by Kevin Fogarty

New EMC Tool Cleans, Organizes Data Center Details

Sep 23, 2009
Data Center

Is scr믭 and organized data center management information worth a starting price of $40,000? EMC hopes the answer is yes with its new tool that gathers, scrubs, organizes and ships data to a CMDB.

EMC’s Ionix business unit introduced a new product this week designed to deliver what the company promised it could do when it announced Ionix and its management suite in July, without mentioning the new product: provide a unified view of a diverse data center to make configuration and management easier.

The suite EMC offered at the time could consolidate data from all parts of the data center, but not in as clean, concise and usable a way as customers would like, according to Jeff Abbott, senior product marketing manager for Ionix.

That’s why the company is introducing a new product called EMC Ionix Data Center Insight (DCI) which is designed to take in, scrub and de-duplicate information from separate data-collection tools monitoring servers, storage, networks and applications, then draw a picture that makes the infrastructure easier to grasp.

Then the DCI tool feeds the cleaned data into a back-end Configuration Management Database (CMDB,) an option that many large organizations use to track and manage their IT details.

“We’re not making a case that people should throw away CMDBs—that’s still where they make decisions and manage their configurations,” Abbot says. “Right now, the various tools that collect performance and configuration data tend to pollute the CMDB with too much data, or multiple copies of data about one device. We want to make sure the CMDB gets only one vision of the environment.”

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As much as it sounds as if EMC is adding another layer of software—and an expensive one, whose base price of $40,000 includes only connections for one set of data-collection tools, even though a decent-sized data center would require at least three—it’s not as extravagant an idea as it sounds, according to Dennis Drogseth, who specializes in data-center and business-process management analysis for Enterprise Management Associates.

“Most data collection tools are stovepiped, so they don’t data about networks with storage or servers very easily,” Drogseth says. “This is a way to make the decoupling of data collection from the back end more effective.”

The amount of time usually required to collect and clean data means that most IT operations with a coherent picture of their environment depend on one that’s at least 24 hours old, according to Bob Laliberte, infrastructure specialist at Enterprise Strategy Group.

“How clean your CMDB is depends on how much each product tells you about its connected state,” Laliberte says. “Will the Fibre Channel switch tell you about it and its HBA (host bus adapter) and the storage it connects to? Will the storage tell you about itself and the HBA so you have two of them identified? And with virtualization, you have data getting dumped in with no correlation at all.”

In a survey Laliberte did of 602 large organizations, the ability to save time for the IT management staff was the No. 1 reason respondents gave for justifying new spending on data-center management tools.

“There are still a lot of companies out there using spreadsheets and Visio diagrams and the white board with the network diagram on it marked ‘Do Not Erase,'” Laliberte says. “The vision has been there for a while that the data center will be controlled by software, but a lot of companies haven’t caught up to that yet.”

In addition to cleaning the data, the DCI tool is designed to highlight applications and map out the server, network and storage connections on which each depends, Abbot says.

That’s quite a trick for most companies, and one that can’t be accomplished just every 24 hours or so, Laliberte says.

“The question is how often things change which, with open systems, is frequently,” Laliberte says. “If you install a package that requires a redundant data path, and it loses that path on Day 2 when someone reconfigures something, you need an alarm that crops up and says you need to fix that. Problem resolution is much more difficult if you don’t have that contextual management to see how it’s all connected.”

The question about DCI as a separate product, then is why the DCI functionality isn’t built into EMC’s own server or storage management tools, or into Ionix Service Manager, the CMDB it sells as part of its management suite.

One reason is that EMC doesn’t want to be perceived as pushing its customers to give up another vendor’s CMDB, on which they’ve become dependent, Abbott says. Out of the box, DCI supports CMDBs from several other vendors, including chief EMC rival BMC, he says.

Another reason is that having DCI’s data collection, scrubbing and visualization functions as a separate layer makes it easier to add new discovery tools to increase the reach of the Ionix suite above DCI, and the number of CMDB or CMS applications below, Abbot says.

Currently DCI supports BMC’s Atrium CMDB, but only accepts discovery data from Ionix products. That will change as time goes on and EMC adds the ability to take in data from other vendors, Abbot says, but EMC will concentrate on its own products first.

“If development were frozen with that, it wouldn’t be that interesting a product,” Drogseth says. “To the degree EMC can accelerate development and broaden implementation to add monitoring and performance information from other vendors, it would become very much an innovator in the industry.”

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