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Industry Outlook is a regular Data Center Journal Q&A series that presents expert views on market trends, technologies and other issues relevant to data centers and IT.

DCIMThis week, Industry Outlook asks Jeff Klaus about data center infrastructure management (DCIM), including a recent Intel survey about the state of the industry. As General Manager of Intel Data Center Solutions, Jeff leads a global team that designs, builds, sells and supports data center software products. His group currently sells Intel Virtual Gateway access management and Intel Data Center Manager (DCM) software Since joining Intel in 2000, Jeff’s accomplishments have been recognized by Intel and the industry. An accomplished speaker, he has presented at such industry forums as Gartner Data Center, AFCOM’s Data Center World, the Green IT Symposium and the Green Gov conference. He has authored articles on data center power management in Forbes, Data Center Post, IT Business Edge, Data Center Knowledge, Information Management and Data Centre Management. Jeff currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Green IT Council. He earned his BS in finance at Boston College and his MBA in marketing at Boston University.

Industry Outlook: How would you summarize the inefficiency situation for data centers? What’s the biggest culprit?

Jeff Klaus: There are many culprits; I’ll categorize two, with one that’s easy to find and another that is more difficult to comprehend. The first is simply identifying underutilized assets. Data center manager tools can do this very easily, allowing the user to turn off or reallocate unused equipment. Even our own internal Intel IT identified about 13 percent of its engineering compute environment was running virtually zero workloads. The more challenging inefficiency is understanding how many compute devices to load in a rack. Simple monitoring can help here but the capital-asset offset is tremendous, and most customers are surprised by these figures.

IO: What surprised you the most about the Intel DCIM survey? 

JK: I was surprised by the higher-than-expected number of operators using manual processes to monitor their IT environment. We know that manual processes still exist, but we expected it to be much lower than 40 percent. This rather alarming number led me to consider a few questions. Is it an overall lack of awareness of the capabilities that are instrumented in a data center operator’s existing equipment? Are companies like Intel and the DCIM industry not doing our part to educate the market on data center solutions and capabilities? Or are data center operators informed on existing DCIM technology yet don’t find value in it, whether it’s seemingly too complex, difficult to integrate lacking in visible ROI? Whatever the case may be for each data center operator, it’s clear that Intel and the DCIM market have some work to do in order to get that 40 percent manual-process number down with automated solutions.

IO: What does this situation mean for the DCIM industry as a whole? 

JK: It means we have more education opportunities ahead; we need to find a better communication method or change our messaging, since it may not be breaking through. With an abundance of automated DCIM solutions available, there is absolutely an offering for almost every organization, depending on the needs and complexity of the organization’s IT environment. In an era of automation, manual processes shouldn’t require 40–60 percent of a data center operator’s time. That being said, we have some work to do. If nothing more, these findings are an eye opener to my team and me, and we’re looking to 2016 as an opportunity to more effectively approach the way we’ve been educating the market.

IO: Does it change your own perspective of how you’re having conversations with prospects? If so, what are the next steps?

JK: Yes, the survey findings have led me to review all of my team’s internal communications tools, particularly what we say in keynotes and at industry conferences. We need to further simplify our message and help bring practical, staged approaches to POC or customer trial environments. To be fair, this won’t happen overnight, as a data center operator who is risk averse certainty won’t go from manual monitoring to complete automation—but you definitely see the opportunity. Through heightened education and repositioning the way we’re talking about DCIM solutions, we can make data center operators aware of the existing capabilities in their facilities while also informing then about the new features they can access, try, implement and so on.

IO: In light of the results, what does 2016 hold for the DCIM industry?

JK: The results indicate tremendous opportunity for the DCIM industry where we educate more customers and help them to understand the vast numbers of solutions and alternatives. If nothing more, the survey findings should encourage the DCIM industry to more effectively help to resolve challenges, like manual processes, that data center managers are struggling with. The industry is experiencing growth and continued innovation, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to reevaluate our communication, including products and sales strategies, to best address the market needs. As we look ahead to 2016, it’s clear that the DCIM industry as a whole needs to do a better job communicating the value of our solutions, doing what we say we’ll do and supporting our products.

IO: Some recent reports have claimed that DCIM is steeped in a lot of hype. What does the balance of hype versus reality look like at this point?

JK: On the basis of my own day-to-day experience with various organizations and major players in the DCIM industry, I believe we are making progress, but admittedly it’s slower than most anticipated in the space. And that is what many industry analysts have latched onto, and they have made some false speculations in their reports. The industry analysts in this space over-reacted and painted a higher growth story that didn’t become reality. There may have been additional entrants into the industry as a result. Because of this situation, there has been some industry consolidation, with more likely to come, which will help the overall base of players. Industry consolidation doesn’t change the value and ROI proposition; solution providers need to provide simple solutions to help data centers save money and improve efficiency—always back to basics and simplicity.

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