Today, you can find excellent open source software solutions for virtually every need under the sun – and data center infrastructure management, or DCIM, is no exception. In fact, there are so many production-ready open source DCIM tools available that it can be challenging to decide which one is best for you.
To provide guidance, this article lists the most popular open source DCIMs and compares their pros and cons.
What Is DCIM?
Before looking at open source DCIM solutions, let's define DCIM tools and explain what they do.
A data center infrastructure management, or DCIM, tool is software that helps businesses monitor and manage the equipment within their data center.
DCIM tools allow you to track the various hardware assets that exist within your data center, including not just servers but also HVAC equipment, power supplies, and other components that help keep your data center operational. In addition, DCIM software can map relationships between components so you know how the failure of one piece of equipment will impact others, for example. DCIM tools also help with data center capacity planning and measurement by providing insight into how much of your total infrastructure capacity is being actively consumed.
In all of these ways, DCIM software makes data center management more efficient and scalable.
Open Source vs. Closed Source DCIM Tools
You can find both open source and closed source DCIM solutions. The differences between each category of DCIM tool reflect the differences between open source and closed source software in general. Open source DCIM tools offer the advantage of being free of cost in most cases, and they pose a minimum risk of locking you into a particular vendor's software ecosystem. On the other hand, open source tools can be harder to deploy and maintain, especially because you can't turn to a vendor for support.
So, whether to use an open source DCIM solution or opt for a closed source one depends on factors like how capable your staff is of managing the tool on its own and how long you can wait to get the solution up and running.
Open Source DCIM Options for Your Data Center
If you decide that open source DCIM tools are right for you, there are several excellent options to consider. Here is a list of some of the most popular open source DCIM tools:
OpenDCIM is arguably the most feature-rich and comprehensive open source DCIM tool available today. In addition to asset management and inventory tracking features, openDCIM provides such functionality as the ability to simulate failures and archive information about assets you've disposed of.
OpenDCIM provides a web interface, and you can deploy it on any server with a LAMP stack (meaning one running Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP).
Alongside openDCIM, RackTables is another feature-rich open source DCIM solution whose capabilities extend beyond simple asset tracking. You can create, label, and manage data center equipment within a virtual inventory for almost any type of asset that you'd find in a modern data center. RackTables also provides a granular system for controlling users and access rights, making it an attractive solution if you have multiple people in your organization and need to make certain information available only to certain users.
At the end of the day, RackTables works in some senses more like a documentation system than a conventional DCIM tool. But you might see that as an advantage if documenting your data center assets in a granular, context-rich way is you main goal.
If you're looking for a simpler open source DCIM solution, Rackmonkey might be up your alley. Rackmonkey doesn't offer as many features as the tools described above. It's designed mainly for labeling and managing IT equipment within server racks.
Rackmonkey may not be ideal if you need to manage all of the equipment in a large, complex data center. But if you have just a handful of servers and want a straightforward way to keep track of them, Rackmonkey might fit your bill.
Racksmith is another relatively basic open source DCIM tool. It's less popular than the solutions described above, and it's not clear whether it remains actively developed. But it does aim to provide comprehensive functionality for tracking data center assets of all kinds, so it's worth checking out if the alternative open source DCIM offerings on our list don't meet your requirements.
We saved Foreman for the end of our list because Foreman is not a classic DCIM tool: It's a server lifecycle management tool. It lets you provision, configure, and monitor physical and virtual servers located in a data center or in a cloud.
Thus, Foreman probably isn't the tool for you if your goal is to manage data center infrastructure components of all types within your own data center. But if you need to manage just servers, Foreman is a handy solution, especially if your infrastructure footprint spans multiple data centers or clouds.
Open source DCIM tools aren't right for everyone, but they do offer a free way of tracking and managing the assets inside your data center. If you don't mind the extra effort that using open source DCIM solutions requires, an open source alternative to traditional, closed source DCIM software is well worth exploring.