DCIM tools are becoming a necessity for most data centers, as managing complex computing operations with often far-flung segments can quickly overload human ability to process.
The data center infrastructure management industry is projected to exceed $2.85 billion by 2024, according to research by Market Research Engine. DCIM is considered so important that ASHRAE published a book on the subject titled Advancing DCIM with IT Equipment Integration as part of its Datacom Series.
What is DCIM?
Although adoption is on the rise, some confusion still exists in much of the user community over what DCIM is and what it should do.
In general, however, DCIM is a software suite for managing data center infrastructure and the resources it uses. DCIM tools collect data from IT and facilities, consolidate it into relevant information and report it in real time to enable the intelligent management, optimization and future planning of data center resources such as capacity, power, cooling, space, network and assets.
Vendors can incorporate all, most or just some of the following categories that fall under this definition:
- energy and environmental monitoring
- asset and workflow management
- data center visualization
- capacity planning and what-if scenarios
- structured cable management
- network management and optimization
- centralized and remote monitoring
- event reporting and management
- AI and machine learning (ML) optimization
Before adopting DCIM tools, vendors recommend you do the following:
- Determine which aspects of your operation will most benefit from improved information. Limit to one or two areas; more than three is probably overextending. Trying to do too much at once is the biggest cause of product dissatisfaction and failure.
- Concentrate on offerings that advertise those functions and features. Get trial versions of the two or three that appear to best fit your needs. See how easy they will be to implement and, more importantly, how intuitive they will be to use.
- Speak with existing customers to get firsthand feedback on their experiences. This also helps to understand what it will take for you to be successful.
- Consider a modularly expandable product if you anticipate broader future needs. However, ensure it can integrate good resources you already have. Add capabilities only when you have learned to maximize the value of what you have. That might mean adding to your initial package or acquiring another product that better addresses those goals.
- Ensure you can allocate staff resources to implement and maintain the product you select. Also, make sure that you have budget for customization or hosted monitoring. DCIM products are essentially database management systems. They can be configured to do many tasks automatically but often require manual input of data to keep them up to date.
- Examine vendor training programs. Are they one shot or continuous? What is the added cost?
- Fully evaluate what will be required to secure an acceptable ROI on your DCIM project investment.
Lastly, security is critical with all these products, but simply restricting to one-way communication might be a too simplistic approach. Your data center power use and temperature can be useless to a bad actor, but obtaining the IP address, DNS information and the network path to the router that goes with them could be a gold mine for a hacker. Security requirements can be different for each business. Take a close look, particularly with cloud-based services.
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The six DCIM products outlined below -- in alphabetical order -- are all well in tune with market drivers and are striving to provide real-world benefits in both increased reliability and reduced operation costs.
Cormant-CS is one of the original DCIM products and was acquired in February 2021 by BGIS, Global Integrated Solutions. This large, privately held facility management organization is based in Canada and includes extensive data center operations in its portfolio of managed services.
Cormant-CS offers full, 100% network query and discovery, with automatic multi-network interface card (NIC) association, update and linking. It also documents the complete power chain from generator to uninterruptible power supply to power distribution unit.
Cormant has developed six additional API-to-API interfaces, all delivered with a point-and-click UI for an extract, transform and load (ETL) service supporting deep integration. This fully integrates Cormant-CS into the enterprise environment. Cormant has rewritten the UI to make better use of larger screen sizes, including smartphones, that now link dual and triple panels of data.
Search functions have been tightly integrated into the asset's module, so floor plans, racks and data are interactively filtered in real time according to the search criteria. Also, 100% offline mobile support is provided for Android devices to access all DCIM data from locations where 4G and Wi-Fi aren't available. WAN deployments are now experiencing up to 400% faster load times. Security includes end-to-end encryption that has passed military top-secret and financial institution audits.
Cormant-CS' new starting page provides a graphical Health Card with an at-a-glance view of the racks and devices, site and world based on key points defined by the user. Data correlation views and analysis enable users to see detailed changes in the environment, as well as what caused them.
Cormant-CS' document libraries -- called Albums -- can be linked to any building, floor, room, rack or device port to automatically link events such as alerts to the correct processes. Cloud services such as AWS are integrated to monitor both current and historical usage, and a modern RESTful API supports high volume, two-way integration.
The Cormant-CS tool now provides 3D views of assets outside the data center, as well as inside. Data cross-linking and built-in hyperlinks enable quick access to more information when you are looking at a report, history record, connection or alert. A brand-new Workflow Execution module is now tightly integrated with the Assets module to make completing a workflow task faster and easier.
