Taking Data Center Infrastructure Management to the Edge

Stay Informed

Taking data to the edge is happening more and more these days and for many reasons, including the development of edge data centers or mobile edge computing sites (MECs). 

From the increasing expansion of handheld personal devices, including cell phones, tablets, and wearable’s (watches or fitness trackers), to the explosion of content streaming services well beyond simple cable TV – this technology has created previously unforeseen network processing challenges for the traditional large, single location data center.

These global environmental changes have led to the need for a more decentralized data processing approach, which brings us to what, today, we call data at the edge. Also known as edge data centers, this is a much smaller data processing environment located within a variety of non-traditional environments. Relative to the traditional large single data center, edge data centers are much smaller and much closer to the devices utilizing their processing power.

Facing New Challenges

New forms of technology and environmental changes have created a host of new issues that should be positively and proactively addressed. IT staffing and real estate issues may include smaller edge data centers in need of less IT staffing and a lot less physical space. Whereas latency issues may result in a reduction in the processing time that it takes to achieve a result, based on how long it takes for data to flow from many people and devices – or a traditional data center and back again.

The accelerating expansion of edge data centers has led to several other consequences from maintaining multiple and smaller non-traditional locations to overall data center infrastructure management (DCIM). The focus of this article is DCIM for the edge data center and what you need to know regarding overall cost-effective site monitoring.

The lack of staff or “lights out” nature of many local IT and mobile edge computing (MEC) sites make operations and maintenance of the supporting IT infrastructure a challenge. This struggle worsens as the number of sites increase. How do you cost-effectively maintain IT resiliency under these conditions? It is not practical to staff each location with trained personnel. And monitoring and managing dozens or hundreds of devices individually by logging into each of their network management cards is neither practical nor efficient. The answer lies, in large part, on data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software.

Focusing on the Essential Functions

When you are in the process of selecting a DCIM solution, review the functions shown below and compare each vendor’s approach and performance in delivering them. Most, if not all, vendors will offer these functions in some form, but they will differ in terms of the platform architecture used to deliver the results. As the next section will show, the platform’s architecture drives how effective the DCIM tools will be for local edge environments.

Function

Description

Importance

Device and Environmental Monitoring

Provides a “read-only” connection to all critical infrastructure devices (e.g., UPS, rack PDU, cooling), regardless of vendor – to monitor status, access, and alarms in real-time.

Awareness of status changes, trends, and alarms to prevent issues from becoming critical incidents that could lead to IT service interruptions.

Device Management

Provides a means by which infrastructure devices can be configured and their firmware updated.

Configuration and updates ensure equipment performs as expected and helps secure the overall system from cybersecurity threats.

Asset Tracking

Provides a holistic view of all assets – their location, name, status, and resource dependencies.

IT resiliency requires having an asset inventory and knowing their dependencies.

Data Analytics and Visualization

Presents useful and actionable information on device status, alarms, and the health of the infrastructure systems and their environment.

Raw device data, frequent status change notifications, and “alarm storms” can overwhelm users. Analytics and clear visualization of data makes the use of DCIM simpler and more effective.

Third-Party Platform Integration

Allows DCIM data to be shared with a remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool or building management system (BMS) using application programming interfaces (APIs) or an SNMP management information base (MIB).

Managed service providers (MSPs) commonly manage edge computing IT and use their own management platforms. Sharing DCIM data with these tools solves a “lack of staff” challenge by enabling trusted partners to manage it for you.

 

Leverage Next-Generation DCIM

A next-generation DCIM platform is defined by five key attributes. These items are what differentiate these modern suites from traditional or legacy DCIM systems that were designed for traditional, large single-site data centers.

Conversely, next-generation DCIM platforms are simpler to install, use, and maintain, all while addressing the lack of onsite staff and highly distributed nature of edge deployments.

Next-Gen DCIM – Five Must-Have Attributes:
  1. Relies on cloud technologies for ease of implementation, scalability, analytics, and maintenance
  2. Connects to a data lake, enabling insight and event prediction with artificial intelligence (AI)
  3. Uses mobile and web technologies, integrating with third-party platforms
  4. Prioritizes simplicity and intuitive user experiences in its design
  5. Serves as a compliance tool to identify and eliminate potential cybersecurity risks

Integrate DCIM Processes

Like any enterprise-grade software suite, successful DCIM implementations require organizational buy-in and ongoing cooperation and participation among key stakeholders.

While DCIM ultimately aims to simplify and, to some degree, automate the management of data center infrastructure, the users of the system must do their part to ensure the known value of the software. For example, the operations and maintenance (O&M) of the software system must be built into the organization’s O&M program. The facility O&M program’s change management processes must be adapted to account for the DCIM system. This takes commitment and continuous effort by management and operations teams. With low performance, the implementation and use of DCIM can fail. Note that next-generation DCIM O&M requirements are less burdensome than legacy DCIM.

Some of the key DCIM-related processes that need to be accounted for in the existing IT or facility O&M program include:

  • Configuring device network settings for equipment that is added or replaced, and confirming that network communication is established
  • Reviewing the status of device firmware periodically and updating when available
  • Ensuring device alarm thresholds and notification policies are properly set
  • Reviewing DCIM alarms and status changes regularly

Power, cooling, and environmental/security monitoring equipment are critical to the continued operation of the IT at edge computing sites. Particularly since these are often geographically dispersed, without supervision, next-generation DCIM software that relies on the cloud, mobile, and AI technologies should be used to monitor the infrastructure from afar.

Moreover, compared to legacy DCIM solutions, modern DCIM tools are easier to scale, use, maintain, and provide a way for MSPs to remotely manage the solution. Newer DCIM platforms are also beginning to take advantage of AI technologies that will make management more predictive and automated.

Choosing the Right Solution

Today, more than ever before, next-generation DCIM solutions are the infrastructure management solution of choice for the exploding world of personal digital devices that has led to the need for edge computing. Well-maintained and operated DCIM systems make data centers more reliable and efficient. This means having buy-in from all stakeholders, integrating DCIM processes with the existing O&M program, and either regularly monitoring the system yourself or choosing a trusted partner or vendor to manage it for you. As you explore your options for DCIM, make sure your solutions partner has the depth and breadth of experience to help you make the right decision.

APC's DCIM and Edge Computing

When it comes to edge computing DCIM, WESCO and APC have you covered:

  • Focus on the essential functions
  • Use Next-Generation DCIM
  • Integrate DCIM processes into operations and maintenance

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely APC's. They do not necessarily represent WESCO’s views.