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Is DCIM finally real?

After years of tall tales, it looks like data center infrastructure management (DCIM) is finally becoming a real thing

High expectations of data center infrastructure management (DCIM) technology have largely subsided in the past two years, with vendors and potential buyers alike settling down to make more realistic assessments of their options.

There is still a large number of DCIM suppliers in the market, and from a wide range of backgrounds – from those specialising in hardware power usage and monitoring utility tools for strips, racks, IT enclosures, cooling units and UPS like Emerson Network Power, Rittal and Schneider Electric, for example, right through to building infrastructure management (BIM) specialists and big IT players traditionally focused on IT service management (ITSM) such as IBM and CA.

A sprinkling of more specialist companies have emerged in the past few years, examples being FieldView Solutions, which concentrates on monitoring and alerting, and iTRACS (acquired by CommScope in 2013), with its strong focus on 3D modelling. Others, are geared more towards energy management. [We originally cited Power Assure as an example here, but we’ve been alerted to the fact that the company dissolved in October 2014 - Editor]

pinocchio head

Source: Thinkstock

How much demand is there?

Demand and deployment are difficult to gauge. Frenzied supply-side activity has produced a vendor landscape that many feel is ripe for further consolidation. Meanwhile, the actual scale of DCIM software adoption by data center operators and managers themselves is much more difficult to know.

Rhonda Ascierto, research director of data center technologies at 451 Research, estimates that commercial off-the-shelf DCIM applications have penetrated no more than 15 percent of

mid-to-large 3MW+ data centers, though she thinks the actual level of interest is higher, with proof of concepts and pilot deployments often taking as long as 12 months to complete.

A lot of hesitancy among buyers stems from the fact that DCIM is rarely a quick plug-and-play deployment, while it can be hard for operators to pull the data they need from all of their infrastructure devices, particularly those such as generators, which are not connected to IP networks.

Jennifer Koppy, research director for data center management at IDC, agrees that most end-users continue to struggle with integration and collecting all the data they want in a single platform. u

“There are a lot of really big, expensive tools, but DCIM is like an ERP system that requires everybody to be marching along the same path and have the same vision – and that has slowed down adoption,” she said.

Many of the large cloud service providers and internet companies that on paper stand to gain most from DCIM appear to have developed their own internal tools, or are loath to reveal which commercial off-the-shelf DCIM products they have deployed.

One exception is social media networking giant Facebook, which publicly announced in January 2014 that it is using CA’s DCIM application to gather millions of energy-related data points from physical data center and IT resources across its global footprint, to help it improve its power efficiency as part of its broader Open Compute Project.

Big boys build their own

There may be good reasons why it makes more sense for cloud service providers to build their own DCIM platforms from a cost perspective, primarily due to their scale and the associated licensing expense, though Ascierto argues that in terms of DCIM monitoring – and maybe ITSM too – it is still often cheaper, quicker and easier to use third-party software.

The service-oriented world of cloud and colocation turns out to be a boost for DCIM (see box, right), although enterprise sites also need to reduce human error in keeping track of their facilities’ types of equipment.

One of the difficulties in painting an accurate picture of end-user adoption is the mosaic of different tools that can be included in the DCIM platform definition.

“DCIM is not a thing, but a category of things, like Microsoft Office, with lots of components to it,” said Sev Onyshkevych, chief marketing officer at FieldView Solutions. FieldView’s DCIM software targets data centers with a minimum of 5,000–10,000 sq ft (around 500–100 sq m) of colo space, though the company stresses that most of its customers are actually 10–100 times that size – mainly banks, cloud service providers and colocation providers.

“One of those [components] is ITSM, another is data center facilities monitoring, which together account for more than 80 percent of the whole DCIM side of it. Everybody is doing at least some monitoring, even if it is only keeping some data manually, or linking islands or monitoring around building management, circuits, power strips that may have currently used separate tools, and bringing those under one pane of glass.”

Certainly, the fundamental drivers for DCIM implementation do not appear to have altered significantly, with operators still most keen to monitor environmental conditions and power usage while keeping track of their infrastructure and IT equipment spread across their facilities, typically for business continuity, security or SLA purposes.

DCIM is not a thing, but a category of things, with lots of components to it

Sev Onyshkevych, FieldView Solutions

Those offering cloud services, whether to their own business divisions as part of internal billing processes, or to customers under commercial hosting agreements, use that information to help with both costing and capacity management.

It’s all about capacity

“The biggest driver is capacity management, and that has not changed, but the software has gotten better in terms of being more functional, easy to use and reliable, while having more analysis features,” said Ascierto. “There is a lot of data coming out of smart PDUs, power meters and sensors, and at its fundamental level it is about aggregating that data across the facility and normalising it so you [the data center operator] can make sense of it.”

“People are still struggling to get where they want to be with their technology,” added Koppy, although she does see a lot more interest among data center operators in sensors that make it easier to keep accurate performance and maintenance data. IDC research indicates that many data centers have plans to deploy increasing volumes of radio frequency identification (RFID), wired and optical fiber sensors in their facilities over the next year, for example, as they monitor environmental conditions and improve locational tracking of equipment.