Cormant continues to support smaller enterprise data centers but, as a result of the BGIS acquisition, has expanded its support of large facilities. Colocation operators now have integrated power recording suitable for tracking, calculation analysis and customer billing. With services now separated, the system can scale and operate over a greater number of server instances for massive global-scale customers.
Cormant also provides a set of migration tools to support Trellis users since Vertiv has discontinued its DCIM platform.
EkkoSense, headquartered in the U.K., came to the forefront in 2017 with a product based on more than four years of research into how AI could provide useful interpretation of the myriad data derived from data center power and cooling systems.
EkkoSense describes the product as taking the traditional monitoring and alerting platforms and adding optimization by using AI and ML, as well as providing comprehensive monitoring and evaluation capacity management capabilities. EkkoSense considers AI and ML to be some of the next frontiers in data center operations because the technology to address these challenges in a practical manner has finally arrived.
EkkoSense wireless sensors can be fixed to cabinets and placed in cooling units. Alternatively, existing sensors can be accessed and supplemented by EkkoSense wireless sensors where necessary. All data points are sampled every five minutes, and the effects of changes are analyzed by the AI and ML engine. The result is a dynamic picture of the cooling Zones of Influence -- in other words, which cooling units provide the majority of cooling to each cabinet and how well they do it.
Based on this data, plus integrated asset management details, total rack power data and other room measurements, the software delivers graphic illustrations of how the room cooling is operating. It also shows the amount of power usage per cabinet versus available power and then provides specific instructions for making the best adjustments to the cooling system.
Because cooling is the largest energy user in a data center next to the IT equipment (ITE) itself, it's the prime focus of this targeted software. Based on measurements at multiple installations, EkkoSense stated it has achieved actual cooling energy reductions averaging 30% and have released up to 60% of stranded cooling capacity.
3. FNT DCIM
FNT is a software company that, for years, has supported the web-based tools and virtual, cloud and hybrid digital infrastructure management platforms now often called second-generation DCIM. FNT concentrates on six areas: asset and connectivity management, structured cable management, workflow, capacity planning and reporting, and discovery and monitoring.
The vendor believes DCIM should be implemented and enhanced in small steps to achieve successful adoption. Upgrades, therefore, continually enhance the ability to document ITE for the entire enterprise, on premises to edge and colocation environments, and even telecom networks. The most recent improvements make it easier to adjust the tool to all user requirements without customization.
FNT's focus is on ease of use for everyday tasks in real-life situations, with designs specifically aimed at those who don't use the tools on a daily basis. In essence, its Point Solution packages hide the underlying technical aspects to better align product terminology with customer naming conventions. An elaborate range of data models is readily adaptable to customer needs. Planning and what-if scenarios are one of the most important aspects of the FNT toolkit.
FNT's commitment to open systems design includes an extensive library of API calls, graphical interface editing and internal bus systems, enabling third-party products to easily subscribe to channels.
The platform works well on mobile devices, which is important because it enables users to take all functions and information to the floor, further optimizing processes and speeding up audits. Specifically, it combines a RESTful API with its Simple Object Access Protocol API for contemporary real-time integration projects and an ETL tool with graphical modeling for high-volume data synchronization. Its preferred partner for creating electrical and mechanical online diagrams, tracking load and phase balance, and alerting about potential equipment failures is ABB.
FNT's drag-and-drop graphic capability from Visio or AutoCAD drawings uses a layer concept that enables more precise documentation of rooms with or without raised floors. An alternative function based on a geographic information system engine enables full campus maps and complex outside plant cable route displays. FNT has refactored its 3D model and upgraded to the latest 3D framework technology. Further, FNT can integrate with 6SigmaDCX computational fluid dynamics (CFD) for extended thermal analysis of room designs.
FNT is particularly strong in the areas of cable management and connectivity management. These cover all aspects of structured cabling and patches in the data center, the entire campus network, all cabling between data centers and network routes to edge sites.
FNT's default licensing method is Concurrent User, which enables large-scale customers to share licenses across time zones and/or add racks without getting additional licenses. A per-rack alternative is also available.
Acquired by Carrier Corporation in October 2021, Nlyte has also integrated Automated Logic WebCTRL Building Automation System for data centers into its DCIM. We reached out to Nlyte for more information on recent updates to its DCIM software, but unfortunately, it didn't respond before time of publication.
