Empowered DCIM Manages More than just Power

There seems to be as many definitions of exactly what DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) is – or promises to be – as there are DCIM solutions on the market.  Most agree that DCIM is a suite of tools and processes that allows data center IT and facilities infrastructure to be centrally managed as one big system, reducing management workload and complexity, and improving operational efficiency and uptime.

Architecturally, DCIM starts with a central, authoritative database that maps out the entire data center ecosystem and its interdependencies, from the logical application level down to the physical facilities level – information that may have previously been held in Excel and Visio silos.  This includes where assets like server iron is racked, the applications it hosts, how it’s connected to the network, how it’s managed (e.g. service processor, console) and who’s authorized to do so, and where it sits in the power chain.

Built around this database is a central management dashboard with tools for IT and facilities personnel, such as availability and performance monitoring (application, silicon, environmental), visualization and capacity modeling, and reporting and analytics (e.g. calculating TCO per-rack or per-asset).  Crucially, DCIM also incorporates change management tools to help ensure the database doesn’t get out of sync.

Right now, DCIM is almost entirely focused on asset management and low-hanging fruit returns of improving PUE – and the big power vendors have largely been first to market in offering DCIM solutions locked to power infrastructure from their stable.  This may be why, despite a lot of hype about DCIM becoming mainstream (60% penetration by 2014 says Gartner), take up is yet to boom.  Penetration is still in the single digits and much of that is confined to the top few percent of data centers, i.e. the key accounts for power vendors, whose power efficiency savings can more easily justify the price tag and initial effort of migrating to DCIM.

However it’s still early days and DCIM is evolving.  It’s particularly encouraging to see DCIM vendors such as nlyte and Cormant’s CableSolve offering an open web services API and open database schema.  This move towards an open DCIM framework empowers data center managers to leverage existing infrastructure (including legacy and multi-vendor), processes and tools (including tools for infrastructure configuration automation that are evolving in parallel with DCIM).

We’re also starting to see fledgling open source projects like openDCIM.  These projects in parallel with initiatives like Facebook’s Open Compute project indicate the data center, one of the last and greatest bastions of the bespoke and the proprietary in computing, is headed towards a user-empowered, open and modular future.