The data center market continues to evolve, with the level of critical infrastructure requiring data center infrastructure management software evolving with it. DCIM tools are now a necessity for most data centers, as managing complex computing operations -- often with far-flung segments -- can quickly overload the human ability to process
The DCIM industry is projected to exceed $2.85 billion by 2024, according to research by Market Research Engine. DCIM is considered so crucial that ASHRAE even published a book titled Advancing DCIM with IT Equipment Integration as part of its Datacom series.
What is DCIM?
Although DCIM adoption is widespread, some confusion still exists in the user community over what DCIM actually is and what it should do.
In general, 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 optimization
Before adopting DCIM tools, vendors recommend doing 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. If asset auditing and tracking are important, look critically at how this is accomplished and how realistic the approach is for you.
- Speak with existing customers to get firsthand feedback on their experiences. This also helps you understand what it will take to be successful.
- Consider a modularly expandable product if you anticipate broader future needs. However, be sure it can integrate the useful 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 compatible product that better addresses those goals.
- Ensure you can allocate staff resources to implement and maintain the selected product. Budget for customization, which is usually necessary, or hosted monitoring, which you might want. DCIM products are essentially database management systems. They can be configured to do many tasks automatically but might 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.
- Evaluate security. This remains critical with all DCIM products, but simply restricting to one-way communication might be too simplistic. Data center power usage and temperature are probably 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.
The six DCIM products outlined below -- in alphabetical order -- are all in tune with market drivers and strive to provide real-world benefits in both increased reliability and reduced operating costs.
Cormant-CS is one of the original DCIM products. It's part of BGIS, a large, privately held facility management organization with extensive global data center operations in its managed services portfolio.
Cormant is used in enterprise data centers, colocation sites, campus environments, high-performance computing installations, global IoT deployments, crypto mining and cloud monitoring, with hybrid customers managing some or all at once.
Infrastructure management data is a shared resource, so Cormant-CS supports full, multiprotocol network query and discovery, with automatic association, update and linking. Multiple two-way API-to-API interfaces support complex integrations, all delivered with a UI for an extract, transform and load service supporting deep integration. Some options include configuration management database, IT service management, ticketing, vendor supply, purchasing, financial asset management, flat-file, direct SQL and virtual device and cloud management platforms. A modern RESTful API supports high-volume, two-way integration for customer-built integration.
Cormant-CS can monitor all devices from a port on a switch to the current status of breakers or generators and present a complete, related view. Environmental, power, equipment, network, change and capacity data are integrated and presented in both real time and historically. Document libraries, called Albums, can be linked to any building, floor, room, rack or device port to store data on a one-to-one or one-to-many basis. Albums have multiple uses, including original configuration files, service-level agreement documentation, alert processes and taking and linking pictures from mobile devices.
Search functions are tightly integrated for ease of use, with all data -- including floor plans, racks, alerts and tasks -- interactively filtered in real time per the search criteria. Typical starting pages include graphical Health Cards with at-a-glance, user-defined views of racks, devices and sites. Data correlation views and analysis show both changes in the environment and what caused them. Online and offline support with integrated barcode scanning enables mobile devices to access data online or offline.
AI is being introduced where it can help customers maximize facility and reduce stranded network capacities. Initial implementation simplifies change request creation and offers location and connectivity suggestions. The AI offering is designed for both cloud and on-premises installations with no contact outside the enterprise.
Highly granular role-based security is included, with Active Directory and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol integration and end-to-end application encryption. Cormant-CS has been delivered to multiple military and financial institutions, including the U.S. Department of Defense's Security Technical Implementation Guides.
Cormant offers customer-specific planning, project management, consulting, integration and training services for global deployment with various licensing models and price tiers.
Cormant also provides a set of migration tools to support Trellis users since Vertiv has discontinued its DCIM platform. Processes to support migration from other asset and DCIM software have also been developed.
EkkoSense became a prime DCIM vendor in 2017 with EkkoSoft Critical, its data center performance optimization software. EkkoSoft Critical is 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 has operations in the U.K. and U.S., along with a rapidly growing partner network that is expanding coverage in all parts of the globe.
EkkoSense adds AI and machine learning technology to the traditional monitoring and alerting services to improve data center operations. EkkoSoft Critical data center software provides comprehensive monitoring, evaluation and capacity management capabilities, as well as operational visibility that can lead to lower thermal and power risks. Data center cooling energy cost and carbon reductions all help meet corporate environmental, social and governance requirements.
