Run your Data Center as a Business – DCaaB: From DCIM via DCSO to IT Factory

The ongoing digitization of the world around us – driven by social networking, the increasing prevalence of mobile devices, cloud technologies, and the explosion in big data – is leading to major changes in the needs, expectations, and behavior of both the business community and society as a whole.

Old business models are evolving rapidly, forcing IT to respond quickly and flexibly. IT and data center managers are becoming increasingly focused on secure, efficient, and flexible deployment of demand-based IT services.

Enterprise data centers and external data center providers alike – along with ISPs, co-location, managed service, and hosting providers – find themselves in a highly challenging competitive environment with fast-changing product portfolios. The optimum management of power, cooling, and floor space is essential in this context for efficient operation of the data center and a balanced product portfolio. Accordingly, this capability has become part of the standard repertoire.

It is therefore imperative that independent data center operators find ways of differentiating themselves in the marketplace, e.g., through additional value-added services or by repositioning themselves as full-service providers. Additional services include comprehensive SLA reporting, integrated current/power measurement, pay-per-use billing, and an extended connectivity portfolio within one facility or across all locations.

Enterprise data centers likewise need to make strategic decisions on which services to provide in-house and which to outsource and combine with the in-house portfolio. In other words, IT managers are evolving into IT service brokers who, in addition to running their own infrastructures, also have to provide cost-optimized management of hybrid IT environments. Faced with increasing cost pressure, the key objective for internal infrastructure service providers is to maximize operational efficiency.

In order to acquire the necessary data center resources and provide the services people need, operators have to be able to plan their IT, network, and physical infrastructure in detail and maintain full transparency across all data center assets.

The software created to help them do that is grouped under the heading “data center infrastructure management” (DCIM). The principal role of DCIM software is to manage infrastructure components within the data center – from IT systems through to power supply, climate control, and building services. However, since it is limited to the technical management of infrastructure components, DCIM is no longer able to meet the emerging needs of a rapidly evolving market. Technologies, such as cloud computing, software-defined networking (SDN), server virtualization, and network functions virtualization (NFV), or the parallel provision of data, voice, and video services over a single network connection, known as “triple play,” require a highly flexible IT infrastructure.

To achieve maximum efficiency when delivering services, it is vital that enterprise IT departments and data centers focus on their core areas of expertise. To do that, they need combined management tools that encompass both the data center infrastructure and the services provided via the infrastructure.

Since many companies now use an increasingly hybrid mix of traditional in-house IT, outsourcing, and cloud-based applications, the challenge is to create coherent and marketable business services that offer genuine value to users and customers, i.e., that either contribute to internal business processes or benefit internal or external customers. From a business perspective, it is totally irrelevant how these services are created – provided they comply with all contractual obligations, i.e., service-level agreements (SLAs). In addition to performance, availability, and security classes, most SLAs include details on costs and pricing. The questions now facing IT departments and data center suppliers are as follows: How to provide business services within the limits of fixed IT budgets; which external components to include in those services; and how to ensure that the service commitment is fulfilled. In addition, customers expect a high degree of personalization, i.e., that services are tailored to their specific requirements.

Every IT service is created and hosted in a data center – and that is unlikely to change. If we examine the supply chain for a typical IT service, e.g., a CRM application, we see that it is created by an application team as a managed service (“M-APP”) and delivered to an end user. In order to create that managed service, the application team requires a preconfigured database, which is usually sourced as a managed database (“M-DB”) from a database team, i.e., the application team is itself an (internal) customer. Similarly, in order to create the database, the database team sources a preconfigured server as a managed OS service (“M-OS”) from a server team. The server team sources its physical server infrastructure either as an external service from a data center provider or as a managed server (“M-SRV”) from an internal data center. Each team in the chain that creates the finished service (in this case, a CRM application) are both customers and suppliers. They also have to provide their service in the most efficient and standardized way.

In other words, there is a customer/supplier relationship between all adjacent participants and there are SLAs/OLAs, costings, and pricing for their respective services. The key factors influencing the end-product delivered by an IT or infrastructure service provider are therefore not only the business service itself but also goal-optimized management of the entire service delivery chain, including the relevant deliverables from the various internal and external suppliers. The structuring, transparency, and management of this chain offer considerable scope for improving efficiency, agility, and quality. The service delivery chain also represents the IT value creation chain through which the business service is provided.

Value-driven service management can already be found in a number of other sectors, such as the automotive industry. Car companies have spent years developing cost-efficient solutions for industrialized production with manageable levels of complexity. Today, these solutions are highly sophisticated and successfully deployed. The basic principles of industrial production are now being transferred and applied to the industrialization of IT. The most important of these principles are standardization of processes and products, modularization, and increased outsourcing to allow a focus on core competencies.

While the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) – the de facto international standard in IT service management – has made enormous progress with regard to standardization of processes, the industrialization of IT services is still very much in its infancy. Industrialization requires the breaking down of standard services into their constituent parts (modularization) and the integration of external service providers (outsourcing and focus on core competencies), i.e., the basic prerequisites for value-driven service management.

This trend has already been documented by technology analysts at Gartner and 451 Research. They have also identified the necessary tools, i.e., a combination of DCIM software and IT service management (ITSM) solutions. According to Gartner analysts April Adams and Federico De Silva, the ability to combine a DCIM solution with existing change management or integrate with ITSM software will soon be a key requirement among data center operators who want greater value from their DCIM solution. In particular, that value includes the ability to generate work orders and semi-automated workflows from within the software in support of all installation processes, as well as moves, adds, and changes, while providing detailed instructions for the technician. A typical work order indicates the rack and rack position where a device is to be installed, specifies the devices and ports it will be connected to (e.g., power, LAN, and cables), and links to the relevant applications and/or services, which may be provided from a server in the data center. Rhonda Ascierto, an analyst at 451 Research, has gone one step further, identifying a transition to integrated data center service optimization (DCSO). DCSO expands the scope of DCIM beyond the physical infrastructure to include logical and virtual resources and thus enables end-to-end data center management processes, including income/cost analysis and planning data center services.

