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Squaring the DCIM Circle

How difficult can it be? You’ve read the literature, you’ve trialled the product at a trade show or exhibition and a salesman has come round and shown you all the functionality you’ll ever need for a bargain price, and, like, wow! Look at those fancy graphics! All you need do is sign!

Ahh…if it was only that easy.

The first problem you have with many of the DCIM vendors, is that they tend to want you to buy the whole suite of functionality. This represents an exorbitant layout of budget for features that you may never use, or use to such a small extent that you may not realise any specific benefit. Some products can’t be split out, and some others come modularised so the more you want, the more you pay. Other vendors take a more pragmatic approach – provide you with the basic functionality, with plenty of added value trimmings and price it low so that you can realise maximum benefit for minimum cost. Let’s face it, the jury is still out as to whether DCIM really can justify a measurable return on investment that would even begin to excite CFOs, so if you’re dipping your toe in the water, the lower the cost, the better!

The second problem with DCIM is that your data centre may have been designed to support an engineer with a clipboard, not an ip-enabled monitoring and management subsystem that can provide real-time metrics from within systems, plant and equipment. In this case, your choices are fairly limited. You can (and should) at the very least have some basic power metering put into place which are addressable by the DCIM. The next area of focus would be your environmental system (EMS). Next would be the cabinets and IT equipment themselves. Finally, the next basic ingredient in the mix would be the plant and mechanical equipment. All this is achievable retrospectively, but it may come with a high cost in both money terms and in-flight changes to the facility that could result in planned shutdowns. Do your homework before you buy the product – not after!

I guess you’re asking if DCIM’s worth it? 

Well, the University of Hertfordshire Data Centres that I managed for seven years were only truly controllable once I understood how they performed all year round, by month and day and even down to as low as 30 minutes timeframes. The profiles I recorded showed up any anomalies that might have resulted in an unplanned data centre outage or significant loss of energy efficiency. One particular time, I spotted that a vital piece of control equipment had not been switched back on after a service, causing all of the CRAHs to work at 100% all of the time, burning pound notes along the way. Pre-DCIM, this would not have been obvious except to the eagle-eyed. Quite apart from the day-to-day control and management benefits, I also undertook some innovative work to calculate the cost drivers within the data centres. You can see the project outcomes in my case study presented at Data Centre World on Thursday 12 March, 2015.

I guess the easiest way of determining how valuable any system is, is to imagine life without it. In the case of my DCIM – I would never have gone back to working without it and if I find myself ever managing data centres again, it will be the first thing on my shopping list!

About Stephen Bowes-Phipps

Over 20 years of operational systems management experience, managing data centres since 1996. In 2007, joined the University of Hertfordshire, becoming their data centres manager and have been working to assist in embedding green ICT in UK HE/FE institutions ever since. In 2010, the University of Hertfordshire became the first to comply with the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres, and has won several awards for their green data centre. Steve has presented at many conferences around the world on best practices in green ICT and is a member of the Data Centre Alliance Energy Efficiency group and the Best Practices Committee of the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres.

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