to-rack, room-to-room, site-to-site, and total portfolio energy and operational performance as well as identifying the most-inefficient areas.  They can also identify the performance efficiency of almost every component within the power and cooling chain.

#1 Real-Time Reporting
Without a real-time reporting system, operators may find it a challenge to make informed decisions.  Simply put:  Manual readings taken weeks ago on a static report are no longer valid for today’s complex data center operations - where workloads, power consumption and temperatures vary widely throughout the day, and from day to day.

Up-to-the minute information also allows for the optimization of power loads and overall capacity trending.  Additionally, a dashboard view that spans across various monitoring and control systems is a necessity for accurately tracking energy efficiency across single rooms, complete floors, an entire data center  or multiple data centers—domestically and globally. With a browser-based DCIM solution, anyone from the boardroom to the control room to access operational views of the entire data center.

In conclusion, the continuing proliferation of applications, data and platforms such as mobile devices will ensure that data centers will continue to grow.  This, in turn, will strain the data center’s processing power and drain enormous additional amounts of energy from the grid.  As data centers evolve, so too should the tools that manage them.  The antiquated methods of storing vital operational data within individual software “silos” impedes the efforts of data center facility managers and IT managers to optimize their operations properly and avoid potential downtime.  The use of DCIM tools will greatly aid all parties tasked with data center operations and help ensure the continued flow of information.

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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