October 2013

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Monitoring Only and DCIM Systems for Critical Equipment

"take your time and understand ALL the pieces of the investment and the PRO’s and CON’s of all systems you are considering."

Todd FiinneganTodd A. Finnegan
eSite Systems, LLC

September 2013 - Vol. 9

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As much as I’ve been an advocate for full-blown Automation Systems to do the job of both “controlling” and “monitoring” critical equipment, the reality is most Facilities Folks don’t have the money or the time to go through an installation, integration or upgrade to their existing Automation System to do both jobs.

Years ago when monitoring only solutions were gaining in popularity I was cautious about advising my customers to utilize them since they were not very flexible nor scalable and many of them were proprietary or “single use” to the particular cooling, power and related equipment that they came packaged with. Fast forward some 15 years and the number of systems for “monitoring only” down to the IT rack level (DCIM) has more than doubled.

Most Facilities Folks are probably familiar with the monitoring system offerings of the giant critical cooling and power equipment manufacturers. These systems can be serious DCIM solutions and require a substantial investment of money and time on the part of the in-place Facilities Staff to get them implemented and “tuned”.

There are a lot of system manufacturers out there. The question becomes: what are the considerations of deploying one of these systems depending upon what you have in place already and where you want to go with it?

How Do I Know I Need a Monitoring or DCIM System?

If you and your staff spend a lot of time responding to IT staff’s calls that it’s hot in the IT room or data center, or that a PDU or rack circuit is overloaded….you probably need to consider something like one of these systems.

The time and the energy that is wasted on nuisance trouble calls by valuable “human resources” that are employed by Facilities Staff is not small when you consider how quickly and easily this information is accessed in current generation monitoring and DCIM solutions. Your ability to be proactive and head off a potential equipment failure can stop a HUGE headache right in its tracks. Most people are already monitoring either manually or flopping from one system application to another and writing things down…..the hard way. Centralizing the collection of this data is a REAL job and most companies are too understaffed to take it on.

BOTTOM LINE: If you have to be standing in front of your critical equipment to know what’s going on…you need a monitoring system.

What if I Already Have a Building Automation System (BAS)?

Ask yourself one VERY hard question about doing such a project through your BAS: How much will it cost me?

The answer has two parts. First is the capital cost. Third party integration work for critical equipment via multiple protocols can be a very costly proposition with a BAS that is not designed to do just that. The second cost is aggravation. Typical controls platforms require a tedious process of bringing in the information from all of the equipment and require several different modes of interface and protocol conversion. This can be painful.

Consider the additional hardware costs associated with bringing in more points to monitor, alarm and trend. Often BAS manufacturers have limitations on the number of points that their gateways and controllers can handle and this becomes another potentially substantial investment.

BOTTOM LINE: Can your BAS give you what you want without breaking the bank?

What if I Have Several Different Systems That Monitor Specific Equipment?

This is where the current monitoring only systems show their “stuff”. They are capable of handling multiple protocols, multiple network connections and do it all seamlessly. Most of the systems I’ve worked with can easily “lay-over” disparate systems so long as you know how to access the underlying system’s database.

Using one of these systems to bring in information from your various single use monitoring systems can also help you provide a migration path as the underlying system nears “end-of-life” status. Typically the underlying system can be removed from the architecture when you reach the point when it may need to be upgraded or replaced.

BOTTOM LINE: If everything was in one place and easy to put reports together….what would that be worth?

How Do I Start The Process?

It all starts with a survey of your equipment. You’ll need all the usual stuff like make, model and serial model numbers and such but you’ll also need pertinent information regarding the protocol, device instance number etc.

A simple Google search for monitoring systems will quickly acquaint you with just how many shapes and sizes these systems come in. Consult the services of the system providers for how each of their individual systems will work in your particular instance and what the level of effort will be on your end to help them get to the goal line.

BOTTOM LINE: Know what you have, and what you want to do with it.

What System Should I Use...Or Who Should I Work With?

Beware of “black box” solutions. There’s no magic to this process. You want specifics regarding installation timetables and costs for the installation and the on-going investment for expansions, upgrades and how much it will cost to maintain the system. Remote alarming, remote visibility (if allowable), flexible reporting, trending and the ability to scale up is important. The number of pieces of equipment, protocols, locations, and how many points you’ll need will get you to a budget cost number.

Make sure your system Integrator understands your BAS if that’s where some of the information resides. It’s a hidden cost that needs to be identified as it may drive the budget up. Understand your network....if it exists. If it does not exist, make sure your IT folks are involved. Be sure there is a CLEAR pathway from the equipment to integrator’s server. Get IT security discussions done early.

BOTTOM LINE: The BEST Integrators build the BEST systems. Choose your integrator carefully.

Integration of monitoring AND control systems may be the “Holy Grail” but many times it is too costly and painful. Monitoring only may be the best application for you. Don’t rush the process, take your time and understand ALL the pieces of the investment and the PRO’s and CON’s of all systems you are considering. Work with someone that actually DOES the integration work, you will minimize your headaches. Sales only organizations make promises that often get “forgotten”
when it comes to pulling cable and configuring points and dashboards.

That’s all for now and always remember, us SERVICE GUYS don’t care how large or small the job is, we just want to be the call you make!



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