As quickly as the data center is evolving, so too must businesses evolve their techniques for how to manage it. Data centers have become more complex and dense to accommodate growing business requirements, but tools for monitoring and management have not kept up. As our reliance on information increases, so does the need for constant uptime. Unfortunately, poorly managed infrastructure has a costly consequence in the form of downtime.

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That's why a new set of data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools and practices is emerging to give stakeholders a holistic view of physical and logical assets. Instead of managing the data center ad hoc using cumbersome and antiquated mechanisms (like Excel spreadsheets), data center managers can use new tools to track real-time power consumption, rack location, load and heat information, as well as model any physical move within the data center. They can also view historical data, as well as plan for the future. The benefit of all this is that it allows data center managers to reduce energy costs, make the best use of available capacity, prevent shut-downs, and run data centers more effectively. Here we'll take a look at DCIM and how it can help IT keep the executive suite happy. (For background reading, check out 5 Essential Things That Keep a Data Center Running.)

DCIM Defined

DCIM refers to the intersection of data center facilities functions within an organization. Gartner defines DCIM as "tools that monitor, measure, manage and/or control data center use and energy consumption of all IT-related equipment (such as servers, storage and network switches), and facilities infrastructure components (such as power distribution units and computer room air conditioners)." More specifically, DCIM refers to the successful deployment of software, hardware and sensors to achieve real-time monitoring and management for all systems across both IT and facilities infrastructures.

The Data Center Infrastructure Management Market

The DCIM market is growing quickly and furiously. DCIM has only been a buzzword since 2008, but as of 2016, market penetration has reached 53 percent. Further, The 451 Group predicts that the DCIM market will be worth more than $2 billion by 2019.

What are the main drivers of such explosive growth? A number of factors are driving DCIM. These include:

According to Forrester, as businesses become more dependent on technology to deliver products and services, there is a greater emphasis on the entire technology management chain, including areas that have been relatively invisible in the past, notably the integrated management of the physical facilities, power and cooling elements of the data center throughout their entire life cycle.

How DCIM Benefits Business

DCIM provides a few key benefits that appeal to many data center managers. These include:

  • Improved Uptime
    Availability is probably one of the major concerns for data center managers. In the face of increasingly stringent service-level agreements (SLAs), the possibility of a downtime incident is enough to keep IT professionals up at night. According to Forrester, it isn't extreme scenarios like terrorism or weather that tend to disrupt business; in fact, power failure is the most common cause of downtime. DCIM solutions can alert operational managers of potential bottlenecks in the infrastructure, particularly power and cooling, and provide quick access to mediate problems.

  • Better Efficiency
    According to a recent report, data centers use approximately seven percent of the nation’s power. Needless to say, controlling energy consumption is critical not only for environmental and financial and reasons, but also from a regulatory standpoint. DCIM tools can give data center managers the necessary insight into energy consumption and recommend equipment placement to improve efficiency. (For related reading, see 6 Reasons Why Green IT Is Pure Gold for Business.)

  • Capacity Management
    Thirty percent of servers in data centers are considered dead, or have utilization rates of less than three percent. Virtualization can help improve resource utilization, but data center managers must consider how it impacts future workloads and changes in infrastructure. Through DCIM, managers can model proposed changes and map out their potential costs and resource requirements.

What to Consider Before Diving In

Forrester considers DCIM to be extremely complex because it has its roots in multiple technologies from a fragmented vendor landscape. There are three distinct clusters of vendors:

  • Data center facility and infrastructure vendors
  • IT management vendors
  • Systems hardware vendors

Further, there are potentially hundreds of DCIM vendors offering disparate monitoring and management tools. However, groups of leaders, most notably Schneider Electric, Emerson Network Power, CA Technologies and Nlyte Software, are emerging and they’re starting to add suites of products. Therefore, it’s critical for businesses to look at existing solutions to understand how their requirements may evolve over time.

Simply put, it’s important to consider the most critical information that operations managers need from the data center. What information is needed to meet SLA agreements? What data will help manage availability, capacity and efficiency? What metrics will upper management request? Will disparate tools work or does the data center need a holistic DCIM solution? How will existing tools integrate with new tools?

The bottom line is that when it comes to data center infrastructure management, one size does not fit all. And although DCIM is still maturing, analysts at The 451 Group believe that it will be increasingly difficult to achieve true data center maturity and effectiveness without the extensive use of DCIM software. So, while businesses must do their homework before jumping into DCIM, those who fail to do so may get left behind.

A Truly Optimized Data Center

IT is responsible for the inner workings of the data center, including the network, server and storage equipment, while facilities rule the physical realm, notably power and cooling. In many organizations, there is an information gap between these two groups, because each has its own set of concerns and requirements. The goal of DCIM, however, is to get IT and facilities to play in the same sandbox and work toward the common goal of a truly optimized data center.