Change is constant, especially in modern data centers. Therefore, it’s crucial to implement management tools that are adaptable.
Having the ability to integrate is the key to future-proofing data center infrastructure management. Unlike specialized solutions that are static and can’t communicate with each other, integration provides the required flexibility to capitalize on opportunities, launch new services, and stay ahead of the competition.
A data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solution that allows for smart integrations between business-critical systems can provide a transparent view of the entire infrastructure and maintain data in one place, therefore eliminating silos and improving data quality.
Let’s take a look at common use cases where integrations allow data center managers to create a best of breed solution specific to their site.
Optimizing the sales cycle
Data centers are a business and their offerings, whether to external clients or to internal end-users, are services.
Today, self-service portals enable colocation customers to select and order various network connections between cages to Internet service providers and cloud services through CRM platforms such as Salesforce, for example. As these types of connects often require physical patching, rather than just increasing capacity of an existing connect, execution on the floor can be a tedious task. Planning for routing across a large data center only increases complexity.
Enterprises typically use similar methods to allow their internal users to order products or ICT services.
In most cases, there is a disconnect between customer or end-user and planning tools. As data needs to be transferred from one system to the other, processes are significantly delayed. Manual transfers are not only slow and tedious, they’re also error-prone.
Integration can speed up this process. As a starting point, your sales portal and planning tools can be linked to process and deliver orders more efficiently. This will give sales teams greater access to capacity information for their daily activities and access to processes that are needed to implement infrastructure component requests.
To speed up the planning phase and eliminate the typical process of completing multiple onsite checks, the ideal DCIM solution should provide network auto-routing functions to enable planning to be completely outsourced to IT logic including all validation, capacity threshold monitoring, and plausibility checks. Ticketing and workflow functions implemented within the Salesforce platform can also streamline the rollout of workorders to engineers on site and provide greater insight into technical details of the connects to all clients via the portal. While Salesforce maintains a master data list for all customer and contract information, technical details can be managed by the DCIM solution.
Background data synchronization is also crucial to ensure all relevant information is available and consistent within each system. As a result of this integration, network connectivity can be provided to colocation customers faster and more efficiently, therefore reducing costs and improving customer satisfaction. Workflow and business processes will also improve by streamlining customer orders for network services.
Automated asset tracking and commissioning
Efficiently tracking and managing data center assets is business-critical. When planning the commissioning of a new server, for example, it’s important to know exactly when equipment reaches your holding storage or staging area. Integrating asset tracking technology with your DCIM solution can automate and optimize this process.
As the RF tracking system forwards detection events to your DCIM solution, location change information will automatically trigger events within your workflow, significantly reducing time spent manually updating location changes and improving accuracy. Integration makes it possible to automate installation procedures and send out notifications to relevant teams. The same applies when the tracking system identifies the equipment entering the white space; documentation is automatically updated to reflect the pending install.
Teams can also be notified when a work step has been completed, therefore eliminating any delays in communication between different teams performing subtasks of the overall work order. Similarly, decommission workflows can be automatically initiated, such as creating corresponding lifecycle log entries from location change events when assets leave a rack or white space area.
This type of integration has many benefits. After all, implementing even the smallest shortcut for processes results in significant cost savings over the span of a year. Adding automation into the processing of commission and decommission work steps reduces the time it takes for planning and operations staff to complete manual, tedious tasks – allowing them to focus on other value-added projects. It also greatly improves site documentation and data quality, which is crucial for success.
Enhanced service management
Service management requires a massive amount of information to function properly. Often, data is copied into a service management tool and the data model is extended to have the system function as a stand-alone solution. While that may seem like the path of least resistance, it’s much less efficient to put all of your infrastructure information into a service management tool than it is to integrate it with an infrastructure management tool such as a DCIM solution. Integration allows the necessary information to be maintained in both systems.
Combining these systems ensures that there are no data model deviations from the standard set. This type of integration is, for the most part, on-demand and real-time with some supporting data synchronization in the background to make sure that foreign keys are known or identical objects in both platforms use the name identifier/name. For a smooth integration, both systems must have open APIs.
Ticket enrichment is one of the most widely implemented use cases, which usually involves a unidirectional data feed from infrastructure tools. Information from one system is prepared for consumption in another system. This could be the location of an asset or its relationships and dependencies with other equipment or services, which is not obvious within the ITSM tool. Adding a bidirectional sync mechanism will allow operators on “both sides” to see the status and progress of a ticket without the need to log into the other product. This also informs infrastructure planners about tickets relating to specific equipment, pending changes, and process progress.
Finally, creating product and service catalogs for end-users is necessary for advanced request automation. This eliminates common transmission issues such having typos in asset names and reduces the need to request information from one platform to another through unreliable methods such as email. Product and service catalogs ensure that requests always relate to a clearly identified asset, and only the services and activities that can be executed in a timely manner with be offered.
Best practices for a successful integration strategy
Once you have decided to move forward with an integration strategy for data center infrastructure management, a plan should be established beforehand to ensure a successful implementation and to avoid unnecessary costs and complexity. The first step is to find the right integration tool for your specific needs.
In order for these integrations to work, an open design is necessary. All new data and functions must be available to exchange data with existing tools. Keep this in mind when searching for an integration tool, as most require programming. This should be avoided at all costs, as it will lock you into a solution that can’t be easily changed - defeating the purpose of your integration strategy.
The next step is to assess the current situation and identify any gaps or deficiencies in your architecture portfolio. With a complete inventory of the physical and virtual assets and resources, it will be easier to define the sequence for your change over. It’s best to start with the integration with the systems that will bring the highest value in the shortest amount of time. Then, move on to the more complicated systems.
The point of integration is to enable the different tools needed to manage your data center to communicate and share data. It goes without saying, then, that the quality of this data is a critical success factor. Data needs to be validated and it needs to be reliable.
If we think of data center infrastructure management as a puzzle, managers must make all the pieces fit together. Integration keeps these pieces connected and enables them to work. It’s the glue that holds the data center together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
With over 20 years of industry experience as a system analyst, Oliver Lindner oversees FNT Software’s business line data center infrastructure management.