Many data centres continue to utilise various ad hoc systems to document and communicate changes within the data centre. Steve Yellen explains why this is a bad idea and why data centre service management (DCSM) is the way forward.

The data centre has evolved. What were once large buildings merely housing mainframe systems have become the single-most important resource for delivering sustainable IT services to users. It's an environment that undergoes tremendous changes on a continual basis, as a result of both internal and external forces, making an efficient management strategy vital.

The demands of today's enterprise are placing unprecedented pressure on IT organisations, and on the data centre in particular. With its massive, centralised computing resources, the data centre has effectively become the heart of the enterprise.

The external-facing customer experience and corporate brand, as well as internal operational and financial systems, heavily depend on the data centre for services. Disruptions in this service can result in significant financial losses or even paralyse an organisation completely. Operating today's data centre with undisrupted delivery of service has become one of the most valued and challenging roles in the enterprise.

Among the most critical challenges currently facing data centre management are those relating to improving energy efficiency to offset rising energy costs, support environmental initiatives and extend the overall lifespan of the existing data centre. At the same time, the data centre must also focus on delivering predictable, high-quality service with 24-hour availability.

Even though new technologies are continuously introduced to meet these demands, the operational costs associated with running the data centre have reached astronomical levels. This causes a considerable conflict between the overall goals of the business and the actual management of the data centre.

The data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) maturity model provides an important way of measuring the performance of a data centre in terms of its management. The model splits maturity into four varying levels of maturity, from the 'Ad hoc / manual' stage (level one) to the 'Service' stage. 

A lower level of maturity on the DCIM scale can have far-reaching implications on the business in question. The earliest stage of maturity ('Ad hoc / manual') refers to businesses that have very little process maturity with no tools available to adequately document their data centre architecture. As a result they have no way of knowing what they have in their data centre, where particular assets can be found and how devices are connected together.

Level two is known as the 'Reactive' stage where management is still not mature enough for the data centre to consistently provide the service it should. Organisations at this level of maturity start to review changes and make use of productivity tools (like CAD files, spreadsheets, databases and Visio diagrams) to document data centre assets and configuration information. Unfortunately, at this level companies still don't have tools that will give them an accurate picture of the entire data centre. Errors and outages are still commonplace, and the solution often rests with one or two skilled individuals.

Level three is the 'Proactive' stage and refers to an organisation that has started to establish change management processes and the ability to track data centre assets and configuration information. Monitoring functions allow data centre managers to see where problems occur and identify the cause of these problems. However, these data centres are still not as mature as they could be. They lack a complete view of their data centre infrastructure and, as a result, are incapable of delivering an optimal level of service.

The 'Service' stage (level 4) refers to a data centre where everything is ordered and controlled and the data centre is managed from a service-centric perspective. The manager has complete control over the infrastructure of the data centre. Assets are fully documented and trackable, capacity planning is possible, change management is formalised, and all processes are integrated together. With this high level of control, users can ensure that the data centre is completely in sync with the organisation’s strategy and objectives.

Clearly, there are vast differences between these levels and room for vast improvement for those who fall into the lower categories. Having determined where a data centre fits within the maturity model, steps can be taken to improve and develop this maturity.

Today, many organisations that are attempting to focus on improving their overall IT process maturity tend to neglect implementing these processes within the physical domain of the data centre. Through the IT service management (ITSM) discipline, many organisations have elevated their people, technology and process maturity to more proactive levels. However, by not extending these disciplines to the heart of the enterprise - the data centre - they risk the potential of exorbitant operating costs, significant downtime and the inability to meet both current and future demands.

Although advancements in IT processes have been made overall, many organisations continue to utilise various ad hoc systems - including AutoCAD drawings, Visio diagrams, multiple Excel spreadsheets and emails to document and communicate changes within the data centre. The selected tools provide varying degrees of completeness and disjointed reporting, making it virtually impossible to deliver reliable, consistent services to customers, both internally and externally.

Moreover, the probability of errors causing points of failure is much greater within an organisation that has effectively 'siloed' the IT and facilities groups, where very little, if any, process integration exists. Bridging this gap between IT and facilities into a consolidated group to collectively manage all aspects of the data centre and leverage the same processes, tools and reporting is critical to ensure effective service delivery and efficient process flow throughout the organisation.

This is where data centre service management (DCSM) comes in. The principle of DCSM is that the data centre should be managed as a single entity. This means managing it from a holistic point of view, which takes into account every aspect of the data centre. Using this approach, organisations can successfully move away from using ad hoc tools and limited processes, to a system where the data centre is managed as an integrated entity with access to real-time information on everything within it.

DCSM extends the discipline and principles of ITSM directly into the data centre to provide a robust framework for enhanced processes and implementation to flourish. By applying DCSM, data centre executives can carry out optimal assessments as well as the plan and implement best practices within the physical domain of the data centre. For example, as noted by Gartner, 'The ability to address the power cost issue will directly relate to an organisation's ability to adopt DCSM principles in the data centre and extend IT chargeback processes into the world of space, power and cooling.'

In order to incorporate the disciplines of DCSM, a comprehensive enterprise solution is needed that's able to provide significant levels of control over the infrastructure. It should manage processes, conduct robust measurements and reports, proactively plan for changes and deliver real-time monitoring in the data centre. By incorporating DCSM within the data centre, organisations can realise significant benefits across the data centre.

Most importantly, integrating all data with regards to the equipment, floor space and infrastructure resources into a central repository allows the entire organisation - IT, facilities, executive management and many other groups - to manage the data centre through a single, dashboard view. This eliminates the need for various spreadsheets, AutoCAD drawings and Visio diagrams scattered across the company.

This integrated information generates robust, actionable information for decision support, which can then be leveraged to identify key metrics, compare key performance metrics across multiple data centres and forecast new data centre requirements to ensure future needs are met. In addition, gaining an IT view into the data centre infrastructure helps bridge the gap between the IT and facilities groups so that each function is taken into consideration and multidimensional perspectives are addressed.

Understanding the management maturity of your data centre is a crucial part of understanding your business as a whole. The benefits of greater maturity are immense - the more maturity you have, the more efficient your data centre will be. It's crucial that organisations evolve to a higher level of process maturity within the data centre. This is possible by adopting the principles of DCSM and deploying an efficient infrastructure management system.

Steve Yellen is vice president of product and market strategy at Aperture Technologies.