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Are You Asking the Right Questions: Is it an Open Platform?

Is it an Open PlatformFor many years data center management has been based on a formula that would have pleased a medieval alchemist. Mix in equal parts software, spreadsheets and operator experience and, voilà, you have a “management platform” for a facility. Obviously, standardized would not be the term one would apply to these tools for operational oversight. As data centers, and their applications, have become more complex more sophisticated software based management packages have arisen. The proliferation of these Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCiM) solutions offer prospective data center users a broadening array of alternatives; some of which, however, come with substantial caveats that must be considered.

As in the case of the original efforts to deliver devices that could manage the key components (hubs, switches, routers, etc.) in local area networks, the initial software-based management platforms were proprietary in nature, this is the case with many of today’s DCiM alternatives—particularly those that are offered by the data center provider’s themselves. As a result, the end user is limited to the use of only the functionality that is built into the provider’s offering. This structure stands in direct opposition to the concept of an “open” DCiM platform. In an open environment other software applications can be written to operate with the provider’s DCiM structure to provide capabilities that the platform itself cannot. As a result of the immature nature of provider’s DCiM solutions prospective customers should be clear on what they do, and don’t do.

In the world of monolithic solutions, there are currently two provider delivered DCiM solutions—one data hall based, the other supporting pre-fabricated units. In each case the products themselves provide the basic functionality one would expect from a DCiM solution. An important consideration for prospective customers, apart from the limitation on incorporating third party based solutions, is the ease of use of these product offerings. As one might expect with products that advertise a wealth of capabilities, their actual operation can vary in complexity. Alternatives should be evaluated based on a variety of factors including the user friendliness of their GUI interface, ease of operation, and most importantly, do they enable you to obtain and use the information that you feel best meets your requirements. The fact that these vendor provided solutions are available should not leave the prospective customer with the belief that they are the only alternatives available.

Obviously, since only two data center providers currently offer their own products, customers evaluating other monolithic, pre-fabricated and container-based solutions will be responsible for identifying their own DCiM solutions. This, in itself, is not necessarily a negative situation as this frees these customers to identify alternatives that better suit their needs—including their ability to provide a platform that is open to enhance its basic functions with others the customer desires that are available from other firm’s with compatible solutions.

Since Compass offers a standalone data center product designed to address all customer requirements in a single package, each of our data centers includes it own DCiM solution. Rather than developing our own proprietary package we evaluated a number of prospective partners with the provision of an open platform being one of our major considerations. By incorporating Schneider Electric’s Struxureware DCiM solution as part of our standard product, customers have the ability to add capabilities as they needed, rather than trying to absorb all of the potential functionality all at once. This structure better enables users to master the management capabilities of the solution incrementally so that they are able to use them most effectively. This is in contrast to the typical operational scenario of the all encompassing solutions that we are all aware of in which the end user is so overwhelmed by the multiplicity of capabilities that they focus on only two or three thereby leaving many valuable tools unused. Since Struxureware is an open platform, users are able to add and launch complementary functionality from a central management screen. For example, this capability provides that backbone for our ability to enable customers to benefit the TCO tracking and calculation capabilities of Romonet’s Portal product.

DCiM functionality is capable of providing data center customers with greater insight into and control over their data center operations than ever before. In evaluating their alternatives, they must be cognizant of how each alternative best meets their needs. While proprietary provider delivered solutions may be acceptable for many customers, the closed nature of these platforms may also serve to limit a customer’s ability to implement desired functionality in the future. Basic DCiM from service providers should be a type of “middle-ware”, offering the client the ability to gather BMS data, trend and report as a baseline offering. Additional DCiM packages, whether third party or internally developed by the user, should be able to be hooked on or into this DCiM “stack”. This is no different than what we went through in the 90’s with CPE devices. “Proprietary and closed” is the death knell of a long-term solution when it comes to tools of any kind. While initially superior, they are quickly brought to their knees by a market that abhors a monopoly. After all, who wants to have to find a “Tri-Wing” screwdriver, when there are plenty of Phillips heads lying around. An understanding of the strengths, and weaknesses, of a DCiM solution can have important ramifications for customers over the life of the data center.