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Q&A: Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM)

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Part one of a two-part Q&A series about Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM)

In part one of a two-part Q&A series about Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM), Paul Goodison, VP of Infrastructure Solutions and Brad Beamish, Director of Professional Services, both from Cormant, a division of BGIS.

How aware are professionals in the Critical Environments industry of Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) and software tools?

Brad: I think there's an increasing level of awareness within the industry about the existence of DCIM tools, but we still see limited understanding about how they operate and the real benefits they bring. There’s limited historical information regarding the market, but that's one thing about DCIM that doesn't apply to Cormant-CS since we've been around for 20 years now.

However, even though we have a long track record, there's a perception within the industry that DCIM is still untested and optional. I mean, there's a good adoption rate, but it certainly isn't adopted as a standard everywhere like we would like it to be. DCIM isn’t considered to be something you absolutely need if you're going to run a data center— and many people go without it. So, there's still only a mid-level of adoption for solutions overall.

There aren’t many stand-alone, independent, vendor-agnostic software solutions like Cormant-CS in the marketplace. In fact, we were using the term Infrastructure Management before DCIM was a thing. Paul Goodison and I were at a trade show one day we looked at each other and said, “Yeah, DCIM, that's us!” So, they invented this great little market for us and put a lot of money into advertising it. We've also seen a lot of the big players leave. Now, the market that was a lot more crowded 10 years ago has thinned out, and I think the market is probably going to settle down a bit now around that handful of players.

What do you think, Paul?

Paul: I think awareness is good, but we still feel customers are skeptical that it can be as good as the vendors say. There was a lot of hype early on with vendors saying it would do everything: make you more attractive, clean your teeth, make the tea. I think there's also a misunderstanding of what it can do, so at the same time, customers worry that it won’t improve anything, but don't appreciate the breadth of its applicability.   

Sometimes DCIM is perceived as an owned data center solution; if you look at a typical enterprise customer today, that’s just not true. Enterprise customers have equipment in owned sites, co-location sites, services in the cloud, and are now being asked to manage distributed IT in IoT and Edge compute. All of those have applicability to DCIM, people aren't aware of how much it can do for them. And then you've got the other side of this, which is the operators of hyperscale data centers and co-location sites. A lot of these data center owners are not aware of the value add that DCIM can provide to increase revenue and add customer value, enhancing their relationship with their customers.

What are the top benefits of implementing a DCIM solution?

Brad: I think the number one thing we see repeatedly on every account is the DCIM solution acts as that single source of truth.

When it comes to the state of a lot of projects I take on, I find that they have a system of record for assets and a system of record for power. What’s more, the system of record for the UPS (Uninterupted Power Supply) and cabling is in yet another system. Often, these systems are disconnected, hard to update, and the level of trust in their accuracy varies from organization to organization.

Implementing a DCIM tool creates a centralized data repository where all this scattered, siloed data can now live in one single place. Whether that includes facilities, data, or IT data asset procurement data, having it in one place to report against, as well as update, maintain, and operate creates efficiencies and mitigates risk. By eliminating multiple versions of the same spreadsheet, you realize a wide range of benefits. For instance, you've now created a digital collaboration space for people to plan upgrades, changes, and projects, review infrastructure, and decide what capacities are available when it comes to the next steps. And that’s just a few examples.

That sort of virtual collaboration and consolidation has now become more important than ever. In the past, you would generally work in the same building as your data center and you could walk down the hallway, stand in front of the rack, and look at it. With co-location and distributed IT, a lot of that infrastructure has been moved off-site.

Now, due to the COVID pandemic, we’ve seen an explosion in remote workers and that’s created even more distance between you, your colleagues, and your data center. Getting together with other people has become even more difficult, so the digital collaboration space with that single source of truth provides a huge benefit. With the Cormant-CS solution, all the information is in the same place and everyone on the team can look at the same records and be on the same page. Teams can review documents and drawings and then bring them all together.

I work with a lot of customers who have been through mergers and acquisitions and they've inherited sites that are run in different ways. By implementing the DCIM solution, it's an opportunity to align policy, procedures, and practices across all their sites and have a tool to maintain it and keep it up to date. With the Cormant-CS DCIM solution, you get mobile access to all your information, and you can go into the field and easily scan and keep track of all your devices. It changes the whole process around how you operate big infrastructure, whether it’s a college or university campus or a data center.

Paul: Along with reducing and identifying risks, a major benefit of DCIM implementation is reducing costs. This means the cost of equipment that's stranded, the cost of power that's stranded, and the cost of power that's being consumed.  

