By Carsten Ludwig, Market Manager, Reichle & De-Massari
As we connect more hardware, and networks become more distributed and more complex, monitoring operational aspects of servers and switches, cooling and power equipment, and any other linked IT hardware becomes more difficult. Monitoring solutions have become essential to networks of all kinds. Although often confused, DCIM (Data Centre Infrastructure Management), AIM (Automated Infrastructure Management) and IIM (Intelligent Infrastructure Management) fulfil different, albeit overlapping, functions. Reichle & De-Massari pinpoints key differences and focus on applications and considerations when choosing a DCIM solution.
Several factors are leading to demand for more advanced monitoring. One is size: the average data centre surface area is currently 9,000m2 and the world’s largest data centre, Range International Information Group, located in Langfang, China, measures almost 600km2. However, apart from size, distribution across multiple locations is adding to complexity. Edge and cloud facilities, on-premise equipment, ‘traditional’ data centres and hyperscale data centres are all combined to meet specific and ever-changing user needs.
It’s surprisingly common to find network managers carrying out inventory and management of physical infrastructure using Excel sheets – or even paper, pencil and post-its. However, developing realistic expansion plans and carrying out risk analyses are impossible, let alone complying with legislation and best practices governing data security and availability. Making infrastructural changes on the basis of incorrect, out-of-date and unreliable documentation is like walking a tightrope without a safety net. Introducing the right monitoring solution saves on equipment and operational costs, energy, maintenance and repairs, and ensures every port is optimally used.
A closer look at the different options
When it comes to monitoring, the choice needs to be made between AIM, IIM and DCIM.
• IIM connects network devices using real-time network management tools and structured cabling, supporting management and speeding up fault-finding and repairs. It lists and details the entire physical infrastructure, automatically detecting IP devices and provides alerts.
• DCIM integrates management of physical infrastructure, energy, risk, facilities and systems. It allows the user to visualise, analyse, manage, and optimise all the elements that make up a modern data centre and the relations between them. It can optimise physical infrastructure performance and efficiency, and help keep the data centre aligned with current needs. DCIM does more than provide alerts – it is essential to generating performance data which, in turn, can serve as the basis for improvements and enhancements which can be fed into a data centre asset management tool. Another important responsibility of data centre managers is cabling and connectivity management. DCIM software solutions are already catering to this requirement by using a software control layer to map and monitor cabling assets and physical connections in real time. In many cases, DCIM is exactly what’s needed – but you do have to be sure that you’ll be using enough features to warrant the investment. You need to ask yourself whether you have a real business case for monitoring everything across your infrastructure. Does the potential benefit outweigh the investment and the time and effort required to implement such a solution? For many large networks the answer will definitely be ‘yes’. For others, however, it will be ‘no’. In many other cases, AIM may be a better fit.
• AIM is a specialised solution for tracing and monitoring all changes to a physical network, including switches, servers and patch panels. AIM systems gather data from RFID-based port sensors and provide real-time information about the cabling infrastructure, including asset management, planned and unplanned changes and alarms. These systems improve operational efficiency and facilitate ongoing management of the passive infrastructure. AIM systems offer functions for mapping, managing, analysing and planning cabling and network cabinets. The integrated hardware and software system automatically detects when cords are inserted or removed, and documents the cabling infrastructure, including connected equipment.
AIM enables the optimisation of business processes from an IT infrastructure perspective. Since the entire infrastructure is represented in a consistent database in an AIM system, inquiries into resources such as free ports in network cabinets ducting capacity, or cabinet space, can be answered quickly and easily. Other immediate advantages include improved capacity utilisation of existing infrastructure, and simple and exact planning of changes and expansions. AIMs also offer planning tool capabilities to simulate the future expansion of networks, which helps IT managers better prepare the bill of materials required for implementing the project. AIM solutions can reduce incident resolution time, reducing mean-time-to-repair by 30-50%, thereby providing significant savings potentials in terms of both IT resources and reducing lost business output.
An ideal solution would offer IIM, AIM and DCIM functionalities, and allow the user to pick, mix, and upgrade in line with their changing requirements. However, it’s also important to realise that the effective digitalisation of all management processes in a data centre will be only be possible once many of the functions described previously are in place. Software that allows equipment and systems in data centres and adjacent locations to ‘talk’ with each other should be in place by default. The extent and type of solution very strongly depends on the business model, service levels agreements, and complexity to be managed. For example, a few edge sites might not merit a fully-fledged software environment, but just a few specific features, whereas other networked locations other might need the full set. Ongoing insights into and analysis of requirements are a must.