Reduce Costs and Improve Performance with Data Center Infrastructure Management

By Andy Marker | May 23, 2017 (updated November 7, 2021)

Today, the technological revolution is rapidly changing the business environment for most industries. The word “chaos” is often used to talk about the impacts of these accelerating changes, especially in data center management. One reason for this is that the narrow, siloed methods used for monitoring assets are quickly moving from a reactive stance to a proactive methodology. Internal and external initiatives are applying more pressure for enhanced capacity and security while mitigating the rising expenses of power, cooling, and infrastructure. There is also a new wrinkle for data center management: the physical walls of the data center are “coming down” as businesses look at methods to harness their data center assets and information to better serve overall business planning strategies. 

This article will explain data center infrastructure management, its challenges, and trends that are driving adoption. We’ll also look at industry research, reveal expert advice, and provide useful tools for picking the right solution for your company.  

What Is Data Center Infrastructure management (DCIM)?

Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) began before it even had a name when dedicated areas of a building were assigned to house the physical assets necessary for computer systems and servers, network, cabling, and data storage. It became clear that better methods of monitoring for heat and cooling, capacity and usage, and rack or cabinet space were needed. Visio and Excel spreadsheets, along with a good pair of sneakers to walk the floor to perform manual inspections, were the initial monitoring tools for many facilities. As the unique needs of the facility managers and the data center converged, DCIM solutions were developed to help manage performance and utilization, including skyrocketing power consumption costs, space and facility capacity, and necessary environmental mitigations for equipment.

Today, innovation and green initiatives are catalysts for facilities to look for automated and interconnected 21st century solutions. Gartner predicts a significant increase in sales of DCIM tools because of the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) that focuses on sustainability in federal data centers to reduce costs and improve energy efficiency. The DCOI requires government data centers to have DCIM in place by September 30, 2018. 

Common Myths and Misconceptions About DCIM

DCIM has changed over the years from a monitoring function to a proactive management practice. As such, today there are several misconceptions surrounding DCIM. Although monitoring to identify cost and utility savings, answer capacity issues, and plan for expansion continues to be an integral function, DCIM is about more than environmental monitoring. DCIM continues to move towards more practical management processes that migrate many functions of the data center past its own walls to align with overall corporate goals. In observing the expanding role of data center integration into the entire enterprise, Gartner put out a report that cautions IT leaders to move away from a traditional strategy of continuous acquisition to one of continuous life cycle management. With their holistic view and integrated reporting capabilities, data center infrastructure management software can support strategies for optimization, reliability, and cost-effectiveness that will better position IT leaders to build a case for future capital expenditures and growth.

The data center infrastructure management market took hold and gained acceptance when Gartner began an in-depth look at the practice. Gartner now conducts a yearly analysis of top DCIM tool vendors and issues a report to assist decision makers. Their “Magic Quadrant” report is based on two areas: Completeness of Vision and Ability to Execute. This year’s report highlights eight vendors over four areas of analysis. Gartner and numerous other research organizations also put out reports and white papers on best practices, trends, and market solutions that are useful if you’re evaluating DCIM for your organization or want to update your existing system.

Challenges: Why Is Data Center Infrastructure Management Necessary?

As part of Gartner’s 2016 Magic Quadrant report on DCIM, their summary states, “All organizations with at least a moderate-sized data center (hundreds of racks with a five to eight peak kilowatt load) should consider investing in a DCIM tool, especially if they have a cost optimization initiative or are planning significant data center changes.” 

Gartner recommends investing in a tool because DCIM not only allows you to optimize power, cooling, networking, and floor plans, but also because today’s solutions provide new integrated reporting that serve as an important part of overall strategic planning. The important element of optimizing system capacity and usage has been shown to significantly increase under a DCIM strategy. This indicator can be a key component when making decisions on capital equipment need and acquisition. 

Trends That Are Driving Data Center Infrastructure Management Adoption

Today, in-house data centers and co-location facilities are most prevalent. However, cloud- and virtualization-based solutions continue to gain market strength. According to a 2016 study conducted by ReRez Research on behalf of Infoblox, nine out of 10 CIOs plan to increase private/hybrid cloud spending. This move from hardware-centric to virtualization solutions is expected to continue growing over the next few years. 

Finding areas of interrelationships is one of the big trends in data center infrastructure management where the realities of legacy systems versus new hardware, geographically separated centers, and the impacts of acquisition can hamper effective management and cause confusion. Another trend that Gartner identifies is a need for DCIM to grow beyond asset monitoring to include capacity, financial reporting, and growth planning. These elements make reporting and analysis a meaningful addition to decision makers outside the data center including facilities management and C-suite executives. 


