How Leading Data Center Managers Leverage Business Rules with DCIM Software
For many data center professionals, the daily operations of a data center require a lot of repetitive manual data entry tasks. Manually entering data about data center assets over and over again is not only time-consuming, but it risks inaccurate information due to human error.
However, there is a new way forward.
In a recent Sunbird customer workshop, data center experts from Accenture and Comcast shared how they leverage their Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software’s business rules engine to automate their data center operations.
But first, some background information.
What are business rules in DCIM software?
Business rules are automation programs that a DCIM system admin can create to the benefit of all users. They streamline operations which improves productivity, reduces errors, and saves money.
With a modern DCIM solution, you can apply business rules to your data center operations with an easy-to-use rules engine. The rules engine creates automation rules based upon user-configurable conditions. Rules can be applied to any asset that qualifies based on the rules’ built-in logic and parameters. A rule is evaluated and applied whenever an asset that meets the rule’s criteria is created or updated.
What can business rules in DCIM software do?
Business rules can perform a lot of functions.
They can do things like automatically clearing an asset’s installation date if it goes into storage or is archived or automatically setting an installation project as complete once all its assets are deployed.
Users have access to the rule parameters so they can set the standard and custom fields that a rule uses.
With these capabilities, rules can perform calculations or logic. For example, they can calculate a cabinet’s power capacity based on several parameters.
Rules can generate sequential numbers to automatically populate fields like asset tag. They can look up any field value for any item that was updated or a related item, and they can change the value of any field for an item or a related item.
How does Comcast use Sunbird’s business rules?
According to Jeana DeJean, an engineer with Comcast’s critical infrastructure tools and integration (CITI) team, they started using rules as soon as Sunbird developed the feature.
“Our end users here at Comcast are always looking for ways to improve and simplify adding data into dcTrack,” said DeJean. “Often our deployment team or facilities team will come to us at the CITI team with an issue that they may need to resolve or they want to automate. We at the CITI team will investigate the options available depending on what the request happens to be.”
Sometimes, the best resolution is to create a rule.
“The CITI team is constantly exploring ways to improve and automate data entry and reporting for our end users,” said DeJean.
To achieve this, they currently use four business rules:
Set Installation Date
Comcast tracks the installation date of their assets. Previously, this had to be entered manually for every installed asset. Business rules allow them to automate this process based on the movement of the asset’s lifecycle status.
“The user will change the status when the asset is fully deployed and ready for operation,” said DeJean. “When that status change occurs by moving an item from Planned to Installed, the rule automatically fires and sets the Installation Date field to the current date.”
“This metadata provides aging of assets to be used in reporting and future planning. The rule eliminates the need for users to manually update the field and reduces human error,” said DeJean.
Set Cabinet Serial Number
Comcast integrates DCIM software with ServiceNow via Sunbird’s certified connector. To integrate their cabinets across both systems, they needed each cabinet to have a unique serial number to act as its unique identifier. They also needed to solve for having multiple DCIM systems in production as well as the inconsistent availability of cabinet serial numbers.
“Since our cabinets do not always have visible serial numbers that our end users can access and cabinets require the unique key, same as other assets integrated with ServiceNow, we at Comcast decided to create our own serial number for cabinets generated from values in dcTrack,” said DeJean.
Comcast uses a business rule to automatically generate unique serial numbers for their cabinets that incorporates the cabinet’s Location ID, Item ID, and a custom field that identifies which DCIM system it’s in.
“The three concatenated values eliminate the possibility of duplicate serial numbers across both systems for our cabinet serial numbers,” said DeJean.
Set Fields to Rack PDU Inlet Values
Like many organizations, Comcast is experiencing supply chain issues with very high wait times to receive new rack PDUs. To overcome this obstacle, they are using a business rule to help them quickly locate rack PDUs in storage that they can redeploy.
“With the ability to filter existing stock in storage based on inlet values, our end users can identify if the appropriate stock is available for repurposing within seconds,” said DeJean. “The rule… copies the power port data for the inlet and outlet values of the strips into specific custom fields.”
Comcast created custom list views that display these custom fields and end users can filter these lists to see which rack PDU models in storage can be used.
“Our users can quickly determine the replacement rack PDU and deploy the unit reducing any downtime,” said DeJean.
Set Cabinet Capacity Custom Field Based on Rack PDU
Comcast’s final rule was created when their facilities team was looking for a way to ensure that redundant cabinet capacity was set in dcTrack and that those values were pushed to Power IQ for the generation of cabinet capacity threshold alerts.
“The rule allows us to choose which cabinets will have power capacity set manually or automatically by utilizing a checkbox field,” said DeJean. “The rule calculates the capacity rating from the rack PDUs in the cabinet and the checkbox indicates which field receives that value.”
“One of the reasons that we may not want to have power capacity set to the rack PDU capacity is of our busway is limited and we’re spreading the load evenly across the busway,” said DeJean. “Facilities may also set cabinet capacity differently than the rack PDU capacity value for future planning and prevention of overloading other areas in our upstream infrastructure.”
