November 2014

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Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) Solution

Integral to Facility Management 
Sev Onyshkevych
Sev Onyshkevych,
Chief Marketing Officer,
FieldView Solutions

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According to the Gartner Group:  “Energy-related costs account for approximately 12 percent of overall data center expenditure and are the fastest-rising cost in the data center… data center power, cooling capacity, energy supply, and cost problems are likely to worsen during the next few years as organizations grow their technology infrastructure.”

A recent report by NRDC sites: “In 2013, U.S. data centers consumed an estimated 91 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity…. equivalent annual output of 34 large (500-megawatt) coal-fired power plants, enough electricity to power all the households in New York City twice over.  Data center electricity consumption is projected to increase to roughly 140 billion kilowatt-hours annually by 2020, the equivalent annual output of 50 power plants, costing American businesses $13 billion per year in electricity bills and causing the emission of nearly 150 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually.”

Many data center managers rely on a series of discrete management and monitoring “point-solutions,” and don’t have the necessary information at their fingertips to make proper, informed business decisions about their energy consumption, or their remaining capacity (power, space, cooling, network).  Most tools cover just a specific slice of the data center – some of these are vendor-specific, and come with hardware or facilities equipment purchases – and are not capable of consolidating data into one place and do not provide a single consolidated view nor do they offer meaningful reports for higher-level decision making about the overall operation of one or more data centers. 

Meet “DCIM”

One of the most effective tools available to mission critical facility managers for effective management of costs impacting facilities is Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software.  DCIM is not a single tool, but rather a category of software, which has as its foundation real-time monitoring of the Facilities and IT infrastructure, as well as IT Asset Management, and then a number of other modules which take advantage of this foundation.  A DCIM Monitoring tool is a software solution that consolidates a myriad of direct and indirect measurements from across the data center, particularly power and temperature, and from both the Facilities and the IT equipment.  It normalizes and presents all this data in a common “single pane of glass” so data center staff, Facilities, IT, IT Operations and executive management can fully understand what is going on inside and outside their facility, both in real-time and historically.

Data centers with various monitoring systems that don’t talk to one another cannot successfully manage data and don’t allow management to make sound business decisions.  What is really needed is a holistic, big-picture view that consolidates various complex systems.  If organizations have already invested time and money installing multiple monitoring systems, they can consolidate all the information with a DCIM Monitoring solution and normalize data into a single, consistent format.  Data is then easy to read and interpret, and management has the ability to predict where assets will fit best. 

A DCIM Monitoring solution “polls” energy usage in real-time – not only from the power strips, circuits and panels that directly power computer equipment housed in the data center, but even more importantly, from the large-scale infrastructure that delivers power and cools the environment, including UPSes (uninterruptable power supplies), PDUs (power distribution units), power switch gear, backup generators, CRAC or CRAE (cooling) units, as well as control systems such as BMS (Building Management Systems), EPMS (Electrical Power Management Systems), among others.  The most effective tools leverage data collected from the entire data center – and provide meaningful metrics, measurements and graphics to monitor optimal power usage levels.

How much savings can an ideal DCIM Monitoring solution offer?  According to Gartner estimates, DCIM tools can reduce operating expenses by as much as 20% and extend the life of a data center by as much as five years. 

To validate these statistics, FieldView Solutions sponsored a study by EMA Associates ( with large customers who have actually implemented DCIM Monitoring. The study showed savings even higher than 20%, from a combination of saving power, reducing cooling costs, increasing operational efficiency, reducing labor costs, increasing availability/uptime and deferring data center buildouts by squeezing more capacity out of existing infrastructure.  This in-depth research included customers such as a financial services firm, a major university, an investment bank and a multi-line insurance company.
Respondents confirmed that FieldView DCIM helped them with:

One customer with an electric bill of $6.3 million saved approximately 10%, which would not have been possible without the insight and visibility provided by a DCIM Monitoring tool.  Another customer’s “conservative” estimate of power savings, as a result of the DCIM processes, was upwards of 5% in electrical power usage.

One of the most crucial ways DCIM Monitoring is integral for Facilities Managers is its ability to reduce the threat of downtime caused by power overloads, particularly in identifying sections in the power chain where a failover of a given circuit, PDU, UPS or other component would result in hypothetical overload of other equipment.  DCIM pinpoints where problems may occur, including potential circuit overloads.

As one customer put it best: “Just because you have a bunch of servers plugged in doesn’t mean they draw two amps, twenty-four-by-seven.  The power consumption of servers can go up and down by 10-15% on a regular basis.  But if you happen to get a lot of servers plugged into the same RPP and they all go up at the same time, you have a big problem.”

