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DCIM: Alive and kicking?

Nick Ewing

Nick Ewing

Managing director at EfficiencyIT
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What ever happened to data centre infrastructure management (DCIM)? Rewind the clock 10 years and DCIM was touted as the next big thing – a universal panacea for many of the data centre industry’s most pressing challenges.

In fact, Gartner predicted in 2013 that within five years, DCIM would be the latest major technology and vendor opportunity disrupting our industry.

Analysts and commentators claimed it would streamline operational efficiency, help end-users monitor and reduce energy consumption and maximise reliability – all while providing a tangible return on investment (ROI) and the ability to manage large, disaggregated IT portfolios with ease.

Sadly, however, DCIM failed to live up to its earliest expectations, the hype curve flatlined and its breakthrough failed to materialise. While DCIM has proved a raging success for some data centre managers, it has unfortunately failed to meet the expectations of others, and where some found major benefits, others felt it was a wasted investment.

There’s also been some major consolidation and change within the vendor space. For example, last autumn Vertiv, whose Aperture asset management software was once one of the most widely-adopted DCIM products, announced it was discontinuing its Trellis platform. While its rival, Nlyte, was acquired by Carrier, a specialist in cooling equipment.

The changing market dynamics haven’t helped to build confidence in the capabilities of DCIM, and the perception is that leading platforms are disappearing from the market. Add to this news that support for existing Trellis contracts will end in 2023, many data centre stakeholders have been left feeling bewildered. Could it be, in fact, that DCIM has become an overblown luxury that most organisations can’t afford or don’t need? As is always the case, the truth may be a little more nuanced.

Breathing new life into DCIM

Luckily for DCIM fans, recent investments in user experience, data science, machine learning and remote monitoring have begun to breathe new life into DCIM. And while many data centre operators see its key strengths in monitoring and management, DCIM has proved itself invaluable during the pandemic and it will continue to add significant value as hybrid working models persist, especially where accessibility, visibility and continuity remain challenges for our industry’s key workers.

The demand for DCIM’s capabilities certainly hasn’t disappeared. The 2021 Uptime Institute annual data centre survey revealed that 76% of operators felt their latest downtime incident could have been prevented with better management, processes or configuration. We have also seen increased demand for DCIM platforms offering simple installation, intuitive ease of use and real-time data-driven insight among our customers.

End-users’ ESG requirements – especially in the colocation space around environmental impact, sustainability and energy efficiency – have also increased in importance since DCIM first appeared on the scene. A Schneider Electric report with 451 Research revealed 97% of customers globally were demanding contractual commitments to sustainability.

Monitoring, measurement, and management software is of course critical to an organisation’s sustainability efforts. However, the grand expectations that DCIM alone would spearhead major efforts throughout the industry to improve energy efficiency and sustainability have yet to be realised.

As with many technologies, implementation remains critical, but sadly this has often been DCIM’s Achilles’ heel. For a DCIM implementation to be successful it is necessary for vendors and end-users to:

  • Take the time to thoroughly understand the business case
  • Help the customer deploy the software
  • Ensure all assets are monitored correctly
  • Benchmark the DCIM solution’s progress.

Regardless of how important successful implementation may be, it is often beyond the reach of many legacy operators, who continue to struggle with finding the necessary talent due to the widening industry skills gap.

There’s also the procurement cycle to address, which requires multiple stakeholders. The responsibility for managing data centre infrastructure, even those typically addressed via DCIM tools, sits between IT, facilities, and M&E departments – often with different objectives and chains of command.

Finding the right person to sign-off on a new DCIM project, or even identifying the right group of people to first agree to its use, was once a challenge. Luckily the business case is changing, and while the first versions of DCIM required considerable time and effort in terms of customisation, the newer, or next-generation versions, can simplify the process significantly, bringing siloed teams together.

The dawn of a new DCIM era?

DCIM may have failed to live up to the initial industry hype, but any reports of its demise are exaggerated, and with the advent of DCIM 3.0, things are quickly changing.

The need, however, remains for software tools to efficiently manage the various functions of a data centre, no matter the type. And the capabilities of those versions deployed over the cloud allow businesses of all sizes to identify what their assets are, where they’re located, and how well they are performing. They can also proactively identify any status or security issues that need to be addressed.

Further, any company that subscribes to ISO 27001, the global standard for IT security, must be able to track its assets and the people who have access and control to those assets. As such, cloud-based DCIM deployments can offer major benefits and allow distributed assets to be monitored and managed at relatively low cost.

Another critical concern is minimising downtime. Here, a vendor-agnostic DCIM platform can provide insights into all key power paths, especially if they comprise equipment from multiple manufacturers. The ability to track dependencies, to minimise potential risks to a mission-critical environment from a single piece of equipment, such as a Power Distribution Unit (PDU), Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) or a cooling system, can be identified and potential outages mitigated.

It also remains essential for DCIM software to interact with legacy systems, facilities management suites, IT and network management software. This is best achieved through use of application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow high-level information exchanges between disparate tools. 

Some analysts have opined that a particular weakness of Vertiv’s soon-to-be-discontinued Trellis platform was its dependence on Oracle Fusion application development tools, which tended to limit its attractiveness to customers outside of Oracle’s environment. The fact remains, however, that in a world full of distributed data centres, interoperability is essential for all management tools.

Expensive luxury or must-have management solution?

Measuring return on investment (ROI) is the key to establishing whether DCIM is a good fit for your organisation. Some may say it’s still an expensive overhead and it’s difficult to quantify the benefits when you utilise hardware assets from multiple manufacturers, but vendor-agnostic monitoring capabilities can quickly address that barrier.

Calculating ROI could involve quantifying the reduction in downtime since a software platform was adopted. There is also the reduction in reputational damage and associated costs that may have impacted your business. Another alternative could be to calculate the reduction in power consumption, improved cooling efficiency and thereby reduced PUE.

At EfficiencyIT we’ve always championed DCIM, regardless of the industry hype. For us, it has never been a miracle cure for the industry’s management challenges, and we see it as a valuable tool, which requires careful customer consultation and implementation if end-users are to gain the best results.

With new investments being made all the time into data science and machine learning capabilities, we’re confident that finding an ROI is far simpler than end-users realise.

However, the most immediate and obvious benefit is DCIM’s ability to provide real-time visibility, which is pivotal as we transition towards a greener, more sustainable, and more digitally dependent future.

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