Lately, I have participated in a number of online group discussions which focus on trying to define what DCIM is. There is clearly more than one definition circulating from various sources. Each of the major analysts have their own (similar but not identical) definition for DCIM as well. What this does is to create a level of confusion that end-users are forced to wrestle with in their search for answers.
To create a generally agreed definition about what DCIM is, I think it is worth starting a discussion about WHO could use the features found in the industry’s current DCIM offerings, along with a special notation on where DCIM will be going over time (likely to include orchestration & automation). I think in general many DCIM vendors have done a poor job articulating the problems they are solving, rather than just the features that they deliver. Simple mistake right? Well, no. DCIM is not a one-size-fits-all type of technology. My contention is that to put together the list of problems that we are solving, we need to step back a bit (just a small step) and look at the roles of the people that we are solving these problems for…. THEN we can look at the problems each of these people have, and ultimately each vendor can then map their features to one of more of those problems. The end-user community will welcome this clarity!
So let’s start with the TEN faces of DCIM. Here is my list of the TEN roles/personas that I see benefitting from DCIM, and my view about why they would benefit from DCIM:
- CFO. This may be the most important user profile to account for when considering the purchase of DCIM offerings. In general, the CFO wants to know that his/her investments are well spent, that the investments are cost-effective, and that the investments are all focused on providing just the right amount of service, at a low risk. The CFO wants to be able to get a pulse of the operations of IT, and look at fiscal KPIs such as “cost per transaction”. These financial folks see the DCIM solutions in direct support of the accounting side of IT, and want to be assured that the cost side of IT is driving behaviour. The technical challenges can easily be managed with unlimited budgets, but those days are long gone.
- CIO and/or the VP of IT. This is a related role to the CFO, but the CIO knows that there is an almost infinite number of combinations of technology that can be deployed to meet the business needs, but that these combinations change over time. The modern CIO needs to be assured that DCIM will provide them a view of lifecycles for deployed solutions, and that each and every piece of gear that has been installed is needed, supported, managed, and planned… all at the minimum cost to meet his/her committed levels of service.
- Executive Team. Consider the executive team as the At-A-Glance members of the DCIM user population. These executives tend to want DCIM to net out the results or issues in summary fashion. Roll-ups of costs, costs per unit, overall status of production, etc. DCIM provide one of the simplest ways for the executive team to understand in near-realtime the performance oftheir $Billion dollar investments. The executive teams also looks for DCIM to provide grande-scale trends, such as the services availability, processing or total energy costs year over year.
- Data Center IT Manager. Much closer to the hands-on side of DCIM, the Data Center IT manager is chartered to operate the deployed solutions in an ongoing fashion. Their primarly concern is consistency in performance, efficiency of processes, and the repeatability of best practices. The Data Center IT Manager is tasked to assure that the services that have been designed are up and running at the required level of service. DCIM becomes process enabler for this role, and workflow associarted with change is of primary concern.
- Facilities Manager. One of the initial supporters of DCIM for most corporations, the Facilities Manager considering DCIM is looking to augment their existing BMS/BAS systems with modern updates. He/She is looking to add more granularity and analytics to power and cooling systems that have traditionally been fairly macro and static in nature. DCIM presents an opportunity for Facilities leaders to build on top of their rigid power and cooling structures, with a goal to reduce costs and reduce risks. Facilities folks are looking for more detail, more control, and more capacity planning.
- IT Business Analyst. Here is where DCIM is utilized as a vast repository of information combined with various means to filter the data in hopes of establishing business trends and optimizations. The business analysts may consider a data center as a compilation of technologies, servers, storage and networks or they may wish to view it by by something else altogether, such as business unit, warranty status or project types. The business analyst is looking for DCIM to provide a data warehouse with all pertinent asset and resource data, and then the ability to easily naviate and filter that knowledge to create actionable derivatives. The analyst looks at costs, and lifecycles, and value as their mainstay.
- Structured Cabling team. Another hands-on team that looks to DCIM to document and manage the change that is associated with connectivity. In a modern data center thousands of connections are required for data to connect to other systems, storage and peripherals, and each of these needs to be tracked and actively managed. They look to DCIM to clearly identify each of these connections, and provide that understanding when they are being asked to make changes. Cabling can quickly become fairly unwieldy, so DCIM can be one of their best bets to document with a high degree of accuracy what has been built, and to support work-orders for changes to this connectivity to be made.
- Data Center Technicians (deployment and remediation). Perhaps one of the most eager users of DCIM, these technicians are constantly making physical changes to the data center, and DCIM provides the formal structured support mechanism to assure those changes are well understood, executed quickly and accurately as needed, and fully documented to assure compliance and ongoing operations. The technicians are faced daily with installing, replacing or removing gear or making connectivity changes, so work-orders are a main staple of the job. DCIM offers the ability to provide clear guidance and step by step instructions on what to do and when. In a typical data center, these technicians execute thousands of work-orders per year, each one a mini-project, and all of them overlapping in time, so the tools to do this quickly and efficiently are paramount for a corporation’s success.
- Asset Manager – These users have very specific needs associated with the fiscal management of capital assets. DCIM becomes one of the best means to assure that a clear understanding of the lifecycle of those assets, where each is installed and its value to the organization over longer periods of time. The asset manager is chartered to assure that devices are in-service while their value to the corporation is high, that each device is supportable and that maintenance plans (including warranty status) exist. Previously a spreadsheet user, DCIM offers a realtime view to the asset manager to allow an accurate representation of the capital and operational expense costs associated with data center gear at any point in time.
- Capacity Planners and architects – One of the most visible users of DCIM, their role is to determine the operational needs for the data center now and into the future. Capacity planners and architects work together to assure that the overall systems works, the right amount of resources are available, and that fixed limits are well understood well before they become a problem. Power or space for instance are fixed resources with huge investments required when current levels are exhausted. The time frames associated with adding these new resources can be more than a year, or in some cases require entirely new facilities to be built elsewhere. These planners use DCIM to project when and how resources will be consumed over time and identify potential problems well before they impact the business.
It is clear that each of the different vendors’ DCIM offerings address a different set of these users’ needs. A monitoring package might be interesting for the facilities manager, but it would NOT help the Structured Cabling team at all. The ability to visually navigate through the racks and rows would be of great help to the Data Center manager, but wouldn’t help the CFO and so forth…
So the key is and will always be to identify just WHO your constituency will be, short and long term. Who are the most beneficial users that should be involved in any DCIM initiative? Only when that full set of people is identified, will YOUR definition of DCIM become clear.