From what to watt, Emerson aims at total information awareness

New push in data centers is all about letting IT managers know how everything is working at all times

Someday soon the digital economy will be powered by big black boxes, formerly known as data centers, that are so self-managing they may be partly robotic.

Achieving this goal requires power and cooling systems that are as flexible as clouds.

As future users shift and expand workloads in a data center, they will need an ability to move power and cooling resources to match server demand.

The tools for accomplishing such tasks are part of an emerging category called Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM).

The integrated DCIM tools are designed let users know the state of every piece of equipment in a data center -- and how every watt of power in a data center is being used.

Emerson Network Power, a major supplier of data center power and cooling systems, this week released its DCIM software platform, called Trellis.

Emerson officials say that the development of the Trellis platform has has been a major initiative for the company.

Emerson began talking about Trellis nearly two years ago, not long after it acquired Aperture Corp for an undisclosed sum in 2008, and Avocent Corp. for $1.2 billion in 2009.

Both firms made tools for monitoring and managing various pieces of data center infrastructures.

Steve Hassell, president of Emerson Network Power's Avocent business, said the Trellis platform consists of more than a million lines of code, and involved shrinking down technology long managed via a KVM switch to a size that can be managed on a chip.

The platform includes a universal management gateway that acts as a translator to gather proprietary or open information from any device in a data center and convert it into data supported by Trellis.

Oracle Fusion Middleware serves as the platform backbone.

The inability to track all data center assets as well as measure power needs causes IT managers to often add large amounts of power capacity to give themselves margin.

"The part we are trying to fix is conundrum between balancing availability and efficiency," said Hassell.

Andy Lawrence, an analyst at 451 Research, said "the basic challenge of DCIM is really to try to monitor accurately and in real time all the different pieces of equipment in a data center," including power consumption, air pressure and temperature.

There have been monitoring devices in the market for years, as well as systems that optimize cooling, noted Lawrence. "Companies are now trying to get an integrated view," he said.

The DCIM market is small but expanding, according to 451 Research.

The company forecasts the worldwide DCIM software market will be $427 million in 2012 and will grow at 39% a year to reach nearly $1.3 billion in 2015.

A major driver for DCIM is capacity planning, said Lawrence.

If a data center over-provisions or under-provisions, the cost of fixing the problem can be between $10 million to $20 million per megawatt, he said.

Proper capacity planning is one way to realize a return on DCIM.

Others include better cooling management to keep from over or under cooling systems. As data centers increasingly add higher density equipment, Lawrence believes they may also become more vulnerable to any kind of instability and outages.

Data centers will also need higher levels of efficiency as virtualization makes them more dynamic, said Lawrence. "It will be very difficult not have DCIM" in these environments, he said.

Trellis is shipping with four software applications that can track inventory, report on the health of the infrastructure, manage changes and calculate total data center energy consumption.

The Trellis platform is built in a modular fashion to make it easier to add new capabilities. Future releases include a "virtual insight manager," that will detail VM usage.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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