While still very much a work in progress, the data center infrastructure management (DCIM) realm is becoming clearer in terms of definitions and expectations of functionality from DCIM software vendors. There is still confusion about the acronym itself, fueled more than anything by vendors who are quick to give theirs solutions the “DCIM” tag, while the solutions do not really do everything expected of a “true” DCIM solution.
Market-research firm Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) recently published a report on the DCIM market, defining a basic framework for talking about DCIM solutions and identifying a list of vendors whose products excel within that framework. EMA defines DCIM as a solution that “enables a holistic view of the IT ecosystem that dynamically recognizes the relationships of one device to all others.” This means that if a company has a power-management system, it is not DCIM software. If a vendor is calling their environmental-monitoring product “DCIM”, they’re wrong. You get the idea.
Vendors EMA identified as those ahead of the pack in the DCIM space are Emerson, iTRACS, Cormant, FieldView, Nlyte, Raritan and Modius. The analysts identified three more companies’ products as “true DCIM”, but did not include them in the report because there were issues with getting information from them in time for publication. Those companies are CA, IBM and Schneider Electric.
The report looked at each solution’s architecture and integration, functionality, deployment and administration, cost advantage and vendor strength, comparing the products on the basis of these criteria. We spoke to some of the vendors on EMA’s list to find out how much they were charging for their solutions and what directions they were taking their solutions in technologically.
Cost of DCIM
Naturally, pricing is one of the first questions that arise for a customer. Cost and the way DCIM vendors determine it was one of the key criteria EMA evaluated vendors against. When you’re looking at a solution that plugs into nearly every type of device in the building, determining the cost may get very complicated, very quickly. EMA recommends vendors avoid that and come up with simple-to-understand and easy-to-calculate pricing models for DCIM solutions.
Products the analysts evaluated were all priced based on the number of “endpoints” the software speaks to, be it racks of gear, servers or other devices. They typically calculate maintenance costs as a percentage of total license costs, with some vendors providing incentives like free maintenance for a year.
A Raritan customer pays a fee for every IT rack on the data center floor. James Cerwinski, product manager at Raritan, says cost per rack depends on how complex of a solution the vendor needs to deploy. “If a solution has many components and is large and complex, then it’s going to be more expensive to buy,” he says. Another factor is the size of deployment, as customers benefit from economy of scale. As an example, a deployment of Raritan’s DCIM solution for 100 cabinets, including one year of software maintenance, costs about US$49,000, according to a company spokesperson.
iTRACS (recently acquired by CommScope) chose a similar approach to pricing, charging customers per a large asset. In their case, however, an asset could be a rack, a computer room air conditioner (CRAC) or a power distribution unit (PDU). iTRACS defines its basic single pricing unit as a “floor-mounted asset”, which is anything that is bolted to the data center floor. The fee is the same, regardless of the type of the asset, but it again varies depending on the total size of deployment.
Willie Bloomstein, the company’s market strategist, says the model works well because it is simple to understand for customers. Pricing complexity by other vendors has gotten in the way of faster market adoption of DCIM, he says. There have been solutions priced on the basis of power or square footage of the data center floor, which has led to confusion in the market.
It is a lot easier to take the number of assets, plug it into a model and reveal the cost, Bloomstein says. He declined to share examples of typical iTRACS cost per asset, but said it was “significantly less” than $1,000 per rack.
Cormant took a more granular approach to pricing than iTRACS and Raritan did, basing the cost of its DCIM solution on the number of actual devices, which it also broadly refers to as “assets”. While it still considers an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) or a CRAC to be an asset, a single server or a single network switch is also a single asset.
Paul Goodison, CEO and co-founder of Cormant, does not think their pricing model is necessarily better or worse than the blanket per-floor-mounted-asset approach. “In the end, it’s just another pricing model,” he says. “The benefit of that one [Cormant’s model] is that it allows more flexibility for the customer if they have a very lightly populated rack.”
