Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) tools play a crucial role in the data center sector where IT professionals, facilities managers, and corporate leaders must comprehensively grasp the intricate connections that form the backbone of today’s IT environments. The rapid growth in DCIM adoption is being fueled by the expanding number of data centers, the servers housed within these facilities, the pressing need for optimization and efficiency, as well as a growing emphasis on managing risks associated with existing data centers.

Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) is a suite of software applications and tools that collect, monitor, and manage information from a data center’s physical infrastructure, including IT hardware, electrical systems, and cooling equipment, to optimize utilization and energy consumption.

Dgtl Infra explores Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM), revealing essential insights into improving IT infrastructure efficiency. We delve into the reasons for adopting DCIM, examine its key features and capabilities like performance optimization and asset management, and outline the technical specifications that underpin these systems. Continue reading to understand the benefits of DCIM and learn about the main solutions providers in this data center segment.

What is Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM)?

Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) is an integrated suite of software applications and tools that collect, monitor, compile, and report data from various physical infrastructure subsystems within a data center facility, including IT hardware, electrical systems, cooling equipment, and sensors. DCIM uses this data to centrally monitor and manage the utilization, energy consumption, and associated costs of all IT equipment and facility infrastructure components.

DCIM collects data from directly connected components, including:

  1. IT Equipment: Servers, storage systems, networking equipment such as routers and switches, and virtualization components
  2. Electrical Systems: Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, power distribution units (PDUs), remote power panels (RPPs), branch circuit meters, and busways
  3. Cooling Equipment: Computer room air conditioning (CRAC) units, computer room air handler (CRAH) units, in-row cooling units, and chillers
  4. Environmental Resources: Floor space, physical racks and chassis, cables, temperature sensors, humidity probes, smoke detectors, and differential pressure sensors

By aggregating static and dynamic data from these components, DCIM delivers consolidated reports in formats that are easy to understand and act upon. It serves as an advanced alternative to more generic tools such as Excel, Visio, CAD (Computer-Aided Design) drawings, and custom-built databases.

The data collated by DCIM informs both automated and manual adjustments to the data center’s physical infrastructure. However, it is crucial to understand that DCIM itself does not directly control or manage these devices and components. Instead, DCIM tools interface with general building and energy management subsystems, like Building Management Systems (BMS), which then carry out automated adjustments based on the insights provided by DCIM data.

Rationale for Deploying DCIM

Organizations primarily deploy Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) to improve power monitoring and capacity planning, addressing the critical needs for energy management and efficient resource allocation in data centers. Additionally, the drive for operational efficiency and cost savings – achieved by maximizing asset utilization and enhancing workflow management – along with the needs arising from data center consolidation, migration, and new construction projects, greatly contributes to the adoption of DCIM solutions.

DCIM Market Size

According to Frost & Sullivan, the Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) market was valued at $2.34 billion in 2023 and it is projected to grow to $3.65 billion by 2028, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.3%. Despite the current penetration rate of DCIM products and services being below 25% of the total market, it is expected to significantly increase due to a rising focus on energy-efficient data centers.

Features and Capabilities of DCIM

Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) tools vary widely in their features and capabilities. At their most basic, they offer simple power and thermal monitoring features or an inventory of the customer’s IT assets. However, more advanced suites of tools provide comprehensive capabilities across both management and operations.

Cascading Screens Displaying Data Center Infrastructure Management DCIM Software Dashboards
Source: Schneider Electric.

DCIM tools aim to satisfy six main categories of IT end user needs: performance optimization, asset management, configuration, operational monitoring, integration with tools and systems, and reporting and dashboards.

1. Performance Optimization

Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) tools enhance data center performance by optimizing energy usage, reducing operational costs, offering predictive infrastructure diagnostics, and enabling remote monitoring of infrastructure.

Optimizing Energy and Costs

Data centers are significant consumers of energy, primarily in the form of electricity. DCIM tools play a crucial role in monitoring, measuring, and managing the energy usage and efficiency of a data center’s infrastructure. These tools offer detailed insights into the power consumption of data centers, extending to the specific energy use of each individual server within a rack.

