A Brief Introduction to DCIM

Written by Max Smolaks, News Editor at Datacenter Dynamics Published 2017-08-24 08:02:45

Data centre management software (DCIM) is a strangely contentious topic - for every DCIM enthusiast, every happy administrator, you will meet someone who will call it overpriced and overhyped.

Despite this polarized reputation, you will see more and more data centres actually adopting DCIM in their daily operations, hopefully signifying that it has outgrown the awkward teenager phase.

DCIM as a software category emerged around 2010 with the best of intentions: since data centres were full of sensors and increasingly reliant on automation, why not have a single software system that would monitor and tweak the operating parameters of the facility, like power consumption and cooling performance?

Several dozen companies - from global IT vendors to industrial giants, to specialized software firms - simultaneously had the same idea, establishing a new market and then trying to outcompete each other on far-fetched marketing claims.  DCIM was meant to save money, improve performance, and liberate stranded capacity, prolong life and cure diseases. We had found the Holy Grail of the data centre industry.

When operators were presented with the underwhelming functionality of some of the first generation products, they were quick to anger - after all, while DCIM was many things, it certainly wasn't cheap. Businesses were shut down, product lines were cancelled, and analysts revised their expectations.

Today's DCIM solutions are still trying to get over that initial backlash, but they are making great progress. For starters, they have more or less settled on core functionality: DCIM has to link facilities - that's your space, power and cooling - to IT management, with its servers and virtual machines. A good DCIM solution will feature power, network and server capacity monitoring, asset tracking, visualization and lifecycle management. It will help configure the layout of the data centre, and maintain it in optimal condition.

At the same time, no single DCIM solution can do everything - so if you need to make sure that a software package is right for you, prepare to spend hours looking at hundreds of features.  Then there's the relatively high initial cost and the lengthy deployment process, while benefits are still hard to prove - since there's no metric for 'easier to manage'.

What if you didn't have to pay a big wad of cash to buy into DCIM?

Whereas DCIM in an enterprise data centre could seem like a risky investment, DCIM in colocation sounds like a much more viable proposition. After all, colocation providers need some type of management software to look after their shared facility and ensure quality of service targets are being met. It makes perfect sense to then offer some of this functionality to data centre tenants - after all, who doesn't like knowing that they are being charged for services in a fair and transparent manner?

In 2014, VIRTUS became the first colocation provider to offer DCIM to all customers in the UK, and it did this at no additional charge. VIRTUS Intelligent Portal, or VIP, is based on iTRACS software from CommScope, and is built around the Efficiency Engine - an interactive 3D visualization platform that recreates the entire data centre in 3D, complete with all the complex relationships between its components.

It promises to provide the same level of control in a colocation facility that administrators usually enjoy with in-house data centres. Service resellers can even 'white label' the entire thing, offering it to their own customers. The offer doesn't include IT capacity monitoring and management - this is a paid option - but it allows you to test-drive one of the most popular DCIM flavours around.

That's one way to find out if the awkward teenager has finally grown up.