Guide to DCIM: Part 2 – Coverage, Processes and Use Cases

This is the second part of a two-part blog exploring DCIM (Datacentre Infrastructure Management). In Part 1, we examined the benefits of this technology, and the core business drivers compelling organisations to deploy DCIM solutions. Part 2 looks more closely at exactly what DCIM comprises, how it works and some of the most popular use cases in active operation.

What does DCIM cover?

If it’s in your datacentre environment, then a good DCIM should be able to see it, monitor it and – ultimately – manage it. It acts as the single version of truth for all datacentre components and processes. Depending on the DCIM platform used this includes, but is not limited to:

  • Environmental readings (air moisture, temperature, fire, fluid leak)
  • Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) readings
  • Energy usage, by component/rack
  • Connectivity usage and uptime
  • Physical security (i.e. door entry) logs
  • CCTV and movement sensor data
  • UPS battery health
  • IT asset optimisation
  • Power distribution control
  • Precision cooling control

Policies and alerts can be set to keep datacentre managers aware of any critical changes to the environment, enabling them to remotely manage events 24/7 from wherever they are.

How does DCIM work?

DCIM is a software-based platform that interfaces with the data outputs produced by various sensors, systems and controls within the datacentre environment. In many cases, components will produce their own data and DCIM taps into this using appropriate APIs. In others, new sensors and data collection processes are deployed to feed back into the DCIM system. The data is stored, interpreted and analysed to produce live and historic reports. DCIM also supports the management of alerts and alarms into a single platform.

At a process level, DCIM essentially combines the disciplines of asset management, change management, environmental management, resource management and capacity management – into a single place. 

This drastically reduces internal skills and manpower overheads so that personnel can spend more of their time on more strategically valuable tasks such as planning and design. It also provides additional perspectives on challenges that cut across these management disciplines. For example, “What can I do to minimise the costs and risks of introducing new IT equipment into the environment?”

Crucially, DCIM enables managers to determine a clear picture of what will happen before they execute changes to the environment. For example, “What if I did this rather than that?” By testing eventualities in this way, a full set of data is produced for each scenario; the datacentre is protected from unnecessary risk and planning decisions are made from a highly informed rather than speculative position.  

When can I use DCIM?

As detailed above, there are numerous change events that might provoke the acquisition of a DCIM system. Often this would represent an organisation’s first foray into DCIM usage, though many organisations already using DCIM will periodically revisit the market to identify new solutions delivering enhanced value. 

DCIM adds value throughout each lifecycle stage of the datacentre:

Design and build

The test capabilities of DCIM are invaluable in the design and build stage of new datacentre environments, aiding the optimum positioning of power distribution, UPS, cooling and IT equipment to precise and granular parameters. Organisations that have profiled their risks and developed uptime and business continuity strategies can feed these into the planning cycle in a logical way so that the result is a unique design aligned to specific business objectives, accomplished with minimum effort and maximum certainty.

This process should satisfy capacity planning concerns, as well as provide the initial basis for infrastructure deployment – including the selection of optimum technologies.

Ongoing operations

All datacentres experience a certain degree of entropy, with unintended consequences of apparently innocuous actions frequently emerging months later as potential hazards or new inefficiencies. The constantly-changing nature of a datacentre is akin to a live, organic structure – and this degree of steady evolution is essential so that IT can enable agility throughout the organisation. These changes have consequences however, which is why DCIM’s primary role is typically seen as a monitoring platform that alerts problems before they impact on the datacentre’s fragile fabric.

By the same token, DCIM’s comprehensive monitoring and alerting capabilities are put to good use keeping energy efficiency and cost reduction goals on track – identifying opportunities for the datacentre to improve as well as risks that it should avoid.

Planned maintenance and other changes

The ability of DCIM to provide real-time intelligence across physical and IT infrastructure layers supports a valuable predictive analytics capability that tells managers exactly what to expect when a planned change to the datacentre environment (such as a server swap-out) is introduced. This advanced visibility is allied to control mechanisms that allow the datacentre operations team to manipulate and redefine the environment as needed. These controls enable successful planning over a wide spectrum of time, from the very long-term to the very short-term – equipping managers with a chance to avert or limit the impact of an unexpected event even as it unfolds.