Six Honest Serving Men

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I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

When Rudyard Kipling penned these words in 1902 data centres had not been invented but whenever someone says “DCIM” to me, these words spring to mind.  Why?  (sorry, Rudyard)  Because any conversation about DCIM has to be built around these simple questions: What, Why, When, How, Where, Who.  The #1 mistake in talking about DCIM is to assume that the other person means the same as you do by the term.  For the salesperson, assuming the customer knows what you mean by DCIM and not listening to understand real customer needs is arrogant and careless.  Worse still is assuming and telling them they will be better off “deploying DCIM”.  Whilst it may be the case, tread carefully because DCIM has become a generic term which requires careful handling to avoid confusion all round.

What do you want to do / What is DCIM?

In our experience, the answer to this falls broadly into 2 categories: asset registers and monitoring.  Because InSite’s strength is monitoring – real-time, vendor independent, web-based – this is a key question for us.  So, if you are looking for an asset database and register then we can point you to one or two specialists who can help.  If you are looking for anything to do with monitoring, reporting, dashboarding and alerting then you have come to the right place!  Relevant monitoring points cover the complete physical infrastructure, ICT and facilities: power path, environment, network, compute.

Why do you want a new software tool / Why do you want DCIM?

Of course we all like shiny, new things but that is not a good enough reason, sadly, for buying some great software for your business.  In most organisations some justification is required before issuing a PO.  For some DCIM products, that can be a big deal because the price tags are so high that board-level approval is needed but it does not have to be like that.  It is all a question of balance:  the business imperatives – increasing sales, reducing costs, enabling new markets – which you balance against the risks of doing nothing or taking on too much as you try to boil the ocean.  Your data centre is a critical facility for your business, whether you are a corporate or a colo, a few racks in a room or thousands of racks in a hangar.  It represents significant capital investment, has high running costs (principally power) and, most importantly, is the digital foundation on which your business depends.  It is a valuable asset which is worth investing in to optimise for the benefit of the business but the investment should be proportionate and the RoI should be seen in months.

When do you want to act / When is DCIM needed?

The right time is now because if you operate a data centre and you do not have the appropriate instrumentation in place to run it as efficiently as possible then you are wasting money and risking uptime.  DCIM is not a universal panacea for fixing all inefficiencies in a data centre but it can be very helpful and it can be deployed quickly and cost-effectively if you make the right choices.  Automating the metering and monitoring of your data centre infrastructure is a must-have today.

How do you specify / choose / deploy DCIM?

By answering What, Why and When you have done much of the work behind specifying what you actually need.  Most data centre managers have some tools at their disposal already, whether it be a simple spreadsheet of assets, a BMS for the cooling and lighting, meters on the PDU panels, environmental system, power strip software and so on.  It might be just one of these, probably the BMS, or it might be all.  The likelihood, though, is that the data centre infrastructure cannot be monitored through one User Interface and that is inconvenient and inefficient.  So, a common aim is to consolidate the access to the toolset to a single front-end.

Choosing the best tool for you will inevitably involve subjective as well as objective assessment.  You will have technical requirements dictated by the nature of the infrastructure you have,  the scale of your operation, the outputs you want to get and so on.  Any creditable product will be able to cope with the mix of protocols your equipment speaks (SNMP, Modbus, Bacnet, etc), be capable of monitoring 000s of devices from a single instance and have a robust, responsive database and reporting engine.  However, usability is critical.  We believe strongly that you cannot overestimate the value of look-and-feel – if you find the UI hard to navigate, the screen layouts unattractive, the dashboards difficult to configure, the reports and graphs too busy and unclear then you are not going to use the tool which renders it valueless.

Deploying a DCIM tool for monitoring should be straightforward especially if you have chosen a tool which integrates with the infrastructure you already have and enables you to leverage greater value from it.  You can mitigate this by running a trial up front – test the tool you like in your own environment with some of your own meters and sensors, for example.  If getting a trial system working proves difficult or the vendor insists on controlling the process then think twice before buying.  Metering and monitoring your data centre infrastructure is about giving you insight to manage it better and about de-risking your business.  Therefore, deploying such a tool should not expose you to unnecessary risk and should not keep you or your board awake!

Where do you deploy / use DCIM?

Choosing a server-based product with a browser-based UI gives you flexibility.  From the perspective of the software itself, this can reside on a dedicated or virtual server either within your own data centre environment or in the cloud.  Where the devices to be monitored are located depends on what is the best architecture for your environment.  So, a single instance of software could be monitoring devices located physically in multiple sites because they are all IP-addressable and on a network.  On the other hand, it may be appropriate for network or resilience reasons to deploy more than one instance of the monitoring software.  Choosing a web-based system means that you can use it wherever you have access to the internet and via desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile.  Deploy it where you need to, use it from wherever you are.

Who uses DCIM?

At a corporate level, any organisation which has data centres or server rooms or large ICT labs should consider using DCIM and, in particular, monitoring.  At a human level, a good DCIM tool should be usable by ICT, Facilities and business executives alike.  Whilst there may be a lot of sophistication in the data capturing aspects of monitoring of a particular system and in how it manages that data in its database, this tends to be hidden behind the UI.  The real value to you manifests itself in the system’s ease of use, interactivity, outputs and decisions it enables.  This is what you are buying.  You may be a facilities or IT manager who understands and needs to see the details, down to the component level within your data centre.  You may be a business manager who needs to understand trends and risks and be able to assess investments.  You may be a colo customer who is glad to have access to a service portal which gives you visibility of the services you are paying for, power billing details and information on demand rather than when it suits your supplier to provide it.

What, Why, When, How, Where and Who

So, Kipling’s Six Honest Serving Men certainly have their place in the modern data centre.  We use them whenever we talk DCIM because they help us to focus on what really matters: what our customers need because it is your needs, not our nice-to-haves, which count when you specify and choose the most appropriate solution.

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