Data center infrastructure management (DCiM) systems have quickly become an integral part of the data center industry. Developing a holistic view of critical points in a data center offers benefits such as more-efficient power usage, downtime prevention, process automation and more. Installing a DCiM solution can be challenging, however. With time constraints, miscommunication, poor planning, and vendors overpromising and under-delivering, there are a number of ways a DCiM install can fail. Data centers shouldn’t miss the opportunity to reap the benefits provided by a DCiM solution because of a poorly managed install. In this article, Matt Lane, President of Geist DCiM, outlines some of the reasons why DCiM installs fail and how to prevent them.
1. Lack of Planning
Users should start with their specific business goals in mind. In other words, define what your business needs are first, and then research possible solutions. All too often we see users who want the benefits of the DCiM solution but have not taken time to define their specific needs. To gain the benefits of a DCiM solution, users must have specific goals in mind so they can measure success. A DCiM solution should ultimately be a direct reflection of your business’s unique set of needs—not a generic one-solution-fits-all approach.
Once users have defined their goals, they need to work with a DCiM provider to fully understand the process behind a DCiM install. Oftentimes, users play a key role in the physical installation of the solution. The site must be prepared and ready for the install; cables have to be run, floor plans have to be created, personnel have to be trained and so on. Users hear a lot about DCiM but don’t truly understand what it takes to implement a successful system. Failure to understand how to implement a DCiM system and how to effectively use it in the long term is a big reason for failure.
To help prevent these failures, begin by asking these questions:
- What do I need to accomplish my business goals? ( For example, energy savings, coordinated data, alarming, reporting and so on.)
- I need X, Y and Z to run my business more effectively. How can your products help me? (Don’t start with “What can your product do for me?”)
- What is my role in the installation process?
- What needs to be accomplished before the actual installation?
- What is the turnaround time for implementation?
- What training comes with this system?
- What long-term support and associated costs come with this solution?
2. Misrepresentation by the Vendor
“Overpromise and under-deliver” seems to be a common standard in the DCiM world. Many technologies are new to the market and are promising features that are not yet proven or in some cases even developed. If a company purports to do custom integrations or modules, make sure it has a standard process in place for handling these requests. Requesting details from previously implemented custom modules demonstrates a history of successfully meeting custom demands. In addition, many DCiM vendors are understaffed and unable to completely deliver on what the sales team has promised. Meeting with project managers and engineers to discuss your unique needs before beginning the project will help give you an idea of the vendor’s capacity and capabilities.
Another vendor misrepresentation that we see in the real-time data space occurs when companies claim to be vendor neutral. When it gets right down to it, though, many are really proposing to add compatibility hardware to legacy equipment—which adds a lot of cost. It is important for users to do their homework on exactly how a vendor intends to integrate with existing systems and how that affects the cost of the total project.
Items to consider:
- Find out what comes “standard” with the system and compare it to your predefined business needs.
- If a need is not met from the “standard list,” does the vendor offer custom options tailored to your specific business needs? Does it have a standard process for meeting custom needs?
- Find out what services are included with the system.
- How does the vendor plan to integrate the DCiM system with existing equipment?
- Does adding hardware also lock you into that vendor or mean that it will be extremely expensive to ever move away?
3. Ownership of the Process
We see a lot of companies outsource their DCiM implementation to a third party. Some of these third-party companies do a fantastic job, but others try to accomplish the work as a secondary item to their primary goal (e.g., some other software system, hardware sales and implementation, utility rebates and so on). As a secondary effort, the goals and process of the project tend to be less focused, and at times, the delivery of the product is not what was expected by the end user.
Users should have a dedicated owner of the project that can communicate goals, answer questions and understand the scope of what is required. A long-term owner of the system is important and helps provide visibility to business-process improvement, updates and upgrades to the system, and showing how the system will benefit the company on a continual basis. In other words, users need a true partner who will be involved in every step of the installation process—from design to implementation to upkeep.
Items to discuss with possible vendors:
- What is your project flow? Take me from the start of the project through completion and upkeep.
- Are there other vendors that will be involved with this install? If so, who is accountable if any issues arise during their portions of the project?
- If or when something goes wrong, with whom will I discuss this?
4. Misconceptions of Upkeep Costs
Even if you use a turnkey installation provider and implementation vendor, DCiM requires dedicated, assigned resources to be successful. Too often we see a system that gets fully installed but never quite accomplishes the goals that were set because there are no user resources allocated to manage and maintain it. A DCiM system may streamline certain tasks or thwart a potential outage, but in the end, users must still implement a process for change that will help accomplish the business goals. Simply installing a DCiM system doesn’t mean that your goals will magically be met. Users must allocate the proper personnel resources to implement a process similar to “measure, analyze, improve, control,” which continually loops to create a successful installation.
Another misconception of upkeep costs is underestimating total cost of ownership (TCO). Many vendors implement a low upfront-cost model that helps users get into their DCiM package with little upfront cost. Many businesses fail to realize or examine the ongoing costs for support, maintenance, system adds, upgrades and so on. We install many systems that are replacing older ones because when it comes time for some type of maintenance activity, the proposed cost by the vendor is significantly higher than the original cost to completely install the system. Underestimating TCO leaves many systems in a predated, nonfunctional state.
Upkeep costs to consider:
- What personnel do I need to keep up my system?
- What processes will I need to implement to ensure the DCiM solution meets my business goals?
- What kind of training will I need to provide personnel on the new system?
- What does a support contract cost and what does it include?
- How much will maintenance cost for my DCiM System?
- How much does an upgrade cost? If an upgrade is “free,” what type of install services am I required to pay for?
5. Data Overload
Too often DCiM systems collect so much data that the information you need is difficult to access. Projects with hundreds of thousands of data points are fine if the data can be correlated and communicated well within the DCiM system. Many users think they should collect every point of information they can—which can work in instances where the system is designed to intuitively communicate the important points.
Typically, however, too much point collection makes the DCiM system cumbersome and hard to decipher. To properly track, measure and manage business goals associated with a DCiM solution, users need tools that make interpreting the data meaningful, intuitive and quick. Dashboard views, user-defined points, trending abilities, alarming and automated reporting all help sort and organize the data collected to provide real value from the DCiM system.
Items to consider:
- What data points do I need to collect in order to realize my business goals?
- How can I view this data quickly and intuitively?
- Can I calculate data points to see my key performance indicators, PUE, DCiE and other data points that are relevant to my business goals?
- Can I trend and report important data?
- Can I set rules that will notify me immediately if there is an urgent situation?
The benefits of implementing a DCiM system are vast, and a failed installation process should not keep data centers from experiencing the rewards. Making a well-informed decision by employing a thorough implementation plan for a DCiM system will help avoid these common pitfalls.
About the Author
As a co-creator of the Environet DCiM solution, Matt Lane has over a decade of experience working in data center monitoring and product development. He brings a wide range of experience as an entrepreneur, business owner and manager. He is currently the President of Geist’s DCiM division, which provides custom software for data center infrastructure management.
Leading article photo courtesy of NeoSpire