More recently, DCIM has been applied further up the IT stack, with vendors paying more attention to its integration with ITSM to enable end-to-end workflow, network and port management. Software as a Service (SaaS) based products specifically aimed at smaller facilities have emerged – Device42 and its focus on ease of use is a good example – and these are often used as an on-ramp or proof-of-concept exercise that can lead to more comprehensive DCIM deployments.

While it remains difficult to assess what size of facility would require DCIM, estimates suggest that those operating at 1MW and above could benefit in the future.



Readers' comments (9)

  • Good article, but I wonder if DCIM solutions aren't quick plug-and-play because our industry suffers from a lack of operational standardisation? This causes a lower level of understanding of what is truly critical from a monitoring, control and automation point of view and therefore leads to a 'monitor everything' approach and that makes implementation much harder.

    Other, more mature, industries went through the same pain many years ago and now understand in great detail the process and what is, and more importantly, what isn't worth monitoring and controlling and it's probably time for our industry to go down the same route of industrialisation - a good thing to do before large-scale commoditisation takes hold.

    And by the way, Power Assure folded in Oct 2014!

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  • Thanks Arun

    All good points for us to look into!

    I've updated the article to include the news of Power Assure's demise.

    Peter Judge

  • I'm relatively new to the DCIM arena. We have been using Nlyte DCIM for about a year and it has been hard to get traction with other teams to inform us of updates, moves etc.

    The product was bought to help manage our Data Centers but it has so much more. I come from more of a third Tier support/infrastructure roll into the data center team to assist with a major Data Center move.

    The DC boys see it as a way of managing the physical assets and the virtual hosts on our VMWare clusters. I have been looking deeper at assigning software assets to hosts and building up application stacs as we go.

    Alot of the stuff we do is building from the ground up but it is slowly taking shape. One of teh biggest things I have noticed is the amount of time getting the initial building blocks right. When that's in place it can be a slick process setting up repetitive work.

    it's a hard journey but a worthwhile one

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  • I'm with Tom,

    We purchased a similar product called Cormant-CS to replace an internal system that just didn't work.

    It's been a good learning experience, as we've found that our old systems (including supposedly up-to-date spreadsheets) where quite wrong in many instances.

    Toms comments on the initial building blocks is right. It WILL take a while to get any system up and running, and as important, are getting in place a good set of policies and procedures.

    One thing that we mandated (ok, so the local implementor really pushed us to agree to) was to physically locate ever piece of gear in our two IT Suites (150+ racks)... This is where we really noticed the difference (and found a lot of error compared to our old documentation).

    Once we'd got a bit more sophisticated, we started to adapt the software to what we wanted. This involved creating some scripts, to do things like calculate the largest free contiguous space (compared to just the total amount of free RU we had)..

    I would suggest that anybody who is attempting to deploy or looking to deploy have a holistic plan, but work on manageable chucks to get you there, otherwise, it will soon become another piece of software that doesn't get used by the respective IT groups.

    Oh yeah, and don't forget that connectivity is often an overlooked part of DCIM, but in our minds, was just as critical.

    One of the reasons the we went with Cormant-CS (who's product used to be called Cablesolve!)

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  • The concept of DCIM is great, but the various vendors have been selling it as a 'Silver Bullet'.
    My experience follows the trends which I am reading in many articles and which are echoed in your paper. (IE. First understand what it is you need and how to set out the foundations).
    Expectations from the gatekeepers of the finances is that returns are to be seen immediately and this is not a reality.
    An additional challenge is ensuring that personnel are trained and become specialised in management of the DCIM disciplines rather than including this as part of a more generalised duty within DC (or IT Facilities) Operations
    We will continue to build on what we presently have (including installed DCIM tools as well as manual monitoring and trending) and will do our R & D while watching the progress of the market.

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  • I think Clive's comment is interesting. You can read about Sky's experience implementing DCIM elsewhere on DatacenterDynamics, but they started with clear goals, the technology has an identified champion, and they took care to engage with data centre stakeholders - "customers" - throughout the company (please see ) to ensure a successful rollout. These are all best practices. At the same time, Sky did not have the expectation of an instant payback with this implementation. Schneider Electric tries to offer objective advice to potential users as they evaluate DCIM; this includes free white papers (please see as well as information on our blog (e.g., Or you can contact me directly via LinkedIn.

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  • Very good article. DCIM is on the rise will be growing more and more with the demands of companies and vendors.

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  • DCIM becomes a necessity as your business grows larger. I think the investment of time and money hinders implementation until the business suffers an outage that is prolonged due to lack of knowledge about the business data center. Organization is key to IT and DCIM is needed to achieve organization in the data center.

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  • Great article. Its a great insight to see where we are headed and what new tech is coming are way.

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  • Awesome article. DCIM is on the rise will be needed for many companies that are in the IT networks field.

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