DCIM – Yes but…

I am often asked about what DCIM is and what value adds it brings to the company.  My consultation mandates bring me to work with engineering firms that know a lot about BMS (Building Management System) solutions. These solutions deal mainly with data from electromechanical devices such as UPS, air conditioning units, generators.  The data center manager needs this information but a BMS is only one part of its requirements to properly maintain a data center. A DCIM solution adds new elements of visibility within the data center. The cabinet is now part of the equation. The warm / cold air flux within the data center in between cabinets, the notion of available space and the remaining electrical capability left in a cabinet are all important parameters to manage effectively a data center. But is it enough? Is this added capability really justified for the implementation of such a tool? Is the value add generated by this solution justify the effort to operationalize it? Are we to stop just before the real value add is generated for the business?

Throughout the previous articles, we analyzed the importance of having a good inventory within its data centers as well as how to collect the required information. We also discussed the reasons why companies implement data center management tools. We are now at the phase where we want to pick such a solution / tools that will allow us to better manage our assets and add value for the IT department.

The value of such a tool resides in the quality and type of the data maintained within the solution.  Human nature being what it is, it is important to keep in mind the following:

  • If I am to use it,  I need value add
  • Having no spare time, effort to maintain the data must be minimal
  • Information must be pertinent and easy to find.

Considering the above and knowing that a data center is an ecosystem in which numerous departments / individuals with different interests revolve around it, you need to pick the right tool.

The main interest for the following groups is:

  • Data center manager: Available room capacity
  • Buyer: An inventory of equipment / licenses
  • Finance: The cost of goods
  • IT architect: Equipment configuration.
  • System admin: Configuration parameters
  • Incident manager: Impact analysis
  • Clients: Visualization of their assets

All these actors need specific information whether in a read mode or in very specific conditions in writing mode. Their interests being different, the solution must supply them with specific views that will allow them to easily interpret the information in a visual manner if possible.

At this point, it seems risky to try to respond to the needs of such a large crowd with only one tool. However, these needs all relate to the same element: The IT component that is required by the customer. The parameters / attributes that define those components can be numerous, but their management is not that more difficult because of the quantity. Before going further: beware of the artifacts that do not add any real value to the information. You want to make sure that it is not a nice to have, but really of value for the service you want to deliver. Another important aspect that you need to consider is the fact that the solution can tie in nicely with applications that you currently use.  Example: Is it really necessary to add a new CAD application when you already own Microsoft Visio in your operation?

It is important to increase the maturity level of your organization in adding value. The solution must help you to minimize the risks, the costs and help you take decisions. For that, you must be able to visualize complexity, understand interdependence and accelerate the decision process. To achieve this, different views are expected by the main actors:

  • Financial and purchasing
  • Service impacts
  • Electrical impacts
  • Component configurations
  • LAN / WAN / SAN connections
  • Data center plan
  • Equipment location
  • Relationship: Customer / application / databases / virtual server / physical server

Those solutions exist. I have personally implemented in a short time span some complex installations. Early on , even during  implementation, the customer  found some ROI, at different  levels. The requirements are that your evaluation criteria’s be well thought of, that your project plan is defined and the business process in line with your vision.


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What’s in my cabinet?

In the last few articles, I presented what is needed to be able to rely on an up-to-date inventory
for better control of your data center. Whether you want to migrate or introduce one or
multiple servers, many important parameters must be known before even considering a suitable
position for them. It is a complex task since it involves many parties and multiple parameters
such as: function of the asset, its ownership, its electromechanical properties, its relationship
with other devices… all important inputs that will influence your decisions. Previously, it was
concluded that if you own more than 20 cabinets, the famous spreadsheet is no longer suitable
to provide the type of help you need to properly manage your data center.

DCIM, DCNM, MDCM and all the other acronyms which will be used in the future, propose
some form of inventory capabilities. Built-in inventory functions in these solutions are however
designed to respond to a need required by the solution itself within its ecosystem.

