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BMS/SCADA vs DCIM. Can one replace another?

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The basic fact for any business domain – without control there is no management. Therefore, in data center industry there are many options available to provide control capabilities in the related areas – both facilities and IT oriented. And here comes the need to integrate all data sources into one, single point of view to enable proper decision making and holistic control over the infrastructure – it really doesn't matter if we call this process an integration or a convergence. This explains todays Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) systems popularity, but having this perspective opened, we shouldn't forget about older systems, which are widespread in facilities and data center management domains: Building Management Systems (BMS). When and where to use each other? Do we really need both of them in data center?



First, the difference is hidden in the names – so let's go into the details.

Building Management System, BMS is a system which consist of components that are able to gather data and control other building related systems or components, like: power systems, cooling and ventilation, lights, doors, lifts, cameras and other security systems (including access control), fire detection (smoke detectors) and prevention systems etc. BMS uses its own network of controllers and sensors and, usually, SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) application in which an operator can read the current parameters as well control all attached building systems. Therefore, it's about monitoring and control of building related systems, when used with BMS (however, SCADA applications can be used for monitoring and control of complex industrial infrastructure almost everywhere, not only for the facilities management purposes).

DCIM, which stands for Data Center Infrastructure Management System, is data center oriented solution. Of course, this tool is also based on monitoring sensors – so to some level can be perceived to have similar functionality like BMS/SCADA, but such assumption is totally wrong. BMS/SCADA is for building or facilities management (more maintenance oriented) and DCIM is for data center infrastructure management (more focused on IT needs and infrastructure management processes). To be more precise about BMS/SCADA vs DCIM distinction, it's good to remember that typical purposes of BMS are (according to BMS and the Data Center, by Jeff Clark, published in DataCenterJournal.com):

[...]

  • Alerts indicating conditions that threaten security, safety or uptime. The presence of hot spots, fluctuating power conditions or unauthorized access to certain areas of a facility may call for immediate action. By keeping a virtual eye on the data center, the BMS can call attention to situations that either are problematic or that require review to prevent a problem from occurring.
  • Remote monitoring capability. A good BMS doesn't necessitate that someone be sitting in the data center eyeing a computer screen at all times. When equipped with remote monitoring and alerts, the BMS can enable a data center manager to keep an eye on conditions from another location—such as at home on a desktop computer or on the road via a laptop or tablet.
  • Data collection. The building management system, in addition to providing alerts, can collect data for analysis. By examining trends in collected data, such as power conditions or temperature readings, facility managers can identify areas that could cause problems in the future or that require maintenance. This approach can increase uptime by dealing with issues before they bring down the data center.
  • Maintenance scheduling. Data center maintenance is critical to keeping systems functioning. A BMS can indicate when infrastructure requires regularly scheduled maintenance, or when conditions merit pre-emptive maintenance to avoid a problem before it causes downtime. Automated maintenance reminders can prevent day-to-day tasks from causing employees and managers to forget periodic tasks that are necessary to the on-going health of the facility.
  • Enable planning and upgrades. The information that a BMS collects, in addition to providing a basis for maintenance and troubleshooting, can aid in planning for data center expansions or upgrades. For instance, power usage data relative to maximum capacity might indicate the need for greater capacity when additional IT equipment is installed.
  • Improve efficiency. Hardly the least concern of data center managers is increasing the efficiency of their facilities. Data collected by the BMS can be critical to determining which measures will increase efficiency and (potentially) by how much.

[...]

In result, both systems can be implemented in parallel and serve for different purposes (and in some cases for different groups of people, for example – facilities and IT teams). However, the borders are not so strict in some areas. There are scenarios in which BMS – or usually its part related to data center infrastructure – can be integrated with DCIM system to provide required data.

When we take a closer look we can easily understand, that DCIM system is more about processes which are important from IT perspective in data center, like: asset management, change management, configuration management, capacity management, event and incidents management. DCIM is also about integration of all possible data sources that can support mentioned processes and enable data center operators to have one, common view for the whole data center infrastructure. At the same time, BMS, even if is partially integrated with DCIM to provide interesting data (on power consumption, electrical devices operational parameters, diesel power generators, cooling system, environmental parameters like: temperature and humidity etc.), stands beside and works on its own.

In conclusion, we shouldn't put BMS and DCIM into the same category. We shouldn't think that DCIM system is a better or modern BMS/SCADA. Also, we shouldn't forget about the fact that in most cases we will require both systems – BMS for building or data center facilities control and monitoring, as usually required by facilities team, and DCIM for data center management, as expected by IT or data center staff.

Finally, I can recommend to read three very good articles. First one about DCIM systems market offer – Data Center Infrastructure Software: What’s Out There?, by Jeff Clark – which can be found in DataCenterJournal.com. Second one, BMS and the Data Center, published in the same place, by the same author, is about (as the title says) BMS role in the data center. And to have 100% full overview of the distinction between BMS and DCIM, please read the third article – Optimizing Data Center Performance with a Real-Time DCIM Solution by Blake Carlson – which is available in DataCenterJournal.com, too.

Also, you may want to refer to the previously published articles here, on Turingsman.net.

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