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Distinguishing a Data Center Monitoring System (DCMS) and Its Benefits
A DCMS specializes in alarm management and aggregation of data across multiple sites.
Geist Intelligent Facilities
centers continue to grow in complexity, the amount of data that systems
provide is overwhelming. As an industry professional sifting through
this data is tedious, time consuming, and often times unrealistic. Yet,
the responsibility of maintaining uptime, preventing downtime, running
an efficient data center, and pinpointing causes of events falls on
teams of individuals across a number divisions within companies. With
complexity of data centers and their requirements growing
exponentially, how can data center teams keep up with it all?
The solution includes a relatively recent breed of software—more than a
BMS, but not quite an NMS. We refer to this newer (within the last five
years these have begun to appear) breed of software with a number
of terms—some popular ones being data center monitoring systems (DCMS),
data center management software (DCMS), data center infrastructure
management (DCIM), etc. We will refer to these systems as the first,
data center monitoring systems (DCMS). Popular examples of DCMSs
include: Geist I.F.’s Environet, Eaton’s Forseer, Liebert’s Sitescan,
and APC’s Infrastruxture Central. While some popular examples of BMSs
include: Siemens’ Apogee, Johnson Controls’ Metasys, Honeywell’s
Building Manager, and Automated Logic’s WebCTRL.
Distinguishing a DCMS
Because of the similarities, DCMSs are more often times confused with Building Management Systems—opposed to NMSs; however, there are a few fundamental differences between a true BMS and a DCMS. A BMS is designed for building automation and control. BMSs tend to control processes like chilled water systems, HVAC systems, lighting, etc. They are focused and designed with control and automation as the primary function; but monitoring, while inherent in the systems, often receives less attention. Many of these systems can handle information regarding power but either have a limited capacity, or an expensive growth path to adequately illuminate the entire power chain from utility to outlet. Since a BMS is focused on control, the systems and services that are required are sophisticated and specialized and therefore are extremely expensive when compared with DCMS.
A BMS generally does not support SNMP natively so it has a hard time with any IT related gear. A BMS will allow for some amount of historical trending, but the reporting of this data is typically used to explain why an incident occurred rather than to help predict and prevent when an incident will occur. Similarly, the alarming functionality of these systems is usually reactive to a problem that has occurred rather than functioning as a warning system to a potential problem.
A DCMS, on the other hand, can act as a stand-alone system, but it is designed as a proactive monitoring addition meant to complement a BMS. A DCMS does not purport to handle full scale building controls. It has the capabilities to do control, but generally limits that to specific elements of the system. A DCMS specializes in gathering data from any number of systems via SNMP, Modbus, BACnet, or LONworks. The DCMS then aggregates that data, makes it more intelligent for the user, and allows for virtually unlimited historical records that can then be grouped and analyzed as a system. A DCMS specializes in alarm management and aggregation of data across multiple sites.
Operational Awareness as a Benefit of a DCMS
Not only is a DCMS valuable when giving insight into alarm conditions, but the aggregation of data is a powerful tool to implement viable plans of actions after an event. Operational awareness is crucial to pinpointing the cause of an event and therefore preventing it in the future.
There are a number of possible causes for data center outages and
downtime (e.g., an ATS failing to transfer to backup power or diesel
generators failing to start.) Not only is it helpful to know the
operational state of these devices before the event, it is also helpful
to know the cascading effects on the data center ecosystem, for
• How long did the UPS support the load?
• What did the power profile look like after shutting-down non-essential applications?
• What did the thermal profile of the room look like?
• How long before thermal runaway?
A DCMS gives users this operational intelligence, which is valuable to future contingency planning. Not only can the data center professionals diagnose the devices in question (e.g., what was the oil temperature of the generator before failure?), but they can also develop an action plan for redundancy and switchover.
If an event occurs in a data center, understanding the cause allows
future prevention from the event occurring again. With so many
monitoring systems at work, it is not always easy to pinpoint the cause
of an event. A DCMS allows data center mangers to analyze data before,
during, and after the event to determine why it occurred. A DCMS pulls
information from building management systems, IT, electrical systems,
etc. to show trends and patterns that led to an event. Data center
managers can then implement that knowledge to prevent future like
Another advantage to this event-driven operational awareness is the
benefits customers see. During an outage, data center customers like to
know what is going on, when it will be fixed, and how it will be
prevented in the future. A DCMS, gives timely insight into causes and
occurrences of outages. A DCMS provides fast, intelligent answers so
data centers can assure their clients that a process has been
implemented to prevent future downtime. Without these answers and
solutions, data center customers are likely to lose confidence in their
providers, which can result in lost business.
A Difference in Cost and a Benefit of a DCMS
Along with the above differences there is also a difference in cost. DCMSs are built specifically for monitoring and require less commissioning. In addition, they frequently cost less to purchase and maintain. A DCMS can support hundreds of thousands of individually monitored points and supports corporations with distributed environments. A BMS system can also handle lots of data, but the scalability of these systems is extremely costly. What BMS systems may charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement; a DCMS will generally charge tens of thousands of dollars.
In addition to the actual cost being lower, one of the biggest advantages to implementing a DCMS is that it saves money and shows ROI—fast. DCMSs are equipped with a number of tools that identify waste and overlap in data center processes. One example of this is a DCMS’s ability to improve energy efficiency is the runtime of CRAC units. A true DCMS can respond to real-time environmental conditions and make adjustments as necessary to reduce CRAC runtime. Since data center cooling is often layered with redundancy, this approach can save an organization serious capital without compromising the integrity of the data center environment.
Overall, BMS systems are designed for control. Monitoring and
management of the data is secondary to a BMS. A DCMS is more concerned
with giving users valuable operational insight across all critical
infrastructure—mechanical, electrical, and controls. With the increase
in complexity growing in data centers the DCMS allows data center
professionals to view pertinent data, quickly. This form of monitoring
increases efficiency and uptime while allowing data center
managers to make informed decisions about their data centers’ capacity,
consumption, and expansions. This new addition to data center
management software provides what is quickly becoming a staple for data
center professionals—a clear, cohesive view into the multiple complex
systems of their data center.
A true DCMS has an additional number of tools and functionality other than those listed here. For more information on the basics of what a true DCMS should include, read our white paper The Bare Minimum: Foundations for a Comprehensive DCMS, available at www.geistif.com.
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