Building Management Systems (BMS) have been around for quite a while, arguably since the invention of the Watt centrifugal governor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrifugal_governor) which was used to better control the supply of steam power to pumps and machinery.
It can even be argued that BMS are the experienced granddaddies actually responsible for driving the industrial revolution. As expected, with every technological advance, methods were devised to supply and control the way energy was delivered, as well as efficient techniques for transporting this energy to where it was needed.
With the advent of electricity, these systems evolved exponentially and when the Digital Revolution came along, BMS were at the forefront.
Computing, it was realized pretty quickly, required a steady supply of electric power. This in turn gave way to more applications of this existing technology. Early IT professionals relied on the facility where these computers were housed to satisfy their energy demands. Digital processing became more intensive, which generated quite a lot of heat. The facility, again to the rescue, provided the balancing act of feeding energy and extracting the converted heat waste.
BMS were there, then, when data centers started to be built everywhere with explosive growth.
At first, the data centers were relatively monolithic. A single manufacturer building and supplying all the computing equipment. There was much more variety at the back end of the facility side, with all the electromechanical equipment.
With time, data centers became more heterogeneous. Their geographic locations became an important factor, the market became more competitive, and their management became more complicated. Thus, new, different needs arose.
The IT group does acknowledge that BMS is king of its domain, but besides requests of where and when energy must be provided and at what temperature the environment should operate, there is very little communication than that between the two. The difficulties of communications are due mainly to a different set of competences and even different philosophies.
When installed, BMS tend to be static. Things like UPS, the air conditioning and the access control, for example, tend to work for years without much of a change once deployed. Consequently, it is part of the standard design specs for BMS to operate, always the same way, reliably, with only a regular maintenance schedule.
Yes, good ol’ BMS; reliable, sturdy, solid. Not very talkative, though. Hard to swap stories with it. It couldn’t even speak SNMP for a long time.
The IT people, on the other hand, were dealing with constant changes, numerous requests to support new services, and the incredible pace of new shiny toys coming out. Mostly, coping with controlled chaos.
That’s when the new kid came to town.
Data Center Infrastructure Management
(DCIM) solutions have appeared in response to the need to manage not only the myriad of components that are part of the modern data center, but also their monitoring and capacity planning.
Slick, flamboyant, agile, DCIM is the new partner that finally understands what IT needs and wants. It speaks their language and it appears it can do anything and everything.
Back at the ranch, however, there is confusion. DCIM did not seem to focus very much on the electromechanical infrastructure, while BMS had a strong handle on that. Control and automation are traditionally not DCIM’s strong suit, although they boast a much wider scope like servers’ positions, configuration, and more granularity on power and temperature monitoring.
For a while, there was some posturing, each trying to show that they can do it all. Some BMS adding IT protocols like SNMP and DCIM integrating more and more electro-mechanical elements. Nevertheless, the nature of those two beasts are different enough that specific core competences are required for each.
However, the sheer number of assets covered by DCIM, once in its database, becomes a gold mine of information and plays a vital role in support of decisions about planning, design and overall management of the data center. Included in this overall management, DCIM came to start boasting multi-site scalability for a fraction of the cost of BMS, so that everyone in the organization was able to participate in operations.
BMS owns the obligation to deliver reliable power to a number of outlets, but it is incumbent to DCIM to KNOW when and where connect any equipment to it. This is an important point and it is a responsibility that cannot be shared with BMS. And it does not stop to power utilisation alone: cooling needs and heat outputs for each active asset are better evaluated and measured by DCIM.
In conclusion, no shots need to be fired at the DC Corral. BMS and DCIM can definitely collaborate peacefully. A demarcation point exists, on either side of which distinct and separate expertise is at play.
While there is no more danger of a gunfight, it is desirable, though, that the sharing of data between Facilities and IT be improved upon, in order to take advantage of each other capabilities.