One key focus of DCIM tools is the optimization of the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metric. PUE is a ratio that measures how effectively a data center uses its power, by comparing the energy consumed by computing equipment, to the total energy used by the facility.

DCIM tools gather data from various sources, including building feeds, IT loads, and non-IT loads, to inform actions and strategies for improving PUE. Consequently, these tools play a crucial role in reducing unnecessary power consumption, leading to significant operating cost savings and reducing the environmental impact of data centers.

Predictive Infrastructure Diagnostics

DCIM offers the ability to issue alerts for critical threshold breaches and analyze large datasets to anticipate potential risks. This enables predictive maintenance by identifying potential issues with support equipment and infrastructure before they cause failures.

Such capabilities significantly improve operational reliability and optimize various aspects of data center operations, including power, cooling, servers, and workloads. A notable example is Google’s deployment of its DeepMind machine learning (ML) system, which achieved up to a 40% reduction in data center cooling costs. This reduction translated to a 15% decrease in overall Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) overhead.

Google's DeepMind Machine Learning Cooling Costs Power Usage Effectiveness PUE Case Study
Source: Google DeepMind.

Remote Infrastructure Monitoring

DCIM offers the ability to remotely monitor the health and performance of crucial data center infrastructure. This capability is particularly beneficial for organizations that operate data centers spread across multiple locations, including international sites, allowing for centralized and cost-effective management without the constraints of geographic boundaries.

Take Amazon Web Services (AWS) as an example. AWS oversees its entire global data center infrastructure and hundreds of facilities from a single location: a 269,873 square foot office building in suburban Herndon, Virginia.

Amazon Web Services AWS Network Operations Center NOC and Facilities FOC Building

Within this building are its Network Operations Center (NOC) and Facilities Operations Center (FOC) – two highly secure, command-center style rooms. These facilities are staffed 24/7, enabling AWS to remotely monitor all of its data centers worldwide. This centralized and remote approach provides for consistent standards and procedures across all AWS data centers.

2. Asset Management

Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) provides a unified view of all physical assets within a data center, including their specifications, locations, and current status – whether operational, under maintenance, or out of service. It consolidates this information into a centralized database, serving as a ‘single source of truth.’ This comprehensive approach enhances infrastructure management in many ways:

Capacity Planning and Resource Utilization

DCIM offers detailed insights into both the current utilization and available capacity of data center resources like servers, racks, IT, and facilities equipment. This helps make informed decisions regarding scaling operations up or down and assessing the costs associated with introducing new resources – based on the current and future demands for physical space, power, cooling, and networking.

DCIM tools are critical in identifying resource imbalances and finding underutilized or idle IT equipment, known as stranded capacity. Furthermore, they enhance visibility into future resource requirements by analyzing historical data trends, targeting optimal performance without overprovisioning.

Additionally, DCIM solutions facilitate strategic placement of equipment to maximize the lifespan and efficiency of data center infrastructure. By recommending the most suitable locations for installing new hardware – considering space, power, and cooling capacities – these solutions minimize the reliance on manual, error-prone processes such as physically inspecting the data center to determine the best equipment placement.

Workflow and Change Management

DCIM supports the management of data center assets across their entire lifecycle. This includes the stages from placing orders to delivery, installation, operation, and finally, decommissioning.

By ensuring accurate tracking and detailed documentation, DCIM significantly reduces human errors. This approach is particularly valuable in mitigating the risks associated with frequent and substantial changes within data centers. Such changes may involve technology upgrades, the adoption of higher heat density computing, new data center storage or networking technologies, and virtualization.

For the change modeling of a data center’s physical infrastructure, DCIM utilizes material catalogs and libraries. These resources contain a comprehensive selection of tens of thousands of unique IT and infrastructure devices, providing detailed representations that include manufacturer specifications like high-resolution images, power requirements, and connectivity options. The process of change modeling considers various elements including space, power, ports, cooling, weight, and virtual resources.

