How to Maximize DCIM Effectiveness

Data center tools can improve the efficiency of higher ed computing resources and cooling equipment.

Colleges and universities need to stretch resources, such as physical space and energy, while reducing costs. Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools provide a means to improve the efficiency of computing resources in the data center, as well as power and cooling equipment.

IT departments are finding that DCIM and associated tools are useful beyond facilities infrastructure and can be used to manage data center technologies, tools and processes, including the interaction and dependencies among IT resources — such as servers, storage and networking equipment, hardware, software and services — along with power, cooling, floor space and other resources.

Among the benefits of an effective DCIM deployment are improved reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS) and quality of service (QoS); elimination of pockets of underused hardware and software resources; establishment of metrics for service planning, budgeting and auditing; removal of complexity and waste, which can lower costs; and performance and capacity planning.

Enabling growth without compromise while stretching budgets further requires working smarter.

Remove Costs and Complexity

Simply cutting costs can have an adverse effect on RAS, QoS and performance. Instead, getting rid of waste and unnecessary complexity can reduce costs without affecting these factors.

IT administrators should look for signs of complexity that could be created by people or processes as well as complexity related to hardware, software or even facilities. Knowing where cooling needs to be directed, applying different thermal zones, and adjusting temperatures to be more effective can reduce costs without hampering performance. Smart cooling and intelligent power management techniques tied to workload and service levels can accomplish that objective.

DCIM information can be stored in performance management and configuration management databases. Regardless of whether those are extensive solutions or small and simple, they should aim to reduce complexity and improve understanding of data center ­operations.

Metrics Matter

How can IT effectively manage what it has if it does not know how it is being used?

Data centers are information factories, and administrators can use that information to gain insight into how resources are being used. Those stores of information include data regarding the facility, energy usage and costs, equipment health and status, tooling, available resources, scheduling, workflows, service delivery quality and waste.

Establishing key performance indicators provides timely insight and awareness, both in real time and from a historical perspective. KPIs should include coverage for data protection (backup, continuity of operations, disaster recovery and archiving) to ensure organizational objectives and requirements are met.

Improve RAS, Performance and QoS

IT should determine the level of RAS or resiliency needed from their data centers, distinguishing that from what users merely want. Many users request the ­highest level of availability and performance, along with the lowest ­recovery time objective, while demanding service from a cloud provider because they believe it to be less expensive; however, ­administrators should ­determine level of service, ­durability, ­performance and security provided for a given price. Frequently, users say they want a higher service level but are willing to pay only for a lower level. What users are willing to pay for is the true level of need.

Some applications can benefit from higher levels of service involving performance, RAS and security, which can improve productivity and resiliency. For data storage, consider using fewer yet faster NAND flash solid-state drives for input-output consolidation. For storage capacity, look at ­using fewer yet higher capacity hard-disk drives, as well as tape and cloud resources. Implement technologies to reduce the data footprint, ­including archiving, ­compression, deduplication, tiering and thin ­provisioning.

Strive to find an acceptable balance between RAS and performance: What might appear as a performance problem or bottleneck may be due to lack of RAS or related issues, and what appears as a RAS problem may be a performance bottleneck.

Plan for Performance and Capacity

Data center administrators can take a number of steps in planning operations to improve service while reducing costs.

Establish a process to review the performance of IT resources against the capacity of those resources to ensure they are sufficient — and being used effectively — to meet the demands of the data center workload.

Review the operation of specific hardware and software, as well as performance of the overall data center against specific applications. That practice should be tied to IT service management, which aligns ­service delivery with the needs of the ­organization.

Finally, establish separate planning and forecasting for physical facilities and IT equipment. That planning should be integrated, and planners should share their ­information.

THE TRUE MEANING OF AVAILABILITY

While resiliency, reliability, availability, serviceability, accessibility and durability are all related and can be generically grouped under a single moniker such as availability, they have different meanings.

Ensuring data and applications are durable requires storing copies (full or partial) on different technologies in various data centers. The more durability required, the greater the number of copies that must be stored in a greater number of formats in different data centers. But storage administrators must consider accessibility as well. It is possible to improve the durability of a given set of data (increasing its likelihood of surviving an incident) while reducing its accessibility.

Higher ed IT should look beyond basic availability or reliability and expand their focus to all components, including facilities, IT equipment, hardware, software and applications. Data center performance and capacity planning should be part of any comprehensive DCIM practice. An effective DCIM practice will tie in metrics in a way that allows the team to coordinate cost-effective service delivery and meet objectives, while also providing timely insight into the resources being used.

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Oct 10 2013

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