In addition, you'll see environmental social governance benefits, whether that be CO2 tracking, reducing power, or reporting out to the CEO. This relates to what Brad said in terms of no longer relying on spreadsheets: ten conflicting spreadsheets certainly don't give you any of this control and visibility.

Can implementing a DCIM solution help manage risk?

Brad: How do we manage risk? By identifying devices that are end of life or underused, can be replaced, or might not have the latest patches, firmware fixes, confirming correct power and cooling capacity and redundancy, and ability to schedule maintenance, maintain records, and review testing results. All these things will help manage the risk.

The risk in a data center is centered around uptime and downtime. We always want to avoid downtime. Therefore, maximized uptime is our ultimate, most important goal, and if we can create efficiencies while doing that, all the better. For example, we can reduce our power consumption, and maximize space. I think for a lot of organizations it's that physical layer—the layer of cables and ports and connections that are all through the site, whether it's a data center or a campus. Making sure we understand where those cables go and what they're connected to is paramount to understanding and mitigating risk.

Paul: At its most basic level, risk reduction is understanding your current state. If you can understand your current state, you can think about it, analyze it, ask the right questions and make change.

However, I’ve found that for many organizations, it goes a little bit further than that. One of our very large government customers had an edict come down that involved removing a certain vendor's equipment from their network globally. This sent people into a tailspin because they didn't know where to begin, and senior management didn't think they had a way of doing that whatsoever. Fortunately, the folks that run the Cormant-CS solution were immediately able to identify the location of every single equipment device globally–including the vendor whose equipment needed to be removed. Within an hour, they had a report. Three days later, they had it disabled.

How do companies measure their return on investment for DCIM implementations?

Brad: Deploying a DCIM solution within an organization has a lot of different impacts. One of the stories that comes to mind for me is from right before COVID happened. The team and I were on-site doing a big data center audit for a pharmaceutical company. We reviewed a couple of thousand racks and verified the data we imported into Cormant-CS using our mobile tools. We verified that it was accurate and up to date. What’s more, we found over 200 servers that they didn't have documented and didn't know about.

So, that's a risk! But it's also an ROI because now they've recovered 200 servers at $10,000 each. They’ve eliminated risk while adding a whole bunch of assets that have now been put back on the books and can be amortized properly. They can make sure service contracts are there or stopped if they are not using them anymore. That is an example of an ROI that we've seen demonstrated repeatedly— every physical audit finds equipment that was not previously documented.

One of the best examples of an ROI study is from a customer in the financial services industry. They needed to produce compliance reports about their assets regarding where they were located, but they were struggling to produce them. Their compliance rate was around 30%. But, after deploying the Cormant solution, they had 98% compliance! Management asked how they did it and they explained that they deployed the solution and visited every rack and every workstation with mobile devices and updated the inventory. They stood them out from everybody else within the organization because they went from 30% compliance to 98% compliance. It really changed the way that organization operated, helped reduce operating costs, and created increased efficiencies as they are no longer managing multiple systems.

Every outage results in costs, downtime, lost revenue, reduced production—just to name a few. If we can avoid just one instance of downtime or reduce the duration of the downtime because we've got good records that helps us mitigate the situation that caused it, that's an incredible ROI to give back to a customer.

Paul: Knowing what equipment you have lower costs of operation, whether that's inside a data center or outside the data center in a campus-type environment. You don't have to keep wandering around visiting and guessing if you’ll bring the right equipment to the job the first time. You've got a good planning tool, and your cost of operation is significantly reduced.

You’re also going to see benefits regarding staffing. It's often underestimated how Cormant-CS improves staff job satisfaction, but with reliable, consistent reports and reduced errors, those employees who work with the racks first-hand will be far less frustrated. It will increase the retention of your staff, and it will give them a more fulfilling job, as they are not spending all their time fighting fires, which is a good thing in this market.  

In addition, if you move to a co-location site, you’ll realize ROI due to managing fewer racks because you can consolidate and densify those racks. This will deliver a lower overall power cost.

Brad mentioned recovering space, and every RU of space in a rack comes out to thousands of dollars a year in terms of power, cooling and the redundancy you need to run that space. So, if you're wasting the most expensive property in your entire organization. And if you're leaving that free when you could utilize it, you know, that's just insanity.

If you've got a consolidated DCIM system, you're not asking all your teams across the world to report constantly, because you've got standard, consistent reports, dashboards, people working more efficiently.

Please contact us for more information about DCIM solutions.