In essence, the workflow and change management capabilities offered by DCIM are akin to those found in traditional Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, which streamline operations and enhance efficiency.

Auto-Discovery and Asset Location Services

Auto-discovery services in DCIM are dedicated to the logical identification of active assets on a network. They detect devices by identifying their presence, make, model, and configurations through various technical approaches. These include the use of protocols such as SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface), and LLDP (Link Layer Discovery Protocol), alongside automated reconciliation processes. The aim is to ensure the DCIM asset model mirrors the actual physical setup in the data center accurately, enhancing operational efficiency and integrity.

Conversely, asset location services in DCIM focus on identifying the exact physical locations of devices within a data center. This DCIM feature addresses the challenge of precisely documenting and auditing where assets are physically placed. It utilizes unique identifiers that capture physical attributes, location, ownership, and service details. Specialized hardware solutions can help identify asset locations with varying degrees of detail, from precise placements within a rack to broader regional identifications.

Import and Export of Data

Automated data import in DCIM plays a critical role in efficiently collecting and standardizing thousands (if not millions) of individual pieces of asset and connectivity information, dramatically reducing the costs associated with manual input. DCIM solutions facilitate not only the import of data from spreadsheets and text files but also incorporate functionalities such as field and pattern recognition, error correction, and data deduplication to improve the accuracy and integrity of the data.

Furthermore, DCIM systems offer data export capabilities to standard formats, including CSV, XLSX, and XML. This functionality supports large-scale analysis and allows for the reconstruction of the main database using these exported files.

3. Configuration

Leveraging input parameters from IT devices, configuration tools deliver guidance for creating support infrastructure. These tools are equipped with planning features for optimizing floor space and rack configurations, utilizing an extensive symbol library to precisely depict IT and support equipment.

Floor Space Planning

DCIM solutions are crucial for effective floor planning in data centers. These solutions utilize an X-Y coordinate grid system to accurately position equipment racks and navigate through complex building layouts and obstacles, such as irregular building shapes, structural features like columns and load-bearing walls, and variable ceiling heights.

By capturing intricate geometries, DCIM allows for efficient modeling, planning, and visualization of critical components such as floor tiles, racks, and cooling systems, through detailed, color-coded metrics. These tools help visualize capacity and assist in the planning of new projects by utilizing the insights gained from the existing layout.

Rack and Cabinet Planning

DCIM solutions generate precise visual representations of data center racks, cabinets, and connections, utilizing material catalogs and standardized mechanical layouts. Rack elevations, in particular, are crucial for data center managers. They provide a fundamental basis for precisely modeling the data center’s physical arrangement. Additionally, detailed information on vibration metrics and biometric access is vital.

DCIM tools leverage standardized templates and building blocks to accurately depict the arrangement and configuration of equipment within data centers. This enables data center managers to identify available capacity within the facility, for deploying new servers and racks effectively.

4. Operational Monitoring

By utilizing a DCIM tool to collect and monitor operational data, data center managers can manage and resolve events promptly, while also significantly reducing the likelihood of unexpected issues. Common examples of these issues include improper environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, and airflow within the data center, that could lead to outages and service disruptions.

Through holistic, near real-time monitoring of critical components such as uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, power distribution units (PDUs), power strips, cooling systems, racks, IT equipment, and environmental sensors, data center managers can continuously observe these elements to ensure they are functioning properly. DCIM enables managers to view the data center’s physical infrastructure directly from their computers and monitor power and thermal data at the server CPU level in near real-time.

Notably, the operational metrics crucial for DCIM are usually collected through polling – the process of regularly querying devices for status updates – at intervals of every few minutes.

5. Integration with Tools and Systems

DCIM solutions can seamlessly integrate with an organization’s existing IT and facility management systems. By integrating DCIM with third-party tools, it enhances its intelligence and capability to share data, systems, and processes beyond the confines of the data center.

Integration allows DCIM tools to exchange data with other devices and applications, import data from virtualization and IT Service Management (ITSM) vendors, and export data to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), and financial systems.

