Data Center Professionals Discuss Their ‘New’ Challenges

The Changing Data Center

The Changing Data Center

We’ve been busy at Nlyte meeting with end-users that are now searching for mature DCIM solutions that can be quickly deployed. Together with Server Technology and RFcode, we conducted half-day meetings in 7 cities in the past 2 months. Over a thousand people registered to join us for these meetings.

The meetings allowed the three vendors to share Data Center transformation and DCIM ideas, present current capabilities, but most of all, we LISTENED to what was happening across this statistically valid cross-section of the industry. With that, I wanted to share some of our observations on topics that had enough convergence to identify a trend or direction.

The top dozen topics we heard:

1. Change is much more common than it might otherwise appear

The vast amount of change, which continuously occurs in all data centers, is deceptive. While it appears to many that the data center is fairly static, in fact due to refresh cycles, warranty schedules, remediation and new applications, a quarter or more of a data center is actually changing every year. Each of these changes is a ‘mini’ project and must be managed and documented in the context of all of the other projects being planned. Many of the attendees had no idea that so much change was happening ‘behind the scenes’. Management of all of these projects is daunting and attendees agreed that it simply doesn’t happen very well, which one of the reasons they are searching for a DCIM solution!

2. IT and finance organizations are natural partners

Nearly all of the attendees were from the IT and Finance organizations. It was clear that their counterparts in the Facilities organizations already have a wealth of tools that maintain HVAC, Lighting and Security function and it was the general consensus by attendees that these facilities systems already run fairly well and make would a perfect source of energy-related knowledge towards the goal of making better business decisions for the whole data center. Many attendees discussed the need to actively manage the data center as a complex business asset with many components, each requiring pro-active planning and operational efficiency. A related topic that arose was the need to enable cooling resources to become more dynamic and responsive to granular demand, but that topic was not investigated deeply during these discussions.

3. Integration and customization important but more ‘off-the-shelf’ is best

Integration and customization was a hot topic that has real strategic and financial impacts. It was generally agreed by attendees that the percentage of a solution that is off-the-shelf directly affects their willingness to adopt any newer technology. Most attendees acknowledged that some professional services were expected, but they felt like any more than one-third of the project would be prohibitive and cause their deployment to be locked into specific versions. It was unanimously considered a good thing vendor DCIM vendors get together to create ‘known working’ solutions that integrate deeply and leverage combined value well.

4. Temperatures on the rise in the data center

Increasing the standard temperature within the Data Center was a common goal, but most data center operators are ill prepared to execute that strategy due to lack of granular visibility and on-going concern for outages. The discussion about raising data center temperature quickly turned into the need for limits of those potential changes, and how those changes could affect power consumption. Most attendees are still running their data centers at about 68-degrees. It was agreed that higher temperatures are a good goal, and most could see running at 72-degrees without too many changes. Each attendee wants to drive their data center temperature up within the next year, and even higher temperatures would be considered only after some experience has been attained.

5. Intelligent power and environment monitoring moves up the chain

More than half of the audience has data centers with simple ‘dumb’ power distribution devices and very few (if any) network-attached environment sensors. Unanimously, each attendee will make the choice to move to or grow with intelligent power chain and environment monitoring components when the opportunity presents itself (new, reconfig, etc). Most attendees can see the need for these energy monitoring solutions as part of their new management plans. A lively discussion about intelligent asset locator technologies was well received and attendees agreed their current manual audits to determine asset location were less than desirable. Most are looking for a strategic approach to solving the asset location problem.

6. DCIM is a priority, but the definition of DCIM is far too broad today

Funded DCIM projects exist in nearly all attendees’ plans for 2013, however the definition of what ‘DCIM’ entails varies widely from attendee to attendee. Ironic because funding and a genuine desire to take SOME FORM OF ACTION exists with most attendees today. Most are currently in the evaluation of DCIM solutions and have a plan to deploy intelligent power, monitoring and a DCIM suite within the next year or so as new data center space comes on-line. Attendees noted that dozens of DCIM vendors approach them over the course of the year, and each has begun to sound the same. Attendees are looking for non-biased DCIM guidance.

7. No more business as usual, the modern data center is here

Attendees are looking for Data Center leaders who understand the ‘new’ challenges in the data center. They suggest that lots of folks can be found to discuss the data center of 2005, what they need is state of the art experts. They are searching for highly skilled talent in their new hires and are looking for new vendors with new offerings to help craft their next data center. Business as usual will not be the strategy going forward and many of the attendees have already had to re-tool their own knowledge to participate in their company’s IT structure plans going forward. Their future will likely be a changing combination of In-House, Co-Location, Modular and Cloud services.

8. Energy usage and capacity planning are the highest priorities

Understanding energy usage and creating the business processes to actively do regular capacity planning were the two highest priority needs identified by the attendees, followed closely by compliance and audit needs. While most attendees acknowledged that the rising cost of power has become the catalyst for change (which raised the visibility of the whole data center operation), it is their belief that energy savings is just the tip of the iceberg and will easily be dwarfed by saving available through the adoption of streamlined and highly efficient operations. Ultimately, creating a new data center plan which is efficient, defendable and supportable was the attendees’ major goal.

9. Knowledge is key across IT, facilities and finance departments

Most attendees were not looking for a single tool to create a literal ‘single-pane of glass’, but instead were looking for a way to access the most complete store of knowledge to make better business decisions. It is highly desirable for the multiple available sources of knowledge from the IT, Facilities and Financial systems to converge in their business support processes. Today most attendees agreed that the financial aspects of the data center have been ‘buried’ for far too long, and they are encouraged that the data center was beginning to be treated as an entity that must be planned and managed, with general-ledger style accountability.

10. Energy usage reports by function and organization are in high demand

About two-thirds of the attendees did not possess the knowledge nor any formal means to apprise their executive teams with current or future energy demands and the costs that would be associated with that demand. In fact the executive team has not even requested this level of detail in many cases. That said, the ability to report on asset energy usage by location, by business unit, by function and a wealth of other views would be highly desirable from a DCIM solution.

11. Education is needed around cloud computing for DC planning

Most attendees have heard about Cloud and Modular styles of computing, but most were unsure how each pertains to their existing in-house and co-location planning. There is a general awareness that there will become a hybrid model of computing across all four styles, but knowing which business applications to put where will become a detailed balancing act and one that the attendees feel that are ill prepared to execute today.

12. IT and finance need to come together for cost/ROI planning

Nearly all attendees said that one of their top initiatives for 2013 is defining and measuring their on-going IT projects in terms directly relative to COST. Not merely ROI, but actual costs associated with doing a unit of work and the long-term impact of those investments. In addition, most IT professionals in attendance were still unaware of the true financial impacts associated with the accumulation and continued usage of older IT equipment well past its typical 3-year warranty and depreciation schedule. Many felt that IT and Finance organizations need to work more closely to provide a baseline.

We will continue to be teaming with DCIM components providers like ServerTech, RF-Code, FieldView and others for additional face-to-face meetings to demonstrate the DCIM eco-system which really is forming for the strongest of players.  Stay tuned for more details.

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