Report of Monitoring and Management at Data Centre Dynamics London

While I was in London last week I met with AdInfa’s Philip Petersen, and he was nice enough to send me his thoughts on the monitoring and management content at Data Center Dynamics conference.  Philip is focused on this area as his company develops their own monitoring tool, and he was researching the market.

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Last week I visited the Datacenterdynamics conference in London with my particular interest in data centre power monitoring and management. How big a deal is it to companies, datacenter owners and managers?  What are data centre managers doing to control power consumption? What tools are available to help them?

First stop was a session entitled “Command and Control” during which the presenter asked the 20 or 30 people in the audience how many of them were thinking about monitoring energy consumption in their data centres: most hands went up.  Then he asked how many monitored PUE / DCiE already: 4 or 5 hands went up.  A follow-on question was how many monitored PUE / DCiE it in real-time: 1 hand went up. The sole hand belonged to a co-lo which had had to develop its own monitoring application to do real-time power monitoring because they could not find anything suitable on the market.

Another session, on the publication of the forthcoming EU Code of Conduct for Data Centre Operators, highlighted the growing influence of government and legislators in encouraging operators to get their houses in order.  A voluntary code “carrot” encompassing monitoring and reporting, with the threat of “sticks” in the form of compulsory reporting and financial penalties to force big consumers of power to become as efficient and environmentally responsible as possible.

Generally, as I walked around the conference, I was struck by how more talk there was about metering/monitoring/measuring power consumption in the data centre than actual action being taken, especially when it comes to real-time monitoring.  Where is the value in a manual spot-check on a PUE one month and then another check 6 months later and so on?  More than once I heard the view that IT people don’t want to monitor power because it means more work and they are only responsible for keeping IT systems and services available and ‘not responsible for power’.  I think this attitude is going to change soon, though.  IT and facilities need to start working together because sooner rather than later the business will demand accountability from them for energy consumption and the C-level executives will want facts presented in an easily digestible format from a single source.

So what solutions were on offer?  On the one hand there are the “high end” framework offerings that are very expensive to buy in license terms, very expensive to implement in professional services, integration and customisation terms, and very expensive to own in support and tuning costs.  These are akin or directly related to the big ticket system management platforms that have been around for many years.  In fact, often they need those traditional platforms to provide the missing real-time monitoring capabilities necessary to complement their static planning tools capability. Users tend to be very big banks, telcos and service providers for whom the £500k pay-to-play price tag might be acceptable.  As one salesman told me, “It does not really make sense for a data centre of less than 100 racks to consider using us”.

Then there was the other extreme – a few small companies offering seemingly similar tools that have some quite nice floor-planning tools, based on Visio or similar, and a PC database to store the asset data.  Again, these stand-alone applications need to interface to other tools to get the real-time monitoring piece.  Not designed for really large data centres, the pricing is much cheaper than the high-end stuff – perhaps £10-20k for a licences – and they still require professional services to implement and a lot of effort to build the asset database.

Finally, there were a few power strip/PDU companies, including one selling simple metering device called a CL-amp from Unite Technologies. Some of the PDU vendors had software products that could configure their devices and, using SNMP or proprietary communications, provide basic monitoring of power usage.  But my impression was that their heart is in designing and selling hardware, not management applications.

So in summary, I think there is a great opportunity for a product that is affordable to the majority of businesses with data centres.  A product they can use to manage their energy consumption efficiently and effectively, thereby reducing their carbon emissions.  A product that delivers real-time monitoring, reporting and alerting/automated actions.  A product that can integrate with multiple third-party systems and is vendor neutral.  My company is focusing on developing precisely that product, filling what we believe is a large and growing gap in the market.