For instance, integrating a DCIM solution into a unified Configuration Management Database (CMDB) model eliminates the need for manual entry of similar information across multiple databases. This approach significantly reduces the likelihood of inconsistencies arising from user errors, outdated information, and data discrepancies.

Additionally, DCIM often connects with other critical organizational systems, such as Building Management Systems (BMS), Building Automation Systems (BAS), help desks, IT Service Management (ITSM) systems, and Asset Management systems. Furthermore, there is an ongoing trend towards the integration of DCIM with virtualization technologies and cloud solutions, enhancing its functionality and scope.

6. Reporting and Dashboards

DCIM solutions are highly valued by organizations for their reporting capabilities, which transform raw data into actionable business insights. These solutions offer a range of standard reports and support automatic distribution to users, enhancing operational efficiency. Additionally, they provide customizable reporting options through the use of data store definition schemas.

This adaptability makes DCIM especially valuable to colocation providers operating multi-tenant data centers, as they can use DCIM solutions to easily create reports for their tenants that provide near real-time visibility on the tenant’s specific deployments within the data center.

Furthermore, DCIM solutions include dashboards that provide immediate, visual access to critical information regarding the data center’s physical layout. These dashboards, which display information through graphs, charts, heat maps, gauges, meters, and network visualizations, offer a clear and digestible overview of assets and their status. They are accessible from laptops, tablets, and smartphones, or within Network Operations Centers (NOCs).

IT Interfaces Displaying on Laptop Tablet Smartphone in Sequence with Graphs Maps Alarms Notifications
Source: Schneider Electric.

By transforming complex datasets into easy-to-understand visuals, these dashboards are crucial for conveying DCIM functionalities to a broad audience. Stakeholders from operations, finance, compliance, facility management, and data center operations rely on these dashboards for key metrics relevant to their roles, such as costs, depreciation, warranties, leases, power and cooling consumption, and asset utilization, among others. This comprehensive visibility supports informed decision-making and operational efficiency across various departments.

Technical Specifications of DCIM

Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) technical specifications and architecture offer a framework that helps in understanding the structure of the software, its behavior, and the ways it can be developed, maintained, and scaled over time.

Components

DCIM solutions generally comprise several key components:

  • Centralized Management: Involves a centralized server or a virtual appliance for overseeing the entire infrastructure
  • User Interface: A client console or a web-based client allows for user interaction, providing a platform to manage and monitor tasks. The inclusion of Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) further enhances usability, enabling multiple users to easily access and manage large volumes of data on IT and facilities equipment within data center environments
  • Secure Access: Utilizes secure HTTP (HTTPS) connections for accessing the user interface, ensuring data privacy and security
  • Notification System: Employs standard TCP protocol connections for sending notifications to users, keeping them informed of system status and alerts
  • Configurations: Management and monitoring tasks are facilitated through device firmware or software configurations, allowing for precise control over the infrastructure

For more advanced functionalities such as workflow management, change management, and analytics, these tasks are handled by servers. These servers can be located either on-premises within the data center or off-site, hosted by a Cloud Service Provider (CSP).

Technology Stack

DCIM is the software layer that supports an organization’s IT Service Management (ITSM) capabilities. ITSM comprises all the processes and activities involved in designing, creating, delivering, supporting, and managing the lifecycle of IT services. This includes managing physical devices like servers, storage systems, and networking equipment, as well as overseeing virtual infrastructure, orchestration and workload management, and IT service desk operations.

At the heart of DCIM platforms is an instrumentation layer, essential for monitoring and managing the data center’s physical environment. This layer is implemented by deploying sensors, meters, and rack PDUs across the data center. These instruments gather data on various aspects of the infrastructure, such as temperature, humidity, airflow, power usage, and the status of equipment, providing a comprehensive overview of the data center’s health and efficiency.