Plugging Cormant’s DCIM solution into a 100-rack data center will – in the most expensive bracket – cost you a one-off fee of about $18,000, Goodison says. That does not include support, for which there is a separate annual fee. Support is optional, but most customers do opt in, he says.
Nlyte offers two payment options for its DCIM software: one-off fee or a pay-as-you-go subscription. Mark Harris, VP of marketing and data center strategy at Nlyte, says most companies choose the one-off option. The company has per-rack pricing, which is in the vicinity of $1,000 per rack, he says.
Latest bells and whistles
According to EMA, A true DCIM solution must, at a minimum, automate three key functions: data collection, infrastructure modeling and analytical reporting. Data collection, in this context, means a centralized repository of all devices within the IT infrastructure and ongoing health monitoring of each of them as well as monitoring of things like energy consumption, temperature, humidity and airflow. The software uses that data to create a digital model of the infrastructure, updating it as changes occur. The model, ideally presented in an accessible graphical format, is a key aspect of a DCIM solution, as it visualizes interrelationships between devices in the infrastructure. An analytical engine is what interprets the data the solution collects to find problems or inefficiencies.
DCIM as its own realm is fairly new, so automation within each of these areas continues to evolve. All vendors on the EMA list are constantly adding features to their products and the additions generally tend to be within the three areas of automation EMA describes. They expand capabilities in multiple ways: developing features themselves, integrating with others’ solutions or acquisitions.
Of recent additions, Nlyte has been enhancing its software’s 3D-modeling capabilities and real-time power monitoring, energy efficiency monitoring and environmental-sensor data, Harris says. The company has also bought a full business-intelligence engine, which now enables the solution to generate an extensive variety of reports for operators. The library of reports includes formats many different people within the organization – such as a finance manager – would understand.
Another fairly new function for Nlyte is the ability for software to suggest a most appropriate place to add a server, for example. The company developed this technology on its own and has patented it, now offering licenses to other vendors, although it has not secured any licensees yet, according to Harris.
In upcoming releases, Nlyte is planning to focus on increasing quality of the data its software uses to create the model, looking at products that will augment that data, he says. Nlyte software is currently in its sixth generation after about seven years on the market.
Cormant’s solution has been on the market for more than eight years, although it was not called DCIM when it was first launched as CableSolve. The company changed its name from CableSolve to Cormant at the start of 2013.
The software is currently on its seven release, and the company has a major release every year or year and a half, as well as an intermediate functionality release once about every quarter, Goodison says. Of recent additions, switching the application to a web-based service was a big move for the company. Cormant has also recently added full support for tablets and smart phones, as well as additional environmental visualization capabilities. As we were talking to Goodison, Cormant was just rolling out an enhanced workflow module for large-scale deployments. The company is also looking to enhance its predictive-analytics functionality.
iTRACS has recently added intelligent commissioning and space-management features. The company is also pursuing integration with other vendors to add data sources its model draws on. These include Intel’s Data Center Manager, Power Assure and RF Code. To foster such integration, iTRACS has created what it calls the “DCIM Open Exchange Framework”. The way Bloomstein explains it, the framework works similarly to an Application Programming Interface (API), serving as a way for other technologies to plug into iTRACS to share information in a bidirectional manner. “It connects the world to iTRACS,” he says.
For Raritan, which typically does two feature releases for its DCIM solution per year, technological development is broadly focused on two things: automation and making the solution easier to use by customers. The company has recently expanded its web-service API to include more solutions that can integrate with its software and added special energy-management reports and charts to enable customers to easily identify hot spots.
Another major new feature is the connection manager. It calculates power load at every connection point on the power chain.
Discussion of specific features and definitions aside, designing and selling DCIM solutions is about addressing specific problems customers are trying to solve. “It all starts with: I need to do something. Can this system allow me to do that faster, easier or smarter?” Cerwinski says. What prevents customers from buying DCIM solutions more than anything is “fear of not being successful,” he says, so the sell is all about making sure the customer’s DCIM deployment is a success.
This article originally appeared in the 28th issue of the DatacenterDynamics FOCUS magazine. See the digital edition here.