This last week while doing some research I ran across the term Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software for the first time. Intrigued, I spent a little time investigating what it was only to discover that for the most part DCIM is a new name for an old friend (or nemesis, depending on your experiences) – Storage Resource Management (SRM.) But this is one of the few times where a change of name may stand to do everyone a lot of good from the vendors who are providing DCIM software to the organizations who are buying it.
SRM software has probably been one of the most overused and misapplied terms in the storage industry. While it first got wide spread exposure and recognition about a decade ago, it has been used in just about every context possible from managing storage devices to reporting on storage utilization to even being lumped in with storage virtualization.
Ironically none of these classifications were incorrect as all of these applications technically met the broad definition of SRM software. But from an organizational and end-user perspective, it was a nightmare to figure out which products did what, how well they did it and then try to explain to management which SRM feature you were buying and why you might need three SRM software products.
For instance, just consider the differences between SRM software that specialized in storage device management and those that did reporting on storage utilization.
- Storage device management. I really came to like EMC Control Center the more I used it. Granted, the software was buggy (it has been five years since I last used it so it may be and likely is better now,) it was difficult to learn, and it required an in-depth understanding of storage terms phrased in EMC parlance but once I mastered all of that, it became my preferred tool for managing EMC storage devices in my environment. Using the display console in EMC Control Center, I could visualize the zones, the HBAs, the WWNs in each zone and track and see which LUNs were assigned to each WWN. However EMC Control Center and tools like it were intended for SAN administrators who needed this in-depth detailed views of their SAN environment. Was it SRM software? Absolutely. But when it came time to report on how much storage was in use by each application and each server, that was another feature of the product that I never used because that task of monitoring and reporting on storage utilization was not my job but the job of the server administrators.
- Reporting on storage utilization. This was entirely different function that was included under the SRM software umbrella that provided information that my server administrators wanted and used. They needed information on used file system space, free file system space, which applications were using how much storage and potentially how frequently files was accessed. But what made this type of SRM software so different was that it was collecting a different type of information about storage from a different point (on the servers) and so it was installed and administered entirely differently than the software that managed and monitored storage devices. This storage utilization type of SRM software almost always required the installation of agents on specific servers whereas the SRM software that managed and reported on specific storage devices such as storage arrays, switches and HBAs only had to interface with the Ethernet and/or FC ports on these devices and rarely required any agents to be installed.
What made the situation even more untenable was that when vendors would say they offered “SRM software” my management would fail to grasp these nuances about SRM software. So even on those rare occasions when they did purchase SRM software, they would fail to understand why they could not get reports on storage utilization on servers across the enterprise or conversely why administrators could still not manage storage devices.
So this is why I see the emergence of DCIM software as a good thing. While I doubt its definition is 100% set in stone and probably never will be, in reading some of the early definitions of what it is supposed to do, it looks like DCIM is the new name that is being applied to the version of the SRM software that is associated with storage device management.
While that definition may ultimately be too limiting for DCIM software, at this point in its life cycle it is probably better that it does have some limitations associated with it. The last thing administrators need is another version of SRM software that they are left trying to explain to their management as to how it differs or is the same as SRM software that they already own.
By creating this new DCIM classification, organizations can have more clear cut expectations as to what it is they are getting when they buy it. Right now, without knowing even a whole lot about DCIM I would expect it to manage the devices that are in my data center infrastructure such as storage arrays, Ethernet and Fibre Channel switches and HBAs.
Further, once I have set it up in this role, ideally I would even like it to eventually be able to report on, track and even manage other components of my infrastructure. This might include how much power the hardware is consuming, how much heat it is giving off, how well it is performing and even how well the capacity on it is being utilized.
But if I had my druthers between DCIM doing all of these extras or it just doing fewer tasks but doing them extremely well, at this point I would choose the latter.The ambiguity and confusion that has come to plague SRM software has turned so many people off on SRM that even if DCIM software does less but does it well and is well understood, people will have a better grasp of what its value is and what they can realistically expect it to deliver when they install it in their data center.