What planet are DCIM vendors on?

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NASA’s “Curiosity” rover has discovered water on Mars – an amazing feat, all things considered.  Something familiar discovered in completely alien surroundings, hostile to life yet holding hope for the future. Somehow this reminded me of data centres and conversations with  managers who are struggling to find viable solutions to problems they believe DCIM should address.  They feel a bit like “Curiosity” but without the time and budget available to them!

Solving their problem here on Earth should not be so hard as is often made out.  Just in the last couple of weeks I have met data centre managers responsible for facilities ranging in size from 25 to 2000 racks, colocation and corporate.  Their needs typically centred around real-time metering and monitoring or power and environmentals, alerting based on thresholds, dashboarding for easy visualization and reporting for management. In some cases an asset database was required, too, but not all because often the drive behind the search for a solution comes from facilities not IT.  Requirements may vary but at the heart of them all was a desire for a tool that was easy to use, straightforward to implement and at a price that was justifiable to senior management and budget holders.  Nothing very esoteric about their needs.

So far so simple but now the planets separate – data centre managers remaining on Earth whilst DCIM vendors head off into Space!  Prices are sometimes pitched at rates as high as £1000-3000 per rack for licences; implementation costs and professional services come in at even higher levels.  Pretty outrageous when you consider that the software may have changed names a few times but not code-base for some years.  It really ought to work by now!  In one case, a DCIM vendor proposed supplying a consultant for 12 months post-implementation to make sure everything was working OK.  That did not go down well – “If they think I need that then I may as well just employ someone myself and get them to develop what I need instead!”

And that is a big part of the problem, I think.  Too many DCIM products are over-hyped, over-priced and over-complicated.  Lots of Powerpoints, lots of conference presentations but little that is tangible and deliverable particularly when it comes down to the reality of retro-fitting DCIM into a multi-vendor data centre.  If you need to run Flash, if you need high-power graphics cards in the server, if you need permanent contractors, if you need week long training courses for users, if you try to position your DCIM product as comparable to ERP or CRM of old then you are probably missing the point.  People who want to use DCIM want tools that take their pain away and make their life easier.  In this era of instant gratification, asking someone to make a case to their board for something that will take months to deploy and years to achieve RoI (based on more tangible measures than notional savings derived from those oft-quoted cost of downtime studies) is about as palatable to them as asking them to make a case for building their very own “Curiosity”.  What most data centre managers really want from DCIM is a practical software tool that is straightforward to implement, simple to navigate, intuitive to work with, browser-based (with no add-ins needed), flexible in nature and priced reasonably.  They don’t need to go to Mars for that.

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