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The Stack Archive Press Release

Efficiencies and the role of DCIM

Thu 28 Aug 2014

In January 2014 a post written on Silicon Angle’s blog site, estimated that global data centre traffic will grow threefold (a 25 percent CAGR) from 2012 to 2017, whilst Uptime Institutes figures have noted that data centres consume up to 3% of all global electricity production. Cloud growth between 2011 and 2012 saw public cloud adoption increase from just 2 to 25% and other commentators such as The International Energy Agency has suggested that the world’s energy needs could be 50% higher in 2030 than they are today.

With growth figures such as these and most industry commentators agreeing that trends show a shift from data stored in-house to either cloud providers or data centres, the onus is on data centres to deliver their services as adeptly as possible.

The importance of efficiencies in the data centre ecosystem are vastly important – from data centre design to which server to use, the amount of processing that can be achieved on a physical footprint can differ enormously. In the same way that housing developers vying for land in cities have capitalised on apartments – with the total cost for the construction of an apartment building being much less than the cost of a single property and the land footprint cost being shared by all – data centres need to maximise what they can achieve as efficiently as possible.

At its most basic level, efficiency (%) = (useful output ÷ total input) x 100. Yet this formula has a myriad of complexities due to the variations required by data centre managers in order to calculate the final figures to use for useful output and total input. Therefore, in amongst all this flux, changing figures and moving criteria, what can act as our constant? Power.

At the heart of a data centre is its ability to maintain and sustain access to an energy source 100% of the time. Every adjustment, efficiency initiative needs to ensure resilience is built into the decision making process. It is now more important than ever that every organisational change is inextricably linked with this modus operandi of the data centre.

Yet it is not enough to simply say we must stay on. Power at all costs, is not a transaction that data centres can afford; there is not an infinite pool of money to pay for soaring energy bills and inefficient data centre solutions. Whilst ‘the business of data centres’ on one hand can be seen to be protecting mission critical infrastructure for many organisations, ‘the business of data centres’ for a colocation provider is one that looks after mission critical infrastructure whilst also turning a profit for its stakeholders and ensuring that cost savings are passed down to their customers.

Data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) has been heralded by many organisations as the solution that companies need in order to drive forward efficiencies, such as mapping power losses and providing a data centre operator with a universal set of metrics to enhance their strategic planning. It also can play a role ensuring that a data centre has the capacity to deliver what is required and the awareness to always remain on.

Data centre infrastructure management is seen as an effective way of delivering core infrastructure challenges on a smaller budget. This is something that most data centre operators would agree on. However, can the same be said of a DCIM product? Can out of the box DCIM solutions truly meld and seamlessly interlink effectively with a data centre if it is not developed by the data centre itself?

Whilst the overreaching trends of data centre needs are similar – two data centres rarely have identical needs. The key to DCIM is the management of the data and information created, if developed off-site it is imperative that the engineers utilising the information can use it effectively for what they need it to do. Some data centres rather than operate DCIM products, design their systems in-house so that if there is a problem or a fault, they can find or adapt it. They are writing a specific piece of bespoke code for their own infrastructure.

Some data centres have calculated that during the early few weeks of deployment of their own data centre information management systems they have recouped more than the cost of all the hardware via the energy savings they made. This is usually the justification for most DCIM systems, except that it can be made back faster, as in-house systems can cost less to deploy.

However, not all data centres have this level of in-house expertise and for those companies, data centres that choose to adopt DCIM products the benefits can enable them to streamline and manage their infrastructure. Yet with so many aspects of data centre infrastructure management to cover (as the term DCIM encapsulates so many different management values) can a total vendor DCIM product be the best solution for each system? That is not to say that DCIM products are good or bad, it is more a question of finding the right solution for each data centre, once again bearing in mind the myriad of variables between data centres and their design. As such one could suggest that data centres might be best to take a modular approach to their DCIM strategy rather than one complete solution and thus risk compromising on one part of their management system.

The counter-argument to that approach is the question of whether different vendor solutions can work compatibly with each other. Data centre operators naturally want the best for their facility and compromise is not a term that sits well within the day-to-day ethos and running of a facility. They demand the best. If one vendor supplies the best capacity DCIM planning solution for them and a competitor holds the key to the right network solution, they expect and will demand that they will work together.

In July 2013 the Data Centre Alliance raised concerns about skills shortages in the data centre industry, with a real focus on ensuring prospective data centre employees have the right critical thinking skills to work in the data centre industry. Crucially they need the ability to see the parts and the whole of the data centre, as well as the inter-relations simultaneously in order to prevent a major outage. DCIM is the software/programme buttress to those skills and whether developed in-house or by a vendor is a crucial tool in order to help manage the thousands of variables occurring daily within a data centre.

For some data centres, their role within a business is to support the day-to-day workings of the company’s business operations, which in turn can have an impact on the company’s bottom line. For a colocation provider, their whole business is being a data centre, their bottom line solely depends on the data centre performing at optimal levels, which is why data centre infrastructure management or DCIM vendor solutions are something that must be carefully evaluated and implemented.

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