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 machine learning 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 system 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. EkkoSoft Critical can also integrate with leading DCIM platforms, combining monitoring and evaluation data with IT asset data to enable full DCIM functionality.
Because cooling systems are the largest energy user in a data center next to the IT equipment 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 an established software company that has been supporting web-based tools and virtual, cloud and hybrid digital data center infrastructure management platforms for over 25 years. FNT concentrates on seven main areas: asset and connectivity management; structured cable management; network management and optimization; visualization; workflow; capacity planning and reporting; and discovery and monitoring.
FNT documents data center infrastructures and stores the data in FNT Command, which acts as a digital twin of the infrastructure. To further advance this concept, FNT has optimized its visualization functionality to bring the data center representation closer how to its real-world counterpart looks and behaves. The software features new capabilities and a completely new 3D footprint viewer that make it easier to work with critical infrastructure data.
Software enhancements fall into three categories:
- Auditing. New auditing functionality ensures the digital twin matches the real-life data center. FNT defines two types of data center audits and now supports hand-held data capture barcode scanners. This simplifies the audit process for the owner, as well as tracking imports of new assets. A Full Audit covers all IT assets, including passive devices in any location, and can target the audit by location so that only that location's assets are in the audit scope. An Asset Management Audit targets specified IT assets, turning on or off an asset listing maintained in the Administration module.
- Visualization. New visualization functionality in the form of 3D Optimizations includes redesigned Heatmaps to provide a more realistic look and feel of rooms and equipment, a major advantage when remotely managing sites. Improved performance and an intuitive usability concept -- harmonized with common augmented reality/virtual reality formats for mobile platforms, such as USDZ -- model behavior and control, enabling users to easily adopt these tools.
- Integration. Enhanced integration capabilities make the process of moving data between FNT Command and other applications faster, easier and more accurate. This is arguably the most business-critical enhancement to the software. Its low-code/no-code design uses a graphical user interface and drag-and-drop functionality so users can easily create and adjust interfaces between systems. FNT's software is standard off the shelf, but its new FNT IntegrationCenter makes it easily adjustable to suit the specific needs of individual integration scenarios.
FNT's software differentiates itself with its proactive event-driven API capability. Rather than relying on batch or bulk processing of data, FNT Command recognizes when there's been a change and sends a change notice to event subscribers. This real-time data exchange ensures the most accurate and current information is always available for analysis and decision-making.
FNT has also repackaged its software to be more modular and in line with users' needs. The default licensing is per user, independent of the number of racks or the size of sites. Customers can easily share licenses across time zones and/or add racks without impacting licensing agreements.
The big change for Nlyte Software is its acquisition by Carrier Corporation in September 2021. This gives Nlyte a global footprint, as well as a melding of technologies that Nlyte now calls Integrated Data Center Management. Part of this integration is with the Automated Logic WebCTRL building automation system. This now enables Nlyte to offer asset management and monitoring, as well as control of security, cooling and lighting systems, in one package.
Nlyte's approach is to participate in customer strategy teams to better tailor its products to specific industry and customer needs. Its product adapts to a wide range of operations and facility sizes, from conventional enterprise DCIM monitoring and management, to colocations where capacity forecasting is challenging, to cloud services where asset management requires metrics to know where to run workloads, to edge computing sites spanning cell towers, to data centers in a rack. Accurate information is also necessary for sustainability reporting -- a significant and growing requirement for many operations.
Because cooling is the biggest energy user after the IT hardware itself, Nlyte monitors and optimizes the entire cooling chain for both efficiency and availability. The Carrier-Nlyte amalgamation makes this easier. Precise thermal measurements are necessary to optimize cooling, which require dense monitoring for accurate insight. Cooling systems, being mechanical, have the most maintenance and critical events, so Nlyte has focused on the correlation between cooling systems and applications to detect anomalies and forecast behaviors of both critical infrastructure and IT systems.