Since power draw does not remain constant, a good DCIM Monitoring solution should monitor energy in real-time and offer immediate insight to prevent system overload.  Additionally, it should continuously monitor power consumption across circuits, electrical equipment and present the data in easy-to-understand reports that empower facility managers.  In fact, DCIM solutions can significantly improve the response time for requests to add, move, or change servers and associated equipment – allowing IT and Facilities staff the ability to quickly find an optimal location where there is sufficient space, power and cooling capacity, and the location is optimal for the applications and technicians.

With a DCIM Monitoring solution at hand, Facilities Managers can eliminate the periodic manual power and temperature readings which are costly, are not real-time, and are valid for only a single point in time (hence they cannot provide minimum and maximum power draw, high and low temperatures, etc.).  With continuous polling, managers can monitor every component of the data center’s electrical infrastructure.  The tools then aggregate this data and provide metrics and reports, as well as alerts.

As a final note, let’s take a quick look at capacity utilization.   Typically, data center operators create “buffers” or “reserves” of power settings to guard against dangerous “trip levels” being exceeded.  In almost all cases, they are calculating buffers through a highly manual, painstakingly slow process, using inflated “nameplate” numbers.

One customer used a short-hand method to estimate the power which might be consumed by each piece of equipment.  The customer would “de-rate” the manufacturer’s power consumption ratings by taking an arbitrary percentage of the maximum rated power consumption -- appearing on the name plate -- to estimate actual power.  Inevitably these exercises lead to substantial amounts of “stranded capacity” which is over-allocated – with as much as 80% of the actual power delivered to a “mission critical” data center never, ever, being used.  That’s a very substantial degree of under-utilization.

An effective DCIM Monitoring solution can safely reduce these buffers by using actual average and peak power draws to allocate existing capacity.  This has the effect of increasing utilization levels to be much closer to the maximum power capacities at each location.  Another customer reports DCIM’s direct impact on the company’s capacity utilization:  “[Before DCIM] we never knew where we were pushing the limits; and even more important when we were pushing the limits … We would have a guy sitting at every RPP and distribution device, and we have over 300 RPPs, and took them 24 by 7 to spot changes.”

How does this affect the bottom line?  How about increased capacity utilization by 25%, according to one customer who also notes it’s not uncommon for a solid DCIM solution to potentially raise utilization in a typical data center by as much as 75%.  The payback?  Postponing or canceling planned data center expansions and new buildouts, which can run well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Real Value of DCIM

A DCIM Monitoring system offers tremendous and measureable value from the moment it’s installed and working as the platform for projects that offer savings.  The best DCIM Monitoring solution will offer benchmarks of paybacks of the initial investment in a matter of months.

A DCIM Monitoring solution’s real value is evident in an enterprise customer with multiple data centers around the world.  The company’s challenges were similar to other organizations operating multiple data centers:

To alleviate these issues, the customer developed a list of requirements for the new tool, to replace the existing, cumbersome system.  The list consisted of more than 140 technical as well as cost requirements including:

In addition to these requirements, the new system had to scale and encompass 20 data centers distributed across Asia, Europe, North America and the PAC RIM.

The company selected FieldView’s DCIM system, with the criteria of alarming and notification being primary deliverables on Day 1.  The DCIM solution met these primary deliverables along with providing visibility into all mission-critical systems throughout their global data center footprint, including:

In addition to granting multiple users holistic views of the entire global infrastructure from a Web-based browser, the company is also using its DCIM solution as a capacity planning tool.

DCIM – or no DCIM?

More than ever, organizations face tremendous demands for more IT infrastructure.  Companies across the globe are facing out-of-control energy costs, expensive and increasing data center build-outs, inefficient use of existing power, cooling and physical capacity, and a greater risk of downtime.  By deploying tools that offer better information and a holistic view of the entire facility, data center energy consumption costs can be reduced and data center infrastructure management efficiencies can be improved. 

Reliable Controls This is where DCIM Monitoring comes into the picture.  A good Data Center Infrastructure Management tool can reduce the risk of downtime, while helping to raise capacity utilization, streamline energy costs, and drive worker efficiencies.  Simply put, implementing a solid DCIM Monitoring solution is well worth the effort and expense for all data centers, particularly those with complex environments, with multiple locations, or many different vendors’ equipment.  The quick ROI is gained via reduced power consumption, more effective thermal management, streamlined operational efficiency, increased uptime/met SLAs, and squeezing out more capacity from existing space, power and cooling infrastructure. 

It’s not a question of whether you can afford to have a DCIM Monitoring solution – it’s whether you can afford not to.  Determine the risks of downtime to answer the question whether you can do without a DCIM solution – consider it in terms of investment in the future of your data center.  Choose the right one to make your data center more efficient, most cost effective and even prolong its useful life. 

Given the short payback periods and the potential benefits, a good business case can be presented to your CFO.  And you may explore the option of purchasing a DCIM solution with a monthly payment plan if cash flow is an issue.

About the Author

Sev Onyshkevych, is Chief Marketing Officer for FieldView Solutions, award-winning Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) providers.


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