The Next Frontier of Datacenter Management

Rhonda Ascierto, Research Director, 451 Research
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Rhonda Ascierto, Research Director, 451 Research

After a long period of wariness and skepticism, more and more datacenter operators are now deploying datacenter infrastructure management (DCIM) software that not only helps them monitor critical infrastructure and status of datacenters, but also helps optimize them.

But an elite and growing group is taking DCIM several steps further. They are using a new type of datacenter management software that pushes the functionality of DCIM beyond the boundaries of infrastructure management to enable end-to-end efficiency, agility and competitiveness. This new software category is known as Datacenter Service Optimization or DCSO (pronounced DEE-so).

Beyond DCIM

DCIM software can be considered the modern management tool for datacenter operations. While many DCIM products have been on the market for more than a decade, its adoption remains quite low.451 Research estimates that no more than 15% of midsized datacenters of 3MW and above have deployed DCIM software. Many datacenter operators have resisted deploying DCIM in part because of the operational change that DCIM typically requires, extending the cost of the software far beyond its purchase price.

However, those that have DCIM deployed are among the world’s best-run, most efficient facilities. A DCIM platform, which includes monitoring, and asset, change and capacity management, connect silos of data about power, cooling, space and connectivity. Operators use DCIM to understand and, importantly, predict a facility's performance over its lifetime – enabling accurate costing of and planning of critical infrastructure for IT service growth.

It's still the early stages, but DCIM data and functionality is increasingly being used beyond the physical infrastructure layer of power, cooling and space -- up into the IT management stack and, some cases, beyond the datacenter walls. We are beginning to see new DCSO products that use DCIM and its underlying data for new optimization-, service- and business-oriented functions. DCSO products extend the capabilities of DCIM to manage both physical and virtual assets within the datacenter and across geographically dispersed facilities.

“DCSO enables the types of automated processes that characterize a software-driven datacenter”

DCSO applies operational data to IT decisions

By combining a range of DCSO and other tools and subsystems, managers are achieving greater infrastructure and IT monitoring, management and control. These integrated tools are increasingly being used for a clear, accurate, real-time, end-to-end view of IT service delivery. In some cases, the effective use of DCSO and other software can manage down risks, move workloads away from failure points, and reduce the need for peak provisioning. In this way, hardware and infrastructure, as well as human capital costs, may be reduced.

DCSO products today are combining and analyzing DCIM data with IT system management (ITSM) and virtual management (VM) management systems. The goal is to more closely match IT service demand with the supply of physical datacenter resources (power, cooling, servers, space) to reduce inefficiencies. This type of DCSO approach is relatively new and has been adopted by a relatively small group of forward-thinking IT managers.

For monitoring, data about available power and cooling in a white space (from DCIM asset management) can be linked with data about the utilization and activity of the servers within that room (from ITSM). Managers can use the combined data to know which rack it can allocate an IT service to without compromising power, cooling or IT resources of other services, for example.

By linking DCIM, ITSM and business systems, DCSO can also enable greater cost transparency. For example, it is possible to accurately gauge costs to particular services or applications at a fairly granular level – such as attributing datacenter costs and rolling up energy bills into an overall cloud-service fee. This is particularly important for cloud providers to ensure that they understand their costs in a very competitive environment. The (true) end-to-end cost of an IT service is also important to privately run or on-premises enterprise datacenters to support decisions about whether services should be outsourced or not. Typically, cost is weighed against privacy, data governance and other factors.

It is also be possible to take into account other business-level criteria, such as whether services require low-latency networking, the degrees of infrastructure reliability required, whether it is acceptable to use power management to slow down applications, and whether there are sensitivities over where data is stored (by region, by rack or even in a shared server).

The software-driven datacenter

The ultimate goal of connecting DCIM and IT management systems is to extend the automation of provisioning from IT into the infrastructure layer. This means, for example, that IT managers will be able to deploy applications, services or workloads in an optimal, and at least semi-automated, way – taking into account energy usage, the provision of cooling, and the availability of resources such as power at the rack level (including power redundancy). A DCSO approach can enable dynamically moving mission-critical workloads to servers or even other datacenters that have the highest level of power and cooling reliability, for example, relegating non-priority jobs elsewhere.

Eventually, we expect that some DCSO platforms will include integrations with power utility and micro-grid systems to enable transactive energy management. Managers could make use of information about the generation, distribution, cost, supply and use of energy from both within and outside the datacenter.

In short, DCSO enables the types of automated processes that characterize a software-driven datacenter. If you don't operate your own datacenters, don’t have your applications spread across multiple datacenters (internal or external), aren't planning to run a private cloud, aren't pushing down the DCIM path or just don't work closely with the facilities team, then DCSO does not need to be on your radar. For everyone else, taking a closer look at the technology and its likely evolutionary path will be well worth the effort. Over the next several years, expect DCIM reseller agreements to turn into deeper integration partnerships (and ultimately into acquisitions), and expect the vendors you work with in the IT management space to start pitching you on the broader solution.

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