By automatically pushing the cabinet power capacity values to Power IQ, Comcast can receive warning and critical event alerts when power consumption approaches the thresholds they set.
“Receiving the event will reduce downtime and the resulting costs associated with the overloaded system,” said DeJean.
How does Accenture use Sunbird’s business rules?
Aaron Harriman is the Service Lifecycle Management Architect for Accenture. According to Harriman, they use Sunbird DCIM to manage all their physical colocation data centers.
Accenture uses a business rule to speed up and simplify their asset disposal process.
“Within Accenture, the group that deals with assets, laptops, firewalls, etc. is independent of the group that I manage that runs the data centers,” said Harriman. “When it comes to asset disposals and making sure that things that are on the books get all the appropriate taxes paid and appreciation, interest, and all those things. In working with them and their limited knowledge of infrastructure, we decided that we wanted to put all of the data center items in one area where they know if it’s in this area, there is something they have to do with it and then schedule disposal, work with the disposal company, and deal with all of the asset write-offs they have to do from an accounting perspective, instead of just having the devices appear anywhere in any of the locations that they exist.”
Accenture created a new location called ZZZ Disposal. They chose this name so that it always appears at the bottom of their location picklist and doesn’t get in the way of their physical sites.
“In our process flow, what happens is the device owner will first come to my organization and say, ‘I’m done with router X or switch Y. It’s cleaned off, we removed all the configuration, it’s been sanitized so that none of our information is there anymore, and it can be disposed,’” said Harriman.
Harriman’s team then sets the asset’s Function field to For Disposal.
“Since we don’t own our data centers, it’s a way for us to keep track of, in any individual location, how many devices are ready for disposal,” said Harriman. “When we schedule the disposal, whether we dispose of one device or 50 devices, there’s a fixed cost for disposal company to show up. From a cost perspective, we’ve decided we’ll leave them in the rack until we either need the space or we reach a critical mass of 15 or 20 devices, and it makes financial sense for the disposal company to come and grab them.”
Setting the Function field to For Disposal triggers a business rule that changes the physical location of the asset to ZZZ Disposal and the “room” to To Be Disposed. Once it’s there, the group within Accenture can arrange for the asset to be picked up and disposed of.
The rule also copies the physical location to a custom field called Decommissioned From so that they retain that information.
Harriman’s team uses the workflow within dcTrack to decommission the asset to the archive and create the work order for the colocation provider to power the device off, remove it from the rack, and bring it to the loading dock for the disposal company. After the colocation provider confirms the work is done and Accenture marks the work orders as complete.
“At that point, the location will get updated to be in the To Be Disposed location and that’s when our asset group then grabs it and deals with the disposal process,” said Harriman.
Once the device is confirmed to have been disposed, Accenture’s asset team selects a custom field checkbox to record that in the DCIM software.
“When they mark this to Physically Disposed and save it, the next step of the rule is to put it in the Disposed room within the ZZZ Disposal location,” said Harriman.
This acts a “holding pen” so that if a colleague asks about a particular asset that was recently disposed, Harriman’s team can confirm that it no longer exists, and a new asset will need to be purchased.
Harriman has the rule set to automatically move assets from the Disposed room to a Disposal Archive room after one year. Then, after a period of time, Accenture purges those assets from the database.
“That’s the workflow that we use and it’s unique,” said Harriman. “The reason we asked the rule to be written was because, for us, if we need devices just in an archive state but in whatever location, it causes a lot of confusion and difficulty with the asset disposal group… By moving the devices out of the production locations and into this custom Disposal location, it removes all that confusion and forgetfulness. People that don’t get into dcTrack and use it all the time unlike my team using it every day, it just makes things cleaner and simpler for them.”
How do I use Sunbird’s business rules?
We have 23 rules available for customers with valid maintenance on our addons site. Customers can download the rules they want to try out and install them on their system.
What is the process for getting rules made?
It’s easy! Customers with valid maintenance just have to send a request to [email protected] and our team will work with you to create a rule that meets your requirements.
“We generally will have a meeting to discuss requirements if it’s complex. If it’s not complex, it doesn’t necessarily need a meeting,” said DeJean. “When [Sunbird] is finished, usually within a couple of weeks, they’ll send that back to us and we’ll test it to make sure it works how we like.”
“[Sunbird] comes back a week or two later with our rule,” said Harriman. “It’s been a painless process honestly.”
Bringing It All Together
Organizations like Accenture and Comcast are automating data center operations with business rules to reduce manual effort, increase the accuracy of data, and drive cross-functional collaboration.
In a survey of Sunbird’s customers, 90% of data center professionals are using or planning to use business rules. Don't be left behind.
Ready to see why leading data center experts choose Sunbird DCIM to automate their manual and repetitive tasks? Get your free test drive today.