John Reed, Senior Product Manager with vXchnge, a carrier-neutral data center service provider, gives his recommendation. “A robust DCIM implementation is essential in order to achieve high-performance within the data center. Whether the focus is monitoring, operational control, asset management, or security, a data center’s DCIM strategy can be a differentiator against the competition,” he says. “For example, be sure modern technology such as RFID-enabled Asset Management is offered when seeking a data center. It can increase security while enhancing visibility into your assets and configuration.”


Choosing the Right Data Center Infrastructure Management Solution

Choosing and deploying the right DCIM tool can maximize Return on Investment (ROI) in different ways. As Gartner analyst Chris Pettey notes in his report, “Further refinements to energy efficiency can be achieved through the use of data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software. DCIM software provides the necessary link between the operational needs of the physical IT equipment and the physical facilities (building and environment controls).” Another area that affects DCIM is capacity optimization, which can eliminate or delay the addition of capital equipment costs.

There are a number of free, open source software solutions in the data center infrastructure management marketplace, as well as an increasing number of vendors providing structured, customizable solutions. Here are some things to consider when choosing which option is best for your company:


Stand Alone vs. Suite DCIM Solutions

In both the open and closed sourced options there are standalone or niche solutions which may benefit smaller businesses that focus on one element of DCIM, such as power utilization or asset inventory and monitoring. These can be used to provide numerous efficiencies in day-to-day operations, from triggers that turn on HVAC units to measuring Power Distribution Units (PDUs) to rack or cabinet availability.

Larger organizations, especially those with assets in numerous places, are looking for more integrated approaches that are found in DCIM Suites or DCIM Specialists products. These products offer modularity and scalability to meet demands of growth. Like the niche solutions, they have optimization functions to monitor and then manage costs. Many of these types of offerings have capacity planning, real-time views, cable and connectivity management, financial modeling, as well as automation tools for energy use and cooling. More and more organizations now use 3D visualization and provide a “single pane” view of the entire operational infrastructure. 


Key Questions to Ask When Evaluating Data Center Infrastructure Management Software

When considering any new tool, first ask what capabilities are necessary to improve your business. Questions to ask vendors include: 

  • Will the tool adapt to my long range and day-to-day needs?
  • What adaptations can I make? Can I tailor naming conventions to my company? Each software vendor has numerous functions that may or may not be applicable to your situation. 
  • How easy is it to learn and use? Do some research on deployment and ease of use. Gartner research cites this issue as a top priority and concern when selecting a DCIM software tool. 
  • Can the product scale to meet future needs? Many solutions provide cost-efficient and upgradable components or modules to address scalability.
  • What datacenter infrastructure management training or certifications does the vendor offer?
  • Can you adapt the software to integrate legacy, new, and off-site assets?
  • What is the plan and timeline for a reasonable return on investment (ROI)?

Data Center Management Software Functionality

The continuous evolution of DCIM not only includes energy, rack, and capacity planning, but also allows for management of the entire asset lifecycle, downtime, and servicing equipment. Individual components and functionality of DCIM software solutions include: 

Asset and Inventory Management

  • Complete listing of assets, identifications, and location
  • Holistic views of equipment and racks
  • Tracking of new assets, decommissioned assets, and assets on the move
  • Analysis and modeling of rack or space availability 
  • Interrelationship visualization

Operations and Management

  • Reports to support compliance
  • Forecasting and analysis for capacity and energy consumption
  • Trend analysis 
  • Data and information delivery
  • Workflow management
  • 3D and “Single pane” views of the Data Center
  • Data interpretation to alert of inefficiencies

Power Configuration and Monitoring

  • Automated utility management including power, HVAC, heating, and fire suppression
  • Energy consumption forecasting and analysis
  • Triggered sensors for power, cooling, and heating
  • Power optimization and cost savings strategies
  • What if scenarios 

Most data center infrastructure management software solutions have asset and inventory information along with lifecycle management, power consumption, and capacity analytics.  Operations and management functions are supported through energy and environmental reports, networking topography, and connectivity maps that better manage operational workflow. The optimization reports follow equipment and monitor individual workloads to maximize usage. The visualization capabilities, color-coding, and dashboards show users the entire infrastructure to easily identify areas for maximized optimization and areas in need of resolution. 


