Getting to grips with IT
New management tools present virtual images of the ICT ‘estate’
Dynamic modelling allows map topologies to change automatically
Presenting ICT’s big picture, but can be scaled for smaller enterprises
Mapping lifecycle management with 3D visualisations
Multidimentional views of data centres
Facilitating advanced data centre management efficiencies
New-generation management software is presenting ever more accurate pictures of computing infrastructures and resources. Here we take a look at four tools to help you to plan and manage IT.
The developers of shoot-'em-up video games like 'Wolfenstein' and 'Doom' probably never envisaged that the technology to generate similar 3D representations would one day be harnessed for data-centre management. That, however, is just what is happening with the latest generation of IT infrastructure modelling tools. Operators are now being given the opportunity to take a virtual walk through the facilities at their command, hunting down the servers, storage devices, cabling systems and power racks located in the maze of aisles and corridors.
There is no doubt that applications that use visualisation in navigating complex data-centre environments can improve their accessibility, but these tools are more than a graphical gimmick to help sell operationally dull (though powerful) software. Providing simpler views of the mass of physical and virtual hardware and software components, and the relationships between them, in constantly-expanding data centre environments, is only half the battle; this feature should prove a particular asset with future generations of ICT engineers who have emerged into a GUI-fronted working environment, and who are just as comfortable configuring servers and switches virtually as their forerunners were taking the more hands-on approach.
The key advantage of these tools, however, is their predictive abilities, giving IT-specifiers insight into planning their IT 'estate', and also how it might be expected to behave.
"Traditional systems management solutions all have some kind of graphical topology they can show, mostly in 2D, but they generally do not scale or have the richness of interface, so a lot of people just chuck them out rather than use them," Stace Hipperson, CEO of IT modelling software specialist Real Status told E&T.
"Virtualisation and the cloud is where things are going but people are not concentrated on the outsourcing aspect of that as well, not in management tools anyway."
IT modelling and infrastructure management software has been available for over a decade, but has usually taken the form of on-premise applications which track on-premise equipment. The growing move towards hybrid IT environments, which sees companies use a combination of outsourced services located beyond the firewall, including cloud computing, and on-site systems, is changing that traditional model.
Some tools now monitor the status of off-site equipment and come in the form of hosted software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that provide data-centre operators with remote access to the management interface from a variety of devices, including tablet PCs and smartphones.
Knowing precisely what assets are present within the data centre, and how much they are being used, provides the business with a better idea of where consolidation can be successful, and whether any move to public or hybrid hosted cloud services represents the value for money or flexibility the organisation is looking for.
Other benefits mirror other systems management software: thus reducing the amount of time spent troubleshooting because the graphical representation lets staff pinpoint problems more quickly for example, while predictive modelling of changes to existing architecture can help with capacity planning.
Some products are geared towards the specifics of physical and virtual ICT infrastructure management. Others meld those features with an overview of additional support systems, such as heating, cooling and ventilation. This provides data-centre managers with some insight into how servers, storage, networking, and other equipment usage affects, for example, temperature and power consumption and any associated costs.
The questions for ICT professionals are: what do these packages provide, how easy are they to deploy, and what do they deliver in terms of functionality? Here are profiles of four examples of the latest such tools that give a flavour of what they set out to do.
Real status: Hyperglance
Scalable option majors on reporting
Hyperglance is billed as a cloud visualisation and analytics engine, but focuses first and foremost on 3D modelling of all ICT infrastructures. The emphasis on the cloud comes from the release of a plug-in application programming interface (API) last year that hooks into VMWare's vCenter virtualisation management suite to get information on the CPU, RAM, and storage resources allocated to virtual machines (VMs). The software also incorporates AppDynamics, application performance software for application logging and analysis – basically recording what applications are talking to other applications and any latency metrics. Other 'out of the box' data collectors were not specified, but Real Status says that information can be aggregated from a variety of existing management tools.
The dynamic modelling capabilities mean the map topology automatically changes in real time as changes to physical, virtual and cloud-based data infrastructure are implemented. Filters deliver customised reports on specific elements, according to what the data-centre manager wants to know, highlighting applications with latency levels above the allowed limit, for example.
Hyperglance is charged according to the number of nodes or entities – routers, virtual machines, firewalls, storage devices, and so on – as well as physical network links and port groups, which are included on the data centre topology graph on a subscription basis. Real Status says scalability is its long-term goal – whereas Hyperglance can support tens of thousands of data centre nodes now, its aim is to re-architect to handle millions, as well as adding a timeline slider which will give data-centre managers a historical view of architectural changes and alerts to help track and identify patterns in performance.
That scalability does not necessary mean Hyperglance is limited to larger corporate customers, Internet Service Providers, or data-centre operators with massive facilities – smaller businesses have the "the same kit and the same challenges" around resources constraint, albeit on a much smaller scale, says the company.
Privately-funded, Real Status is a spin-off from IT optimisation company Intergence and graphics technology outfit Geomerics, both based in Cambridge UK, with Hyperglance conceived by Cambridge University astrophysics research Dr Chris Doran to provide graphical lighting effects for 3D gaming. Around ten customers spread across the UK, US and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) use the software, including the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and financial services company Citi (formerly Citigroup).
iTRACS: Converged physical infrastructure management
Change manager pictures the inner data centre
The Converged Physical Infrastructure Management (CPIM) platform from iTRACS includes the Efficiency Engine, an interactive 3D visualisation tool that maps every IP connected device from remote servers to heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, says the company. It is effectively a lifecycle management application designed to enable better optimisation of data centre assets by providing detailed visibility into components and their usage.