5. Schneider Electric EcoStruxure IT
Schneider Electric's DCIM product, formerly StruxureWare DCIM, is now called EcoStruxure IT and is offered in two main packages:
- Monitoring and management are provided via either the cloud-based EcoStruxure IT Expert or the on-premises Data Center Expert software. Physical security and monitoring can be provided with those services through Schneider's proprietary NetBotz appliances and sensors, but they are also compatible with other protocols, such as Simple Network Management Protocol and Modbus TCP. The tool is completely vendor-agnostic and seamlessly integrates third-party and legacy systems. It isn't a network optimization tool but does monitor connectivity for discovered devices. IT Expert is based in the Microsoft Azure cloud and provides extensive AI analytics and mobile access from any phone or Android device. These include predictions of time before battery replacement; security analytics, such as out-of-date security certificates; update status; and whether standard usernames and passwords still exist. EcoStruxure can also track vulnerabilities relative to protocols and current malware, alert to outdated firmware in monitored devices and can optionally push updates via a secure IT gateway.
- The second part of the Schneider DCIM offering is EcoStruxure IT Advisor, which is a vendor-neutral and highly scalable monitoring, planning, modeling and troubleshooting component. IT Advisor provides inventory management, capacity planning, power path management, network cooling and airflow modeling, workflow processes and reports. It's also available for on-premises purchase or as cloud-based SaaS maintained by Schneider. This application enables modeling and planning at the rack and device levels, representing all equipment through a genome database. EcoStruxure IT Advisor can integrate with IT service management tools, such as ServiceNow.
Coupling IT Expert with IT Advisor provides asset autodiscovery, wherever-you-go visibility, smart alarming and AI-driven load-balancing assistance.
For customers who require third-party monitoring and/or maintenance, Schneider offers a cloud-based service, EcoStruxure Asset Advisor, that is available in two service levels. Prevent includes a 24/7 remote monitoring service, alarm notification and investigative support, live data via a mobile app, and a monthly incident and status report. Predict, which is in addition to Prevent, includes data-driven expert insights, a cybersecurity assessment, battery health status and a semiannual report.
An Excel importer is used to create rack elevations from the database assets that can be auto tracked using barcode scanning or RFID tabs if the ancillary devices are incorporated. This enables IT Advisor to track assets from order placement through delivery and to perform work order generation, as well as installation and change logging. Room plans and rack elevations can be crated from the library via drag and drop, auto created as the asset database is created or imported as layers from AutoCAD. Visio doesn't support the scaling accuracy of EcoStruxure, so it isn't compatible.
A separate cloud-based data center CFD tool is unique to EcoStruxure. This CFD design software can be used by Schneider Electric and/or partners to assist customers, providing them input at the design stage to ensure sufficient cooling and to improve energy efficiency. Cooling simulation can also be done based on years of data collection that provides 90% accurate 3D thermal maps without sensors or CFD modeling.
Sunbird reports management of more than 1.3 million data center cabinets for seven of the 10 largest technology companies. Its universal, bidirectional connector enables asset and ticket information to be shared between systems and now includes templates that sync to ServiceNow, Jira, Cherwell and BMC. Sunbird's dcTrack, which has enhanced security and scalability to support up to 300,000 cabinets, can now run natively on AWS. Sunbird's data-driven collaboration now also enables dashboard widgets to be displayed and shared on any browser, SharePoint or wiki page.
Its automation via integration approach provides day-to-day asset management and planning. The policy-based intelligence in dcTrack compiles and analyzes massive amounts of data on device power consumption, minimizing stranded power capacity by calculating the best budget value for each deployed compute device. Zero-configuration analytics reduce the time to create management reports, providing autocreation and distribution of all dashboard information.
Power IQ now also delivers enhanced electronic door lock management capabilities and support for vibration, motion and proximity sensors in data center and edge sites, all with single sign-on.
Sunbird's power chain support also includes direct current monitoring, covering from power plant and battery strings to fuse and alarm panels. Expanded asset tracking encompasses infrastructure subcomponents, such as disk drives, memory sticks and NICs, and includes those items in alerts when stocking levels fall below defined thresholds.
Sunbird's service and support include free weekly training, a modern support portal and a complete offer of services. An augmented reality view includes measured data that many consider more useful than actually being on-site -- an important capability when remote access has become so necessary. Sunbird also strives to simplify its GUI by minimizing the number of clicks needed for common tasks.