March 2011
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Distinguishing a Data Center Monitoring System (DCMS) and Its Benefits
A DCMS specializes in alarm management and aggregation of data across multiple sites.

Jefferie Mitchell
Operations Manager
Justin Blumling
Project Manager
Geist Intelligent Facilities 



As data centers continue to grow in complexity, the amount of data that systems provide is overwhelming. As an industry professional sifting through this data is tedious, time consuming, and often times unrealistic. Yet, the responsibility of maintaining uptime, preventing downtime, running an efficient data center, and pinpointing causes of events falls on teams of individuals across a number divisions within companies. With complexity of data centers and their requirements growing exponentially, how can data center teams keep up with it all?

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The solution includes a relatively recent breed of software—more than a BMS, but not quite an NMS. We refer to this newer (within the last five years these have begun to appear) breed of software with a number of terms—some popular ones being data center monitoring systems (DCMS), data center management software (DCMS), data center infrastructure management (DCIM), etc. We will refer to these systems as the first, data center monitoring systems (DCMS). Popular examples of DCMSs include: Geist I.F.’s Environet, Eaton’s Forseer, Liebert’s Sitescan, and APC’s Infrastruxture Central. While some popular examples of BMSs include: Siemens’ Apogee, Johnson Controls’ Metasys, Honeywell’s Building Manager, and Automated Logic’s WebCTRL.

Distinguishing a DCMS
Because of the similarities, DCMSs are more often times confused with Building Management Systems—opposed to NMSs; however, there are a few fundamental differences between a true BMS and a DCMS. A BMS is designed for building automation and control. BMSs tend to control processes like chilled water systems, HVAC systems, lighting, etc. They are focused and designed with control and automation as the primary function; but monitoring, while inherent in the systems, often receives less attention. Many of these systems can handle information regarding power but either have a limited capacity, or an expensive growth path to adequately illuminate the entire power chain from utility to outlet. Since a BMS is focused on control, the systems and services that are required are sophisticated and specialized and therefore are extremely expensive when compared with DCMS.

A BMS generally does not support SNMP natively so it has a hard time with any IT related gear. A BMS will allow for some amount of historical trending, but the reporting of this data is typically used to explain why an incident occurred rather than to help predict and prevent when an incident will occur. Similarly, the alarming functionality of these systems is usually reactive to a problem that has occurred rather than functioning as a warning system to a potential problem.

A DCMS, on the other hand, can act as a stand-alone system, but it is designed as a proactive monitoring addition meant to complement a BMS. A DCMS does not purport to handle full scale building controls. It has the capabilities to do control, but generally limits that to specific elements of the system. A DCMS specializes in gathering data from any number of systems via SNMP, Modbus, BACnet, or LONworks. The DCMS then aggregates that data, makes it more intelligent for the user, and allows for virtually unlimited historical records that can then be grouped and analyzed as a system. A DCMS specializes in alarm management and aggregation of data across multiple sites.

Operational Awareness as a Benefit of a DCMS
Not only is a DCMS valuable when giving insight into alarm conditions, but the  aggregation of data is a powerful tool to implement viable plans of actions after an event. Operational awareness is crucial to pinpointing the cause of an event and therefore preventing it in the future.

There are a number of possible causes for data center outages and downtime (e.g., an ATS failing to transfer to backup power or diesel generators failing to start.) Not only is it helpful to know the operational state of these devices before the event, it is also helpful to know the cascading effects on the data center ecosystem, for example: 

•    How long did the UPS support the load?
•    What did the power profile look like after shutting-down non-essential applications?
•    What did the thermal profile of the room look like?
•    How long before thermal runaway?

A DCMS gives users this operational intelligence, which is valuable to future contingency planning. Not only can the data center professionals diagnose the devices in question (e.g., what was the oil temperature of the generator before failure?), but they can also develop an action plan for redundancy and switchover.

If an event occurs in a data center, understanding the cause allows future prevention from the event occurring again. With so many monitoring systems at work, it is not always easy to pinpoint the cause of an event. A DCMS allows data center mangers to analyze data before, during, and after the event to determine why it occurred. A DCMS pulls information from building management systems, IT, electrical systems, etc. to show trends and patterns that led to an event. Data center managers can then implement that knowledge to prevent future like events.

Another advantage to this event-driven operational awareness is the benefits customers see. During an outage, data center customers like to know what is going on, when it will be fixed, and how it will be prevented in the future. A DCMS, gives timely insight into causes and occurrences of outages. A DCMS provides fast, intelligent answers so data centers can assure their clients that a process has been implemented to prevent future downtime. Without these answers and solutions, data center customers are likely to lose confidence in their providers, which can result in lost business.

CatNet Systems A Difference in Cost and a Benefit of a DCMS
Along with the above differences there is also a difference in cost. DCMSs are built specifically for monitoring and require less commissioning. In addition, they frequently cost less to purchase and maintain. A DCMS can support hundreds of thousands of individually monitored points and supports corporations with distributed environments. A BMS system can also handle lots of data, but the scalability of these systems is extremely costly. What BMS systems may charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement; a DCMS will generally charge tens of thousands of dollars.

In addition to the actual cost being lower, one of the biggest advantages to implementing a DCMS is that it saves money and shows ROI—fast. DCMSs are equipped with a number of tools that identify waste and overlap in data center processes. One example of this is a DCMS’s ability to improve energy efficiency is the runtime of CRAC units. A true DCMS can respond to real-time environmental conditions and make adjustments as necessary to reduce CRAC runtime. Since data center cooling is often layered with redundancy, this approach can save an organization serious capital without compromising the integrity of the data center environment. 

Overall, BMS systems are designed for control. Monitoring and management of the data is secondary to a BMS. A DCMS is more concerned with giving users valuable operational insight across all critical infrastructure—mechanical, electrical, and controls. With the increase in complexity growing in data centers the DCMS allows data center professionals to view pertinent data, quickly. This form of monitoring increases efficiency and uptime while  allowing data center managers to make informed decisions about their data centers’ capacity, consumption, and expansions. This new addition to data center management software provides what is quickly becoming a staple for data center professionals—a clear, cohesive view into the multiple complex systems of their data center.

Additional Reading
A true DCMS has an additional number of tools and functionality other than those listed here. For more information on the basics of what a true DCMS should include, read our white paper The Bare Minimum: Foundations for a Comprehensive DCMS, available at www.geistif.com.


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