Industry Outlook: Data Center Documentation

This article was originally published in the Data Center Journal.

This week, Industry Outlook asks Bharani Kumar Kulasekaran about the demands of data center documentation and visualization and the advantages of doing it right. Bharani is the marketing manager for OpManager and RackBuilder Plus at ManageEngine, a division of Zoho Corp.


Industry Outlook: What is the biggest challenge that data center administrators face today?

Bharani Kumar Kulasekaran: Most large enterprises today depend entirely on their data centers for business. To achieve high availability and provide seamless access to business-critical services, enterprises run multiple data centers. In fact, a 2013 data center survey reveals that more than 82 percent of companies have two or more data center sites.

But for many companies, the biggest challenge is gaining visibility into the data centers. Without that visibility, data center admins have no way to understand their current operating capacity and no way to plan for future expansion.

IO: Is data center documentation really necessary?

BKK: Absolutely. You need the documentation to have a clear understanding of the devices and their exact location—including rack and floor details—in the data center. Documentation also helps data center admins know how much space is utilized and plan accordingly for future expansion.

If you think about it, space is very costly in data centers. In a Tier III data center, one square foot costs $900. Let’s say a typical enterprise uses 10,000 square feet of data center space to run its business. If the data center footprint expands by 15 percent in a year, costs would increase by $1,350,000 after one year.

So space is critical, and the challenge for facilities managers and data center admins alike lies in scaling their services without expanding their footprints. And documentation is critical to optimizing the use of data center space.

IO: Don’t conventional tools already document the data center?

BKK: Sure, they do. But the major problem with conventional data center documentation is that the tools are manual, labor intensive and error prone. Data center admins have to manually key in all the data for the tools they use.

Similarly, these tools do not provide any intelligence. The “available space” calculation for each rack and for each floor has to be done manually. Admins have to sift through several document pages to locate a device. And the worst part is the admins just don’t have much time for that.

IO: How do new technologies complicate data center documentation?

BKK: Apart from virtualization, new technologies such as SDN and SDDC have started gaining traction. Though these technologies help data center admins to provision new servers and networks on the fly, they pose a big challenge in documenting them properly.

By the time an admin documents one change in the data center floor, a network is added, a device is removed or some other new change is made and must be documented. The chances of errors are high if conventional documentation and visual modeling tools are used. A recent study reveals that human errors account for 48 percent of overall data center outages.

IO: What new options are available?

BKK: 3D visual modeling of data centers combined with real-time monitoring and asset management are some of the new options available today. Together, modeling, monitoring and management can reduce the intense manual effort required in data center documentation.

3D visual modeling is more user friendly because it eliminates paperwork and provides realistic views of data centers. When 3D visual modeling is combined with real-time monitoring and asset management, admins can not only visualize their data centers but can also know the status of the devices and the full inventory with all the asset information. Given the 3D alternative, mapping a large data center with 2D tools is just inhuman.

IO: How does 3D visual modeling help data center admins?

BKK: 3D visual modeling helps create realistic views of data center floors, so facilities managers and data center admins can get a clear picture of the floor-rack-device relationships. Those views make it very easy for managers and admins to locate a device on a floor without wasting much time.

If the visualization tool can also intelligently calculate the used and available units on racks across the floors, facilities managers can quickly and easily identify the space available for expansion.

IO: How beneficial is the integration of 3D visualization and monitoring with asset management?

BKK: Though 3D visualization provides realistic views of data center floors, it is just static data. With monitoring added to 3D views, they become more dynamic and provide real-time health status of devices.

So, for example, if there is a hardware failure, it is noted by the monitoring solution and conveyed via the color-coded 3D views. 3D visualization combined with monitoring helps technicians easily locate faulty devices on the data center floor and start troubleshooting without wasting time.

When 3D visualization is combined with asset management, it offers huge change-management benefits. The change board—before approving the change—can clearly display the logical as well as the physical relationships among devices. This information makes it easy to analyze the impact of the change and make quick decisions. It also becomes easy for the technician carrying out the change, as a clear picture of the data center floor is readily available.

IO: What should admins look for in a data center documentation and visual modeling tool?

BKK: An ideal data center documentation and visual modeling tool should offer the following:

  • Realistic views of data center floors with racks and devices
  • Clear information on the available space at rack and floor levels
  • A search option to locate devices
  • Realistic views of data center floors on NOC screens
  • Integration with IT management solutions for real-time monitoring
  • Discovery and import options to add devices
  • Color-coded, live status views of devices on racks

You Can Learn More About the ManageEngine Product Line By Going to www.ManageEngine.ca

The original article/video can be found at Industry Outlook: Data Center Documentation

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