The asset management tool catalogues every device, its age, cost, and leasing details if appropriate, along with its location, network and power connections, energy usage and how it interacts with other data-centre hardware and the applications it supports. Data is pulled from other iTRACS components, including PowerEye, an energy usage application that provides information on individual power circuits and the equipment connected to those circuits, as well as how much power each is drawing, giving metrics on how much electricity is used by cooling, lighting and redundancy assets.
This can enable data-centre managers to identify and decommission unused or under-utilised assets, consolidate servers, pinpoint energy inefficient assets, or predict where problems in power availability and capacity may occur in the future. To aid server commissioning, CPIM also constructs models of virtualisation deployments based on 'what if' scenarios which compare current and future states to aid performance, energy, and cost optimisation.
The CPIM contains separate modules for internal data-centre architecture and a building management system which handles physical infrastructure outside the facility - like power availability in the area for example - merging the two to provide managers with a view of both IT and building resources.
iTRACS has proposed the concept of a new efficiency metric, the DCIM Business Output, which attempts to expand on the power usage effectiveness (PUE) developed by the Green Grid consortium by measuring the ratio between business output from data centres against the energy and cost required to deliver it. PUE is a measure of total facility power divided by IT equipment power, designed to give companies a view of how much electricity is used by IT equipment itself rather than cooling systems or other overheads.
Business Output includes factors like data-centre space or staff as part of the calculation offering individual comparisons such as CPU utilisation vs power usage or Server A vs Server B.
Vizualiiz: Lightson 3D
Remotely viewable data centre insights
Start-up Vizualiiz, which is a subsidiary of Edifice Technologies, describes itself as the new kid on the block. LightsOn is a similar tool to Hyperglance albeit without the ability to monitor external cloud services, it provides 3D visualisation of data-centre assets stored in either an on-premise or hosted software as a service (SaaS) database and accessed through a Web browser plug-in and accessible on a range of devices, including smartphones.
Aimed primarily at data-centre managers, LightsOn also cites financial analysts looking for a clearer understanding of what is going on in the data centre as one of its most important user groups. "Once you have asset management services tools in the cloud it is possible to operate globally," says Vizualiiz president Bob Cartwright. "You have the ability to see exactly what's happening in a remote data centre... and manage assets, infrastructure and facilities in multiple locations. A data centre manager in New York could understand and determine in advance the preventative actions needed to avert an IT emergency in Singapore."
LightsOn promises a 'game-like' interface, which includes a flash application that provides a 3D view and navigation of the data centre, allowing the operator to zoom in to individual racks and other components to see the information attributes associated with each piece. Data mined from asset tagging and sensor technologies is stored in the LightsOn Intelligence Server, including asset type and age, power metrics, host name, model, manufacturer, serial number, location and owner as well as power metrics, project and maintenance information, with search filters picking out particular categories. It covers both physical and virtual assets and supports the concept of 'nested' assets which allow VMs to be assigned to a physical parents backed by inventories and workflows assembled through RFID scanning.
The software's backed services are accessed via REST API, with the company actively looking for some use cases to build out some specific integration to other systems management software, with VMware vCenter specifically on the roadmap for the future. Pricing is based on the size of the data centre - i.e., per data centre asset; the software will be sold in the US and Europe through original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and resellers as well as the sales channel used currently.
Nlyte: Datacentre infrastructure management (DCIM)
Reporting for duty
Software company Nlyte is a major player in data-centre management solutions, and has updated its data-centre infrastructure management (DCIM) lifecycle management application since E&T reviewed version 6.0 of the software last year (http://bit.ly/eandt-software-review-1103). Still trumpeting its ability to scale to the most extensive of facilities, the latest 6.2 iteration has added support for enhanced cable visualisation, displaying different levels of connectivity over large networks to enable trace routes and identify issues with redundancy.
Though its use of 3D graphics is limited,'the browser-based front end still provides access to 2D customisable gauges, charts and maps which display the all the statistics on data-centre assets stored in the underlying SQL database, with workflows integrated into BMC Software's Remedy IT Service Management Suite to help data centre managers predict how changes or new services will affect overall operations.
The assets monitored include cabinets, enclosures, networks, power strips, keyboard video mouse (KVM) equipment, power distribution units (PDUs), sockets and HVAC components. They also include physical and virtual servers and the applications they host, integrating with VMware vCenter to discover, locate and monitor virtual machines via the Nlyte Integrator component.
DCIM is not aimed only at IT and facilities staff, but executives keen to see what is going on inside the data centre from a cost and operational perspective, which coupled with its scaling abilities, makes it particularly suitable for use by telcos and service providers offering hosted services to other companies which can use it for top-layer tasks like billing, track service usage patterns, or to predict capacity growth.
Though DCIM does not track or monitor external cloud services, say, DCIM was recently picked by Computacenter to support the latter's own C3 cloud initiative. Computacenter is using DCIM to evaluate the success of the cloud computing services it delivers to its own customers, monitoring power, cooling and space requirements in real time to make sure everything is running as efficiently as possible, automatically planning and scheduling maintenance and cutting audit timescales from three weeks to one, the company reports.
|To start a discussion topic about this article, please log in or register.|
"Africa is abundant with engineering opportunity. We look at some of the projects and the problems."
- DECC-EDF makes yet another attempt to fund 3rd Generation Nuclear at any cost [12:04 pm 25/05/13]
- UK just six hours from running out of gas in March [09:02 pm 24/05/13]
- Ideas for a final year university project [05:55 pm 24/05/13]
- Fourth Generation Nuclear: Molten Salt Reactors [10:39 am 24/05/13]
- LED bulb efficiency - its all about the drivers not the LEDs? [09:52 am 24/05/13]
Tune into our latest podcast