This expansion of the scope of DCIM, also known as “data center infrastructure service management” (DCSM), can be achieved through interfaces and integration partnerships between DCIM and ITSM vendors or by expanding DCIM tools to include ITSM functionality. DCIM and ITSM vendors are therefore set to offer additional tools and analysis options that enable integrated management and evaluation of data center data with regard to service delivery. Ultimately, the concepts inherent in DCSO/DCSM will enable integrated, end-to-end management across the entire IT value chain.

The combination of DCIM data and ITSM information can improve performance and availability throughout the data center and make it possible to evaluate new information in greater depth, e.g., to make accurate calculations of the cost of running an IT service. IT managers can then decide where to run the service – in which data center, in which room, and even in which rack. It is even possible to specify a desired IP network range as a selection criterion when identifying the optimum location. In addition, managers can calculate when a service must be provided to meet specified business requirements and whether the criticality of the service requires it to be run in-house or in one or more external data center. Using this and other information from an integrated and comprehensive data model, it is possible to calculate planned and incurred costs as well as pricing and service levels for every IT service.

The core functions provided by both classic DCIM tools and ITSM solutions include:

  • Asset configuration und change management
  • Status and identification of servers, including auto-discovery options
  • Connectivity analysis and port usage
  • Documentation of asset associations and maintenance history
  • Alerts, instructions, and notifications
  • Monitoring of power consumption on devices

Despite comprising similar and overlapping functions, DCIM and ITSM solutions have additional, specific functionality and provide different types of data. DCIM systems are mainly used to gather data on the physical infrastructure of the data center (e.g., utilized floor space and capacities, power consumption, climate data, etc.), while ITSM tools focus primarily on the information required for management of delivered IT services, e.g., application information, overview of VM systems and other IT assets, including server function, utilization, and performance. In addition, most ITSM tools or IT asset management (ITAM) solutions can detail which software is installed on which servers and how that software is configured. Many ITSM solutions also have partially automated workflows as well as tools for automating service provision and problem management processes.

However, neither ISTM nor ITAM solutions are designed to manage floor space, power and cooling configurations, resource availability and reliability, or capacity planning. This arena – the management and planning of physical infrastructure, often across multiple sites – is the principal role of DCIM software, for which it is specially developed and optimized.

When all data is held centrally in a single database, it can be used to create a data center business value dashboard. This serves as a valuable tool in a range of decision-making scenarios.

However, in order to replicate the entire IT supply chain, it is essential to have a single data management system covering all IT components and all interaction from the physical infrastructure in the data center to the applications and IT services. Currently, some DCIM and ITSM vendors are exploring strategic partnerships with a view to integrating these approaches, thereby enabling them to map the entire IT supply chain and create a functioning IT factory. A number of DCIM vendors are already collaborating with ITSM providers. However, the problem with this kind of solution is that the different types of data are kept in separate silos, making them difficult to integrate and use. For this reason, vendors like FNT Software are pursuing an integrated strategy that offers both DCIM and ITAM/ITSM functionality via a single integrated data model that can also connect easily with existing ITSM solutions from other providers.

As already mentioned, DCIM and ITSM solutions are often combined in order to harmonize the demand for IT services with the delivery of data center resources (power, space, and cooling). The DCSO approach is relatively new, but has already been adopted by a number of forward-thinking IT and data center managers. The ultimate goal is to combine ITSM with DCIM in order to expand the automated delivery of IT services to include the infrastructure layer. This will enable IT managers to offer applications and IT services with optimum efficiency and at least partial automation, while also considering power consumption, required cooling capacity, and the availability of the required resources and their physical rack locations.

IT analysts and ITSM professionals agree that combining IT service management (ITSM) with data center infrastructure management (DCIM) will become a key discipline for IT and data center managers who want to tailor their resources quickly and cost-efficiently to actual business needs. Unfortunately, business services are still somewhat neglected and the integrated management functions required for these services have not yet been adopted to any great extent in the software currently available. Similarly, ITIL has little to offer in the way of a solution. While it is true that the distinction made by ITIL between the customer service catalog and the technical service catalog is the right approach and an important basic principle, ITIL does not offer a methodology for replicating the entire service chain from ordering through to deployment and operation. FNT, however, has a readymade control center for product portfolio and service management: FNT ServicePlanet. This product can be used to define IT services and to manage and monitor them throughout the entire service lifecycle. With its standardization of IT services and their components, FNT ServicePlanet enables managers to combine all product and service-related information in a single database. As a result, FNT ServicePlanet contains all the information required for optimum support of service management processes. Before an IT service is provided to a customer, its structure and composition are defined by the product and portfolio management team. In order to maximize cost efficiency in both production and operation, existing modules are available for reuse when creating new IT services. This makes it possible to produce multiple variants of all IT services using a unique, rule-based service creation process (instantiation of services). All service and customer information is available centrally in FNT ServicePlanet with comprehensive and traceable links to the logical and physical assets required for deployment. This is a fundamental requirement for extensive automation of IT processes and the development of an IT factory.

The service delivery chain offers enormous potential for improving efficiency, flexibility, and cost control. Those who fail to consider this potential are at risk of suffering major friction losses between the various IT or infrastructure units, e.g., infrastructure operations, business operations, and service operations teams.