When you decide to look for such a solution, it is important to clearly define what you need
to accomplish overall. These enterprise solutions are expensive and their implementation
complex because of the many inputs necessary. You want to maximize your investment and
provide your company with as much value add as possible. A DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure
Management) solution for example, could greatly help you in managing your data center but do
no good for the IT architect. However, it is important to have the support of this same architect
if you want to get the full benefit of the solution. Another factor you have to consider is for the
solution to be well integrated into your process to avoid duplicate input and redundant data
which are always a great source of error.

So, let’s start at the beginning: Data Collection – which is really the gathering of the content of
the cabinets in the data centers. Here, we are trying to establish our baseline. One option is to
go from cabinet to cabinet with a pad of paper and write down the name of the equipment,
model number, position, asset tag, various connections (electrical and data)… Once this painful
operation has been completed, you need to transfer the info into a program or spreadsheet and
complete the picture by inputting more info such as the electromechanical data on the device.
However there are many solutions available to help you increase efficiency and accuracy in this
important step towards having a perfect picture of your data center. Some of these can even
cut back on the time required to complete the data collection phase by more than 35%. This
type of solution (MDCM – Mobile Data Center Management) can also be reused to audit your
data center once a year or on a periodic basis. It will also allow you to find what is supposed to
be vs. what is found. At this point, it becomes an excellent source for all your needs in regard
to corporate accounting necessity, SOX, PCI and other compliance issues, annual maintenance

This type of solution can also help you manage your day to day operation. MDCM systems will
incorporate a handheld device that will allow the operator to take his entire inventory into
the data center with him and update the core data base with his changes while the operation
takes place. The need to post or pre-process a change will be eliminated since the data center
technician will enter the change into his handheld device as he makes the change. Thus the
data base will update when and where the change occurs. The level of data base accuracy and
currency will be greatly enhanced with the use of these mobile devices.

Once you have collected the data, you are now ready to transfer it into your asset management

In the next article, we will analyze the different types of solutions on the market, try to
demystify them and look at the pros & cons. We will then attempt to build a vision that will
enable better manage our data centers.

Importance of Data Center Inventory

In my last article, we spoke about two golden rules to deliver a successful migration or construction datacenter project:

  1. Rule #1: Make sure people understand each other
  2. Rule #2:  Break up your project in smaller phases before redesigning your data center.

In this article, assuming that you have clearly defined your expectations and needs with all parties of the project and that you have also proceeded with the “Cleanup” of your datacenter, we will review one more aspect before moving to the fun part:  The Inventory.

You should have somewhere a list of servers that are supposed to be in your datacenter. Whether it is a spreadsheet or a Visio diagram, it most probably remains a single user tool that is not shareable and lacks accuracy…  Avoid surprises and make sure it is accurate.

I have often seen organizations without accurate information on the content of their datacenter. Here, I am not even talking about an exhaustive list of devices and or attributes.  I am simply referring to the name of the server and its location within the datacenter. In order to start your construction project, you need more than this. And if it is a migration project, you then need a whole other set of information.

The exercise might look easy, but in reality it’s the complete opposite. This is probably the most crucial phase of your project. For example, without proper information, you cannot decide on the server location without taking a risk of disturbing your electrical or mechanical setup. This exercise is a lot more complex than it looks. Some companies specialize in datacenter inventory. Software applications exist to help you in this area as well. Both will help you speed up the process and increase the accuracy of your inventory.

It is important to ask yourself which information is needed before starting your inventory and where to get it!  But first, you need to answer the following: Who will be using it?  It is my experience that if you want your inventory project to be successful, you need to involve all departments, not only the datacenter operation department. An accurate and up-to-date inventory is a powerful decision making tool that adds a lot of value to departments such as purchasing, finance, IT architecture, security… By involving all these departments, the inventory will remain accurate for a long time and everyone involved will benefit. Thus, inventory becomes part of the process and is no longer a project in time that you have to repeat every time you do a migration. We will talk about the process in another article soon. For now, let’s concentrate on the different sources of information we have at our disposal to complete the inventory:

  • Surveillance tools
  • Applications such as Vmware
  • House spreadsheet (purchasing, finance…)
  • Architecture diagrams
  • Network diagrams
  • Business unit information

To complete the picture, you need to perform a physical inventory to tie everything into your datacenter. Every one of these sources will add value to your inventory and will bring you closer to a successful project. We now see that an inventory project is not a simple operation and must not be taken lightly. It is a fundamental part of the larger project: migration or construction of a datacenter.

