Methode, NORLINX Team on DCIM Smart Rack

Methode has brought its expertise across a range of industries to build what it believes is the "Cadillac" or racks. A partnership with Norlinx and out-of-the-box functionality between the hardware and software mean a rack that does more than just hold up servers.

Jason Verge

October 3, 2013

5 Min Read
Methode, NORLINX Team on DCIM Smart Rack



At the Data Center World conference this week, Methode introduced a "smart rack" with integrated DCIM capabilities. (Photo: Colleen Miller)

Methode Data Center Technologies this week announced a partnership with Norlinx, combining Methode’s hardware expertise with Norlinx’s software. The result is what the company calls a turnkey, integrated DCIM (data center infrastructure management) solution. In essence it is a smart rack with full asset and environmental monitoring, along with power management.

The companies were on-hand at Data Center World showing their all-in-one rack solution. It’s an appliance approach to DCIM, with everything you need fully integrated and built into the rack.

"This strategic partnership between Methode and Norlinx provides our customers with a comprehensive DCIM solution for improved monitoring, reporting and control," said Tim Hazzard, president of Methode Electronics Data Solutions Group. "With this unique integration of hardware and software, we offer streamlined efficiencies and capabilities, while reducing the total cost of ownership."

The company wants to make it like buying a refrigerator. “This is the Cadillac of racks – it can hold whatever you want it to and do full DCIM,” said Hazzard. All the pieces such as RFIDs to collect the data are in the cabinet, along with PDUs and cable management. NORLINX provides the analytics to take that data and do something with it."

History of Automotive

Methode Electronics would know what the Cadillac of racks would look like. The company's solid-state touch sensitive switches are used in many of today’s appliances and automobiles. That touchscreen in the console that’s in charge of all of the “infotainment” in those fancy Ford models? That’s Methode. It builds user interface consoles for new kitchen products, including for many of the world’s largest white goods OEMs. If you’ve noticed those fancy beverage selection interfaces at your favorite restaurant - like that touch screen that lets you pick a variety of options? - there’s a good chance Methode is behind that, too. The company's global manufacturing capabilities not only allow it to "productize" this new data center cabinet, but also to cut out the middle man and directly manufacture it at an attractive price point.

The front of the data center cabinet also has a touchscreen, which the company has brought in from its experience in the automotive industry with companies like Ford.  There’s also a keyboard tray and keyboard to allow for easy KVM interaction without entering the cabinet.

RFID asset tracking knows the instant a server enters or leaves, with RFID asset tracking mounted in side rails. Humidity sensors mounted at the top of the rack provides up to the second readings. Airflow sensors mounted at both the front and rear of the cabinet allows for true airflow analysis. There are also six temperature read points front and back at top, middle and bottom of the rack.

In terms of power management, there is individual control of each port of the PDU and breaker management. It provides consolidated power usage reporting for the PDU as well as at the port level. All of these hardware pieces inside the rack interact tightly with DCIM software suite provided by NORLINX. The software and hardware communicate out of the box.

"Built into the rack is the ability to manage, control, to know what’s going on," said Hazzard. "It’s a good insurance policy. Ninety percent of data center floor mistakes are not malicious."

Lost in the Shuffle

Hazzard refers to several instances where equipment is misplaced or lost on the data center floor, or when servers no longer in practical use continue to suck up power for no reason when they’re lost in the general data center shuffle.

A single IP address Cabinet Control Module (CCM) serves as the collection point for environmental monitoring, asset tracking, electronic lock controls, cabinet touch console and Power Distribution Unit, or PDU, management. Data is delivered from the CCM to Norlinx's analytics software in one of three applications - GSM Rack, GSM Power and GSM air and space.

“This shows everything that’s happening on a granular level: the temperature, humidity, the airflow, it’s all monitored,” said Hazzard. What started as an RFID project evolved into deep asset tracking within the cabinet. “We’re making it easier to run predictively vs. reactively,” said Hazzard. “Having this data on a granular level takes away troubleshooting time in the long run. The DCIM piece of it coalesces info, getting data and rolls it up in one central repository.”  It sends out auto alerts, such as when a lock is opened or a server leaves.

Issues  Going Forward

It’s hard to position what Methode is selling here because the data center industry is an industry of habit. The company started marketing a micro-container but it didn’t catch on. The biggest problem that Hazzard sees is people who have chosen to standardize. By creating an all-in-one rack solution, it’s asking many users to abandon familiar processes and standards. It is competing against "dumb"racks in the data center that have long been in place.  The company has built in PDUs, but Hazzard says some insist on using the PDUs they’ve always used.

“There’s been nothing new in PDUs in a long time,” said Hazzard, “but that’s still a request.” The company is competing against routine and standards. So although it has sought  to build the ultimate cabinet, it faces an uphill battle convincing people to make the additional investment.

That's why Methode is very open to letting companies trial the equipment. It will lend out one of these smart cabinets to a lab so they can test and see these advantages for a while before deciding to purchase.

Methode has a lot of experience in other industries, and it has collected all the pieces here into one form factor. The appliance-based approach to cabinets and DCIM means the company has chosen to focus on new builds, where companies are more open to trying new things. Hazzard believes it’s an affordable form factor, coming in around $6,700. Considering these racks can contain millions of dollars of equipment, Hazzard says this should be seen as a small investment in order to gain more control of what’s going on in the data center.

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