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:
- Cloud-based EcoStruxure IT Expert and on-premises Data Center Expert software provide monitoring and management. Schneider's proprietary NetBotz appliances and sensors can add physical security monitoring but they are also compatible with other protocols, such as SNMP and Modbus TCP. Vendor-agnostic, it integrates third-party and legacy systems and also monitors connectivity for discovered devices, although it doesn't do network optimization. IT Expert is cloud-based -- backed by Microsoft Azure -- and provides AI analytics and mobile access from any phone or Android device. This includes predictions of battery life, security analytics such as out-of-date security certificates, update status and whether standard usernames and passwords still exist. EcoStruxure can also track protocol and current malware vulnerabilities, alert to outdated firmware in monitored devices and provide the option to push updates via a secure IT gateway.
- EcoStruxure IT Advisor is a vendor-neutral and highly scalable monitoring, planning, modeling and troubleshooting component. It provides inventory management, capacity planning, power path management, network cooling and airflow modeling, workflow processes and reports. Available for either on-premises purchase or as cloud-based SaaS maintained by Schneider, it enables modeling and planning at the rack and device levels. Representing all equipment through a genome database, it can integrate with management tools, such as ServiceNow.
IT Expert with IT Advisor provides asset autodiscovery, wherever-you-go visibility, smart alarming and AI-driven load-balancing assistance. Both EcoStructure packages are provided in cloud and on-premises versions, but Schneider also offers two additional cloud-based tools.
EcoStruxure Asset Advisor delivers cloud-based third-party monitoring and maintenance in two service levels: Prevent and Predict. Prevent delivers 24/7 remote monitoring service, alarm notifications and investigative support, live data via a mobile app and monthly incident and status reports. Predict, added to Prevent, provides data-driven expert insights, cybersecurity assessments, battery health status and semiannual reports.
A separate cloud-based data center computational fluid dynamics (CFD) tool is unique to EcoStruxure and can be used by Schneider Electric or partners in the design stage to ensure sufficient cooling and improve energy efficiency. Years of data collection also enable cooling simulation that provides 90% accurate 3D thermal maps without sensors or CFD modeling.
An Excel importer creates rack elevations from existing database assets. With ancillary barcodes or RFID tabs, assets can also be automatically tracked from order placement through delivery, work order generation, installation and change logging. Room plans and rack elevations can be created from the library via drag-and-drop capabilities, automatically created as the asset database is developed or imported as layers from AutoCAD. Visio doesn't support the scaling accuracy of EcoStruxure, so it isn't compatible.
Sunbird's second-generation DCIM software provides asset, capacity, change, energy, environment, power and connectivity management for a large installed base of customers. The Sunbird software provides automation via integration with free bidirectional connectors that enable asset and ticket information to be updated between systems, such as ServiceNow, Jira, Cherwell and BMC. This level of integration reduces manual effort and increases data accuracy.
Sunbird's visualization capabilities turn data into actionable information. A world map presents health status and key statistics for all sites, with easy navigation and the ability to drill down to sites at a street level. High-resolution floor-map visualizations enable remote management of operations with accurate 3D views that often make it better than being there, again with the ability to drill down for further detail. You can isolate a row of cabinets to see front and back images of assets, along with an augmented overlay of actual power loads, temperatures and humidity levels of cabinets. Data network diagrams show core, distribution and access networks. Sunbird also automatically creates single-line diagrams for each AC and DC power chain in a single interactive pane of glass. Details include utility feed, fuel tanks, transformers, generators, switchgear, switchboards, automatic transfer switch, panelboards, uninterruptible power supply units, floor power distribution units, plants and DC bays with budgeted and actual values, such as voltage, current and power rating. Both the single-line and data network diagrams provide drag-and-drop edit capabilities and can be printed.
An enterprise-class multivendor power and environmental data collection engine lets users combine asset information with power and environmental measurements. Sunbird's patented Auto Power Budget feature automatically updates power budget values based on customer-defined policies, enabling the reduction of stranded power capacity.
The zero-configuration analytics dashboard and reporting capabilities include over 100 charts. There are also free add-ons, which include an additional 150 charts that present performance indicators at a glance for managing the capacity of key resources, such as space, power, cooling and data ports. Chart examples include what-if analysis for space and power capacity, spare part stock levels, remaining cabinet space, power distribution and redundancy, latest temperature per cabinet with Delta-T and power port capacity trends. Charts and reports can be automatically scheduled for creation and distribution, reducing the manual effort needed to generate the information.
Sunbird's service and support includes free weekly training, a modern support portal and a complete offer of services.