The data collected through this instrumentation process includes information on power usage, cooling systems, server performance, and virtualization. This information feeds into a dynamic 3D model of the data center’s assets, enhancing DCIM’s value as more data is integrated. As an example, DCIM tools facilitate the creation of detailed visualizations of power chains, which present an intricate graphical representation of how power flows through the data center, highlighting connections between equipment and their energy sources.

The volume of data generated by this instrumentation layer can be enormous. In a large, ‘hyperscale’ data center, with tens of thousands of racks and hundreds of thousands of servers, the system could generate millions of data points every minute.

A senior executive at QTS Data Centers, Jon Greaves, provided further insight into the scale of data collection at his company, previously stating:

Interfaces

DCIM uses an open communication framework to integrate with third-party software or hardware, using standard protocols like SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), Modbus, and BACnet (Building Automation and Control Networks). It gathers operational data from two primary sources:

  • IT Equipment and Virtualization Components: These components use protocols like SNMP for telemetry, requiring critical data mapping due to the high volume of information
  • Electrical and Cooling Systems: These systems use communication protocols such as Modbus and BACnet to transmit data

The efficient management of this data by DCIM, particularly the selective mapping of the vast telemetry from IT equipment, is crucial for optimizing data center operations.

Furthermore, DCIM architecture can be implemented to support device management across both organizational and dedicated networks. This is achieved by installing Network Management Systems (NMS) that support devices connected to both public and private Local Area Networks (LANs).

Benefits of Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM)

Insights gained from Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) tools play a crucial role in every stage of data center management, encompassing planning, design, operations, monitoring, and predictive analytics.

Benefits and Advantages of Data Center Infrastructure Management DCIM with Check Mark Icon

DCIM software provides administrators with several key benefits, including:

  • Cost Reduction: When implemented effectively, DCIM helps in lowering operating expenses related to power consumption, thus yielding significant financial savings
  • Data Accessibility: Ensures critical, actionable data is readily available, enabling informed decision-making with up-to-date information
  • Capacity Planning: Offers valuable insights into current and future requirements for space, power, and cooling, facilitating strategic infrastructure planning
  • Remote Monitoring: Enables the monitoring of numerous sites globally, even with minimal or no on-site IT staff, enhancing operational flexibility
  • Consolidation: By centralizing management tools, DCIM reduces the need for expensive subscriptions and eliminates redundant systems, streamlining operations
  • Centralization: It serves as a unified platform for asset management, significantly enhancing operational efficiency by providing a single source of truth

DCIM Solutions Vendors

Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) solutions vendors are companies that supply a software application along with a set of tools designed to manage both the physical and virtual resources within a data center. Notable companies in this sector include Schneider Electric, Nlyte (a subsidiary of Carrier Global), Eaton, Vertiv (which has reportedly discontinued its Trellis platform), ABB, Delta Electronics, and Siemens.

DCIM Solutions Vendors IT Professionals Analyzing Data on Transparent Overlay Screen

DCIM software products are available through various pricing models. Typically, the Software as a Service (SaaS) model offers DCIM software on an annual subscription basis, with costs calculated as a flat fee per computer equipment rack. Alternatively, customers can opt for a license purchase, which involves a one-time purchase price along with an annual maintenance contract.

Many DCIM vendors also offer “integrated” solutions, which require the use of their software in conjunction with proprietary hardware. Such an approach often restricts their DCIM solutions to work exclusively with specific power and cooling systems provided by them, leading to bundled product offerings.

The key competitive factors among DCIM vendors include the product’s price-performance ratio, brand recognition, technical features, quality, cost, and the level of customer service and support provided.

Mary Zhang covers Data Centers for Dgtl Infra, including Equinix (NASDAQ: EQIX), Digital Realty (NYSE: DLR), CyrusOne, CoreSite Realty, QTS Realty, Switch Inc, Iron Mountain (NYSE: IRM), Cyxtera (NASDAQ: CYXT), and many more. Within Data Centers, Mary focuses on the sub-sectors of hyperscale, enterprise / colocation, cloud service providers, and edge computing. Mary has over 5 years of experience in research and writing for Data Centers.

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