The next generation of data centre infrastructure management

By Harry Menear
Data Centre Magazine explores the developing relationship between data centre operators and DCIM strategies...

As enterprises around the world become increasingly digitalised, interconnected and agile, the value of eliminating silos in favour of more holistic strategies has become a widely recognised strategy. Supply chain and procurement functions, once confined to a weekly meeting by the accounting departments, now extend into almost every aspect of the modern company. Agile strategies like Tribes and Squads have allowed companies like Spotify to reassess the way they spend money and time on projects, as well as bringing together interdisciplinary teams to work towards the same goal. 

The data centre industry is undergoing constant, seismic change itself. From the shift towards managed services, cloud and colocation, to the ongoing balancing act between the hyperscale and the edge, this is a demanding time, data centre operators find themselves facing new challenges on a regular basis. 

One of the most important approaches to data centre management, which has the potential to safeguard many operators against inefficiency and disruption, is Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM). The phrase describes a methodology in which a more holistic approach is taken to the discrete components of data centre systems. This month, Data Centre Magazine explores the developing relationship between data centre operators and DCIM strategies, as well as some of the companies that are emerging as leaders in this space. 

From the siloed to the holistic

Back in the mid-to-late 2000s, data centres were typically overseen by a facilities manager and an IT manager. The facilities manager looked after the cooling and power supply, and made sure people walking through the front door had the proper access, among other duties. The IT manager oversaw server rooms, and made sure all the software was ticking over. These two arms of data centre management were typically siloed, with each relying on their own specialised software platforms. 

“We came to the conclusion that a lot of the DCIM vendors, us included, had been focusing on the wrong things” - Kevin Brown, SVP, CMO, Schneider Electric

Around 2007, solutions began appearing on the market (to much fanfare and hype) that promised to combine tools for overseeing every aspect of a data centre’s operation, from cooling to the locks on the front door. This first wave of DCIM was a very exciting prospect. Its advocates (including early DCIM software providers like Rackwise) claimed their software would solve all the pain points caused by siloed management structures, while automating lots of expensive and time-consuming processes. It was going to boil the ocean. 

Unfortunately, the results didn’t exactly live up to the hype. In an interview last year, Kevin Brown, SVP or EcoStruxure Solutions and CMO of the Secure Power Division at Schneider Electric, spoke about the early frustrations that the DCIM industry encountered. “We came to the conclusion that a lot of the DCIM vendors, us included, had been focusing on the wrong things,” he explained. “We were all chasing very high-end features, so tools were over-designed and difficult to use so it was hard to get started. It was difficult to scale and maintain and it was expensive, so these were all pain points we had to solve. We were also focusing heavily on enterprise data centres, and ultimately all these features started driving us and driving the market.” Any market that defines its trajectory by its bells and whistles, rather than the problems it solves or the money it generates, isn’t destined to be a market for very long. 

“The value of DCIM was apparent, but the broad and scattered definitions caused problems for early adopters” - Herman Chan, President, Sunbird Software

A large contributor to the less-than-stellar debut of DCIM services was, according to Herman Chan, President of DCIM company Sunbird Software, a lack of clarity when it came to the nature of those services. “When DCIM hit the market as a new concept, industry analysts were quick to hype it, but they lacked a single unified definition. Did DCIM integrate IT and Facilities? Did it replace BMS and ITSM? Did it include computational fluid dynamics analysis? Where do Electrical Power Management Systems fit in? Are IT and Network Systems Management/Monitoring tools part of the mix? Who in an organisation should own DCIM?” he recalled in an article from August of last year. “Questions such as these were answered by the multitude of vendors and analysts, all putting their own spin on it. The value of DCIM was apparent, but the broad and scattered definitions caused problems for early adopters.”  

The resultant confusion hamstrung the DCIM industry for almost a decade. Today, new technologies, new competitors, and a twice-shy customer base, all mean that DCIM is ready for a resurgence. 

The Next Generation

Festooned with marketing differentiators like ‘2.0’ and ‘next-gen’, a second generation of DCIM tools and services are hitting the market. Brown believes that, as usual, the focus belongs, not with the hype over new capabilities, but with the problems that this new wave of DCIM can solve. 

“We… realised that the DCIM market really is no longer enterprise data centres, it’s this hybrid environment. Our theory was to focus on, ‘how do I get visibility everywhere as well as mitigating the pain points from before?’ We also recognised the need for service and support and that the ecosystem had a much greater role to play in this hybrid environment than maybe you would’ve thought in the traditional enterprise,” he explains, noting that Schneider’s reevaluation of its position in the DCIM space had almost seen it exit the market entirely. Instead, he continued, the company completely scrapped its existing DCIM services and built a new architecture from scratch. “Firstly, we concluded that in this hybrid environment there are always going to be challenges that customers are facing, and we needed to help them address those challenges."

“There [are] new technologies available that were not available when we originally started DCIM… We wanted to rebuild from the ground up for the cloud” - Kevin Brown, SVP, CMO, Schneider Electric

The result is EcoStruxure, Schneider’s cloud-based, vendor-neutral monitoring, management and planning platform. According to Kim Povlsen, Vice President and General Manager, Digital Services and Software, Schneider Electric, "EcoStruxure IT Advisor addresses this need by offering customers a powerful cloud-based or on-premise data centre planning and modelling software, accessible from anywhere.”

Schneider isn’t the only company driving a new wave of DCIM solutions centred around the cloud. Large scale enterprise software companies like Hewlett Packard, Siemens, Delta Electronics and Huawei are all powering the market’s growth. A recent report found that, as the growing adoption of social networking, streaming video and internet searches, along with business applications, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), collaboration, and digital analytics applications, increase data generation, the DCIM market will grow past $4.5bn by 2026. The DCIM future is bright. 


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