BMS vs DCIM: where do you draw the line?

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Last week I posted a question in some LinkedIn data centre groups: “BMS vs DCIM: where do you draw the line?”.  I wanted to get the user perspective on these systems, how they are used, who is responsible for them and what their relative values are.  Contributions came in from vendors and consultants as well as end users (IT and facilities managers).  Some were open to all and others came in privately.  Opinions varied but there were threads which I pulled together.

BMS has been around for a long time and, unsurprisingly, there was more consensus on what it is and what is useful for.  BMS is about building control and automation so it is concerned with chillers, HVAC, lighting and so on.  Some of the buildings with a BMS will be data centres but most data centres are not standalone, single purpose buildings – they are located within office buildings.  When it comes to power, BMS is concerned with the primary infrastructure, not the rack and ICT device level.  BMS is the domain of Facilities.

In contrast, the sense is that DCIM (data centre infrastructure management) is new and is considered more the domain of IT, getting down to the rack power strip and individual ICT asset level, perhaps even the application.  DCIM provides monitoring and alerting but very limited automations (in contrast to BMS).  This is because the IT department, in general, does not want a system changing things automatically in its environment: DCIM is there to provide actionable information but it is the people who review that information, make decisions about what needs to be done and take the necessary actions.  Vendors and consultants tend to talk about having DCIM take over as an automation engine for optimising server utilisation but it seems very few IT managers are prepared to trust DCIM to do that today.  DCIM products tend to have better user interfaces and be more flexible in application whereas BMS is for the core M&E infrastructure.  It was also felt that BMS are typically expensive and time consuming to implement and configure but reliable once in operation (and seldom tinkered with after being installed).

There was a point of contrast between corporates and colos in regard to DCIM particularly.  Colos are interested in branch circuit monitoring but do not tend to be interested in outlet level power consumption and server utilisation, seeing that as their customers’ domains.  However, some are starting to see these kinds of monitoring capabilities as potential value-adds which could increase customer stickiness.  On the other hand, corporate users are much more interested in DCIM for rack and ICT device data as they seek to save money through increasing operating efficiencies by identifying stranded power capacity.  Understanding hot spots and actual power consumption can enable dramatic savings and improvements to be made, including putting off the most expensive decision of all which is the need to build a new facility.

The general conclusion was that BMS and DCIM are complementary, that businesses with data centres are looking for tools to help them manage their operations better because doing so carries significant financial benefits.  But penetration of DCIM solutions is still low.  In practice, most implementations are starting from the perspective of rack level power monitoring, as well as temperature and humidity.  There is very little interaction with IT devices regarding automations associated with CPU utilisation and load balancing.

Finally, buyers find the range of DCIM products, functions and prices confusing and often difficult to compare.  The vendors have work to do but the demand is there for capable, easy-to-use DCIM products that are commercially attractive.  That is why we develop InSite.

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