In the early days of cloud computing, servers were placed in large centralised data centres – but today, the digital ecosystem has changed. Hybrid IT systems leveraging hyperscale facilities, smaller regional data centres and edge computing systems have fast become the vehicle for digital transformation, meaning the issues facing data centre operators have changed with them.
Where once resilience was the main concern, now the issues of security and sustainability are of equal importance. It is only natural, therefore, that in an industry so dependent on innovation, change is a constant occurrence. As such, the software tools that help data centre owners to manage their operations have had to adapt in order to reflect these new realities.
Traditionally, the software tools that monitored IT assets on a network were typically hosted on premises. However, in today’s hybrid world, where operators typically manage a portfolio of facilities, there are new problems that require greater use of data analytics, machine learning and software designed for anywhere visibility.
For example, the further to the edge of the network a data centre is to be found, the less likely it is that technical maintenance personnel will be based permanently on-site. The software systems managing such distributed infrastructure have, therefore, had to evolve, and cloud computing has enabled DCIM to be redesigned to offer end-users more control, greater automation and increased protection from downtime.
For the industry itself, resilience remains a key priority, and protecting data centres against both human error and unwanted intrusion is of mounting concern. In 2013, a survey from Allianz detailing the issues most concerning data centre management placed cybersecurity as 15th in order of priority. By 2020 it had risen to be the number one concern. Emerging threats such as ransomware attacks increase the demand for management tools capable of repelling them, meaning DCIM has fast evolved to include cybersecurity features.
Sustainability too is rapidly becoming a key concern of senior decision makers, and according to a report in the Harvard Business Review, 99% of C-level professionals agree that sustainability issues are important to the future success of their business. Further, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit reports that 49% of the world’s annual GDP is now covered by nations, regions and cities that are legislating for net zero emissions. Whether for reasons of government legislation or corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability is an issue that has become a key part of decision making.
The evolution of DCIM
To address the challenges in today’s digital world, DCIM software platforms have evolved to include five new attributes. Firstly, they exploit cloud technologies for scalability. Many data centres at the edge, for example, lack permanent IT personnel on-site. Such facilities must be monitored remotely, using IoT-enabled assets to communicate via the cloud. Here, cloud-based DCIM becomes essential to gain a real-time picture of IT assets in distributed locations and maintain uptime.
Secondly, they must connect to a data lake in order to use artificial intelligence (AI) and deliver in-depth insights. If properly assembled and categorised, the sheer volume of information that can be collected from a data centre is a valuable resource, and one that can be mined using machine learning. This capability allows users to gain deeper insights into how individual components are functioning and offers a more granular view of how a data centre, or group of data centres, operate.
Thirdly, they use mobile and web technologies, and integrate with third party platforms via APIs. No single tool can manage every task so integration with other platforms is key, be they legacy systems, or new applications. Being able to communicate seamlessly with other applications across the ecosystem helps users retain control of all mission-critical sites and future-proof their systems.
Fourthly, they optimise user experience for simplicity in managing distributed IT. The ability to provide clear and easily accessible information is crucial to gain the most benefit from DCIM software.
Fifth and finally, they serve as a compliance tool to identify and eliminate risk. With increasing attention being paid to data centre resilience, operators must prove that their organisations meet modern guidelines and regulations. The data and insights that can be obtained from modern DCIM software provides verification that the highest standards of compliance are being met.
In many respects, new DCIM tools enable greater resilience by first identifying all devices on an organisation’s network. As recently as 2017, a survey by ForeScout found that 82% of companies were unable to identify all devices connected to their network. Frankly, if businesses are unaware of what items are connected, they cannot gauge their vulnerability to malfunction or security breaches.
Once all devices have been identified in an inventory, the insights gleaned from a data lake and AI tools can drive remedial actions. This might include finding the age of the batteries within uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), or determining how their operating lives could be affected by environmental issues such as excessive heat. Such insights allow operators to plan for maintenance, or schedule a replacement before malfunction occurs, enabling greater protection from failures.
Identifying all devices is also an essential first step in securing a data centre against attack. Schneider Electric estimates that 70% of devices that exhibit one vulnerability, such as outdated firmware, also have several other weaknesses, such as not using secure communications protocols (eg HTTPS), or having unguarded SNMP access. Further, Gartner predicts that by 2022, 70% of organisations that do not have a firmware upgrade plan in place will be breached due to a firmware vulnerability. Once such vulnerabilities are detected, they can be corrected.
Finally, integrating with other applications via APIs allows you to partner with other service organisations and use their own software to extend the reach of maintenance personnel. Thereby protecting remote sites from downtime.
The move to hybrid and distributed IT environments makes the calculation of environmental impact all the more difficult. However, a next-gen DCIM tool can help reduce the complexity by using the data gathered and analysed to deliver insights into the overall energy consumption.
Further, it can offer a detailed analysis of the carbon footprint of multiple small sites, meaning that managing energy demands at the edge becomes more simplified, allowing operators to plan for initiatives that reduce carbon emissions and deliver more sustainable data centres.
As we look forward, DCIM, AI and real-time analytics will play an important role in addressing sustainability, resilience and security issues. Especially at the edge.