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Q&A: Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM)

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

In part two of Q&A about Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM), Paul Goodison, VP of Infrastructure Solutions, Cormant, and Brad Beamish, Director of Professional Services, both from Cormant, a division of BGIS, discuss some of the “big” questions about the industry.

What are key features that industry professionals don't realize about DCIM solutions?

Brad: There's an idea that sometimes because we've got all these Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) tools already, we don't need another tool. But the DCIM tool really is a different solution and doesn’t replace ITIL tools—it works in conjunction with them. It is a foundational layer that feeds them sources of truth of equipment and takes their sources of truth for logical data. I think that's something that the industry should try and embrace.

Paul: I know the scope of a great DCIM tool is misunderstood and people don't realize how broad the ability of the tool is. At BGIS Cormant, we've got everything from campus customers to customers that have data centers on trucks that go out with battalions, and we're educating the industry who don't realize just how much you can do with Cormant DCIM. So, a key feature, if you like, is the scope of the DCIM solutions abilities. Often people put DCIM in a small box, that’s not right. Ask vendors how much they can do for you.

Another key feature that customers almost never ask about in an RFP, and they should, is the depth of support and knowledge a great DCIM vendor has or should have. We have staff who have been involved in DCIM/ITIM solution for over 20 years. That is going to guarantee new customer success.

Can DCIM software be hosted in the Cloud? 

Paul: Yes. In fact, some vendors think it's the only way it can be done. That's not true. Being on-premise often has many advantages for the customer, including the security of their data. But, you know, if you're small, if you need to get started quickly, it can be a great way to go. And we've got customers that do it long term as well. So, I think it's an option but not the only option.

Brad: I think Paul covered it. The vast majority of our customers will host on their premises, and there are technical reasons and security reasons for that. But cloud hosting is always an option and might mean the customer cloud. When we say “on-premise,” the customer's premise may include, for example, Azure or Amazon Web Services. That's fine and we support that.

Is data security a concern for the industry? Can DCIM solutions help protect security? 

Paul: Absolutely! I recently spoke to the CSO of a large American bank, and their eyes lit up when I talked about the fact that Cormant-CS ensures that every device is tracked and demonstrate that the equipment is still in use, who's managing it, and who's patching it. Also, every network port has a documented purpose, and inbound circuits coming into the building are fully documented and reported. They appreciated the significant security benefits – and wondered why the bank didn’t have Cormant-CS already.  

All these things, old servers that are not being used or patched, network ports people don't know about, open inbound ports — they're all hacker targets. It's an industry concern that must be addressed.  

Brad: Security is a concern for the industry, of course. In any industry, data is a concern, and undocumented, unmanaged IT infrastructure is a significant security risk. I do calls with customers and preach about infrastructure management as an organizational practice because it's often not treated that way. For example, people will only worry about a cable when it's broken, but this is the wrong approach. A proactive approach to infrastructure management, whether it's a data center or a campus, will mitigate many risks. At Cormant, we deliver equipment and application data security via our web services and mobility. It's all a standard part of our software solution.    

A DCIM solution can provide a holistic view of the data center’s floor space, equipment, power, and data, but can it help monitor how efficiently the center is operating? 

Paul: Yes, it can. We work with customers to deliver a fantastic layer 1 data set that is used for monitoring and change. As you move away from the DCIM tool, if you've got a correlation engine like Splunk or you're implementing AI and you're an enterprise-level organization, then having those systems fed by great DCIM data is critical. There's no other source if you don't have software collecting and organizing your physical and logical layer 1 data. There's no other physical layer source of data. Our aim is to make sure it's complete, accurate data.  

Brad: Having a holistic view of your data center floor space equipment will also help monitor operational efficiency. Paul talked about having a great data set, and one of the hot metrics over the last few years is Power Use Efficiency (PUE) — your efficiency within the data center. So that's a metric we can calculate and present to the customer, and then track to see if it's improving. Many customers will look at the PUE metric and say that it’s good, but we calculate and discover something different. We've refined that calculation to account for some of the things the metric leaves out.

In baseball, there are about 1000 separate analytics; each one is meant to improve on the last one. At Cormant, we’re doing something similar. The idea is that you give us the data set and if you change your mind about how you want to crunch it, view it, and what analytics you want to generate, no problem. We'll handle all of that.  

Can a DCIM solution be managed entirely by an organization, or is a third party needed?  

Paul: There should never be a requirement for a DCIM vendor on site to manage DCIM. It can be managed entirely by an organization. We've heard of customers who must employ someone from the DCIM vendor to operate the tool for the long term, but that should not be a requirement. You can do it yourself. Of course, some organizations want turn-key managed services, and one of the great parts of being part of BGIS is we can absolutely deliver managed services. At BGIS we manage the data centers for household name companies.

Having said “you do need people”, don't dismiss a vendor’s roster of people. At Cormant, our customer service team that takes client calls and answers emails averages over seven years of experience in DCIM, and the support desk manager is a 15-year veteran. The thousands of calls they've taken means they’ve got the background and know-how to address just about any issue that may come up. You should be aware of the value of a good vendor from the person you speak to, through implementation and on-going support.  

Brad: An overwhelming number of our customers don't have a dedicated resource internally. The ownership of the system is shared amongst all the system users, along with the task of keeping things up to date and managing documentation. But the overall administration and management of it doesn’t usually require a dedicated standalone resource, and certainly not one from the vendor.  

It can be complicated. It's a matter of going through the steps and process together, but that's something our team is good at. And, as Paul said, we've been doing it for so long now that we have it down to a science.

Any final thoughts?

Paul: It is more than software and features and it’s more than fancy graphics. Those customers who are successful with DCIM over the long term, looked at their vendor holistically. What’s the support like, depth of talent, financial backing, commitment to DCIM over the long term, passion of the team? These are all critically important. Finally, nothing stands alone, DCIM is amazing as a source of truth for other enterprise systems that, together, provide incredible benefits for an organization in terms of operational ability, cost saving, capacity management, speed of change and security.

Brad: I do think there are some misconceptions about how difficult DCIM is to implement, which may be because some vendors have made it difficult and very expensive. Industry professionals should realize that it's not that way across the board. We’ve seen a lot of companies look at a DCIM solution a second time as they adopt the practice of infrastructure management but are trying to find a better tool. We’ve had the opportunity to speak to them and help them make a better choice. It can be easy and cost-effective, and it can be implemented quickly.

Read part one of the series.

Please contact us for more information about DCIM solutions. Read more about BGIS Critical Environment Services.