Benefits of Data Center Infrastructure Management Software

The functionality and components of DCIM solutions vary, but the ability to fine-tune energy consumption and manage environmental factors can significantly reduce costs. Using DCIM software also benefits your company by allowing you to:

  • Discover cost saving opportunities
  • Reduce risk
  • Assess change impact
  • Improve availability
  • Optimize performance
  • Automate and improve capacity planning and forecasting
  • Align IT with business goals
  • Reduce energy consumption
  • Optimize asset utilization
  • Monitor and improve availability
  • Decrease equipment delivery/disposal blockages
  • Improve overall IT service delivery

Benefits will vary based on whether you choose a standalone or suite DCIM solution. Below are the top Gartner rated solutions from 2016. 

Data Center Infrastructure Management and Healthcare Compliance Regulations

Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) is a valuable resource that can be leveraged in healthcare organizations to monitor and manage facilities, IT assets, capacity planning, and various other systems in one centralized location. DCIM offers a way to track, manage, and store resources, operations and process information, and protected health information (PHI).

While healthcare organizations can benefit from the visible and collaborative benefits that DCIM provides, they must also abide by stringent security, data protection, and compliance standards, such as HIPAA. To reap the benefits of centralized data center management while also remaining compliant to security standards, you need a powerful, real-time, and secure tool to manage your data and resources.

Smartsheet is a work execution platform that enables healthcare companies to improve work efficiency, scale business processes, and securely manage and store PHI, while meeting or exceeding all of HIPAA’s regulatory requirements. Organize all necessary information in one centralized location to ensure you have access to the information and resources you need to keep your operations running smoothly.

Interested in learning more about how Smartsheet can help you maximize your efforts? Discover Smartsheet for Healthcare.


Data Center Infrastructure Management Vendors and Gartner’s Magic Quadrant

In October 2016, Gartner reported on eight top DCIM software solution providers. Gartner uses a Magic Quadrant analysis method and visual to provide a comprehensive evaluation of a specific market. Using 15 areas of evaluation plotted on a graph that measures against Completeness of Vision and Ability to Execute, Gartner researchers rated eight companies. DCIM Magic Quadrant “Leaders” which provide mature comprehensive offerings include Emerson Network Power, Nlyte Software, and Schneider Electric. “Challengers” with their strong ability to execute a vision are CommScope and Panduit. Identified as having a competitive vision for changing market rules, those in the “Visionary” quadrant include Cormant and FNT. Finally, Gartner identified Sunbird Software as a small segment “Niche Player.”

Notable are the seven companies absent from this year’s report. Citing their removal as a failure to fully meet all of the inclusion criteria, these companies have, in the recent past, demonstrated industry expertise and may be worth consideration. Those companies are ABB, Device 42, FieldView Solutions, Geist, Modius, Optimum Path, and Rackwise. You can find an analysis of industry positioning of these companies in Gartner’s 2015 Magic Quadrant report.

As adoption of DCIM grows, certifications continue to teach traditional networking technologies and physical infrastructure, but cloud management solutions are finding their way into the course offerings. Since the future of DCIM will focus on cloud, 3D, and virtualization technologies, it is best to look for certifications that provide curriculum in all three of these areas.

Future of Data Center Infrastructure Management

An IDC CIO ‘s report “Agenda 2016: Top 10 Predictions” predicted that by 2017, 60 percent of digital transformation initiatives will not be able to scale because of a lack of strategic architecture. The same report also predicted that in 2016, 75 percent of CIOs will have to revive rationalization initiatives to simplify the IT environment and enable innovation. In addition, the analysts at Technavio forecast the DCIM market to grow at a CAGR of more than 11 percent through 2020. 

So, the future of DCIM is a thoughtful and strategic integration of today’s hardware-centric centers with emerging virtualization to meet the accelerated need for growth. Adding the expanded capabilities of a DCIM solution, such as one with the enhanced integration capabilities identified in Gartner’s 2016 Magic Quadrant report, a company may be better equipped to move forward in a proactive management process and avoid the potential chaos of reactive monitoring. In the previously mentioned IDC predictions report, researchers also expect those that execute effective management strategies, especially in their data center infrastructure management will, in the next few years, move from a “crisis of leadership to the calm of execution.”

Improve Visibility into Data Center Infrastructure with Smartsheet

Empower your people to go above and beyond with a flexible platform designed to match the needs of your team — and adapt as those needs change. 

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed. 

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.



Discover why over 90% of Fortune 100 companies trust Smartsheet to get work done.

Try Smartsheet for Free Get a Free Smartsheet Demo