Facing pressures to cut costs, improve performance, meet regulatory standards and make facilities greener, companies are looking for better insights into managing their data centers. The performance of power, cooling and IT hardware systems is tied to a complex array of variables within the facility. However, increasingly sophisticated data center infrastructure management and monitoring tools are emerging to consolidate this data and to give operations staff the tools they need for making informed management decisions. Among the promises hinted at by DCIM vendors are lower operating costs, improved remote management and better facility utilization. As a result, demand for the technology is growing rapidly.
“DCIM – the software, systems, and services that monitor, measure, and help control data centers’ IT and facilities infrastructure – is quickly becoming a must-have technology for managers of modern data centers,” said Eric Woods, research director at Navigant Research, in response to his firm’s recent market overview study. “The need for data centers to improve their energy efficiency while meeting an ever-growing demand for IT capacity will drive annual spending on DCIM software and services from less than $700 million in 2013 to more than $4.5 billion by 2020.”
Among the improvements DCIM software offers are is better allocation of power and cooling resources, quick analysis of the impact of partial infrastructure failures and oversight of historical trends to improve capacity planning and overall IT room performance in the future, a Schneider Electric white paper explained. While early tools were designed to alert managers of irregularities in server inlet temperatures and other key measures, modern ones are increasingly designed to automate responses to these potential problems, proactively adjusting resource use to avoid overheating and giving operators more oversight as to where trouble areas in the data center exist. Particularly as the resource demands of servers increase, managing infrastructure without the oversight of data is becoming more difficult. At the same time, DCIM systems can be expensive to implement, and the promises of various vendors can be lofty, raising the question for many data center operators as to what kind of return on investment and overall performance gains they can expect.
What Is The ROI Of DCIM?
For most companies, the question with DCIM quickly becomes whether there is ROI and how quickly it can be achieved. One of the main value propositions of DCIM is that it pays for itself in efficiency gains, and it does so relatively quickly. In an online presentation, Paul Goodison, CEO of DCIM firm Cormant, noted that ROI is possible in six to 12 months.
In one case study conducted by Forrester for Emerson Network Power, the three-year risk-adjusted ROI for a bank implementing DCIM was 100 percent, with full payback occurring in slightly over 13 months. The total benefits of the solution were assessed as adding $1.6 million in value, while the overall cost was just under $800,000. The study looked at ROI in more granular areas as well: The bank saw ROI in remote management (113 percent); energy/environmental monitoring (216 percent); power management (58 percent); power and space planning (93 percent); and asset management (68 percent).
One common issue for data centers chasing ROI from their DCIM solutions is to invest in a number of point solutions for tracking energy use, temperature and other individual variables, an IDC study noted. While this approach can yield significant short-term gains, a comprehensive DCIM solution that covers an array of data throughout the facility will deliver the greatest overall benefits.
Where Are Savings Occurring?
The types of efficiency gains created by DCIM are diverse, but savings abound in a number of applications. Among the types of savings noted in the Emerson case study and in several Cormant case studies were:
Increased availability: With better oversight of where problems are occurring, companies can respond to conditions that could lead to outages with more effectiveness. At the bank Forrester studied, DCIM contributed to an additional 20 hours per year of uptime, equivalent to $1.2 million in value over three years. This was considered a core driver of implementation for the firm.
Reduced personnel demands: The bank was able to save more than five hours a day due to remote management capabilities, equivalent to $39,000 a year. Additionally, it could cut out around 45 minutes each day in capacity planning, accounting for $11,000 in annual savings. At a healthcare provider identified by Cormant, one person was employed full time to manage infrastructure data prior to DCIM implementation, and an additional three to five person days were needed each month to generate reports. After implementation, the work was reduced to one part-time role, and reports took two hours or less to generate. At another global financial services firm, the job of managing new server deployments across multiple data centers was reduced from requiring five to six people to only needing one or two, who could handle the entire task from a central portal.
Reduced power consumption: With more oversight of environmental conditions, companies can determine if they are spending unnecessarily on cooling, while better capacity planning can help regulate server energy use more effectively. In the Forrester case study, the bank was able to cut power consumption costs by around $10,600 each year. Yahoo recently announced a successful partnership with provider SynapSense, which enabled the Internet giant to cut cooling energy use by 37 percent, or 4.6 million kilowatt hours each year.
Better team communication: By centralizing data and cutting out silos, data center staff can see everything that’s happening in the facility and respond accordingly. Additionally, Goodison noted, DCIM software gives IT and facility teams a common language for addressing what’s happening. With better coordination, the bank in the Forrester study was able to achieve productivity gains of $18,000 a year.
Smarter asset usage: DCIM gives companies a clearer picture of the ways their equipment is being used, allowing them to identify unnecessary equipment and cut hardware costs. In the Forrester study, the bank was able to consolidate 19 servers by recognizing opportunities for virtualization. It was also able to improve the way it handled equipment moves, changes and additions, leading to an estimated $50,000 in savings. According to Cormant, one global infrastructure manufacturer was able to save more than $1 million in six months through improved asset utilization, while another network provider achieved a 15 percent asset recovery of unused equipment by using DCIM to plan a smarter data center deployment.
With more data and oversight of operations in the data center, these gains are likely only the beginning of where companies can begin to find ROI from DCIM solutions. More efficient resource use, planning, management and deployment planning can all play out in valuable ways over time as businesses learn to leverage new sources of information.