The following are the important categories of assets that must be taken in consideration:

  • Electromechanically components
  • Servers
  • Network and San components
  • Cables
  • Software applications
  • Business units using the datacenter
  • All links that tie these components together.

Obviously, there is a whole set of sub-categories and or attributes to these assets that should be taken into consideration (ex: # of watts use by a server, its weight, # of U, heat dissipation…). It is not always necessary to gather all this information in the first run, but you should include them in your process when you acquire new devices. It will then be easier on the second run of an inventory project.

In conclusion, the success of a migration or construction project of a datacenter depends on the quality and accuracy of the information on your assets. The operation must be taken very seriously in order to collect the appropriate information for your customers which will provide them value added services.  They then become your ally by adopting the inventory process which will guarantee an accurate inventory at all time.

In the next article, we will take some time to analyze the different functionalities you need to look for in the application you will use to manage your inventory.

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Please leave your views and comments on DCT Forum.


Are you in control of your data center?

I have been in the IT business for more than 30 years from managing large IT infrastructure migrations, to moving data centers to helping to design them and managed their construction. During all these years, I have seen a lot of surprising and amazing infrastructures to say the least… I have come across many data center projects that made me wonder why they were started in the first place. It isn’t that the needs weren’t there, but rather the fact that the initial hypotheses were wrong or the information was incomplete. The result: The needs were poorly explained to the engineers and the planning was deficient.

In the following, I propose a couple of rules to follow regarding data centres,

Rule #1: Make sure people understand each other

When a French speaking person speaks to an English speaking person, at least one of them must speak and understand the other person’s language or they must hire a translator. The same principle applies for a Data Center project. The engineer must be able to understand the IT specialist and their needs. Moreover, the IT specialist must be aware where the technology will be in 4 – 5 years down the road and if at the end of the construction project, the data center really meets the requirements. A data center isn’t built for today’s needs! A Data Center must be able to last at least 15 years and must be able to evolve over those years.
Ex: Intel will come out with new technology next year that will be adopted by Vmware that could change multiple factors in your data center… Is the IT specialist aware of this? The engineering firm is rarely tracking those changes in the IT industry. It is the responsibility of the requester to expose the needs correctly and clearly.
How many times have you heard the following from clients? They designed it wrong or they didn’t get me the proper specifications!

So you need:
1. A multi-year vision
2. To clearly define your needs
3. To make sure the other party understands them.

Rule #2: Start small before redesigning your data center

Before you even start with a vision, make sure you have a clear picture of your actual assets. Adopt a phase approach that will get you where you want to go in your data center project upgrade.

• Clean up your environment: make sure that you don’t carry a dead horse, which means equipment that is still running but not processing anything because it’s been decommissioned a few years ago!
• Try to consolidate using virtualization? It is less expensive than building a new data center!
• One last piece of advice before taking your pen to layout your new data center: use some manufacturer accessories that could help you remove hot spots such as directional air flow tiles, rack air removal door with built in chimneys that throw hot air into the plenum! Containment is also sometimes a solution for your air conditioning issues.

Some of these ideas may expand the life of your data by a few years! I know, it’s not sexy, but it will allow you enough time to plan for the best solution. Over the next couple of months, I am planning to write on many topics that I have come across in my multiple mandates around data centers. I believe that had my customers considered some of these elements, many headaches would have been avoided.

So, what do you do first? Get in control of your data center: Understand your assets! Understand the relationship between the elements in it as well as the ownership of every one of these elements. Some of you might be using a spreadsheet while others are using an enterprise solution. I have not come across a single company that was able to manage a 20 cabinets or more data center efficiently using a spreadsheet as the only tool. How many attributes do you have to input in this spreadsheet if you have 20 cabinets? More than a thousand for sure and that isn’t counting the interrelation between them! Ideally, only one person must be using this spreadsheet …as a result the information is of value only to one person!

If you need to expand or design a new data center, what kind of information will you need to provide the engineering firm or the IT specialist so you can have a successful project? Is it in this spreadsheet or will you have to collect more data? The next article will introduce ways to represent your data center and really help you manage it.