Data centre, heal thyself


16 December 2014
Wesley Lim of Emerson

Improvements in data centre management may prove to be the “silver bullet” for an industry constantly grappling with the challenges of availability, scalability and efficiency, said Emerson Network Power in its report Data Centre 2025. And this could mean pushing the envelope all the way to self-healing, to provide a level of automation and control that will enable data centres to operate unmanned.

The Emerson study, which sought to create a vision of the future of the data centre, covered over 800 respondents across the United States, Latin America, Western Europe and the Asia Pacific. In the area of data centre management, 43 per cent of respondents envisaged self-healing as an integral part of data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions of the future. “Automation will be what people want,” said Wesley Lim, director, DCIM (Asia), Emerson Network Power. “Self-healing capabilities will enable data centres to operate without much human intervention.”

At this juncture, however, DCIM technology is still evolving, he said.  The first stage of the DCIM maturity curve was the reactive stage, where data centres would respond tactically to events that occurred, for example, when a fire alarm went off.  However, as the industry gears up for greater automation, it will need to move to the next stage, which is to achieve full visibility across all systems and layers.

“Before you can have automation, you need to know what to automate, said Lim. “The planning part is important – How many assets do I have; where are they located; how do I know when this virtual instance breaks down, how does it impact the physical server?”

According to the Emerson study, 29 per cent of respondents expect full visibility to be achieved by 2025. Noting that this seemed like a relatively modest outcome, the report said it was actually surprising that the industry had come this far without visibility across systems and layers. “If you accept the axiom that you can’t control what you can’t see, data centre managers have been essentially flying blind for years.”

The next stage in DCIM evolution is self-optimisation. According to the Emerson report, one quarter of participants expect data centre management systems to deliver the controls required for self-optimisation by 2025, while 43 per cent expect the industry to move all the way to self-healing, providing a level of automation and control that will enable an unmanned data centre.

To get to the self-healing stage, however, the industry will need to have a common baseline for aggregating information across IT and facilities. Data analytics and rule-based intelligence can then be applied to calibrate operations for optimal efficiency and uptime.

Rolling back to 2014/2015, the state of play in data centre management is that the technology should be able to at least co-relate IT and facilities information and consolidate the various data points onto a common platform based on open standards, said Lim. From there, the DCIM technology then interfaces with other management platforms in the IT world. 

“Data centres need to be managed from grid to chip, from the power source to the servers,“ he said. “We need to have sensors at different levels to help us measure, monitor and optimise. This will create the flexibility for us to have full automation over time.”