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OpenSource Software Offers Flexibility for UB's Data Centers

By John Whipple

Published August 18, 2016

John Whipple (UB Student, Class of 2018) is from Ketchikan, Alaska. He earned an Associate's Degree at NCCC in Massage Therapy and is an Intended-Nursing major at UB. His hobbies include hiking mountains, photography, board games, technology and nutrition. He aspires to be a Nurse Practitioner.

UB’s Data Center Management Team (DCMT) has made huge strides in increasing long-term security and self-sufficiency by switching from Aperture VISTA, a discontinued third party solution, to OpenDCIM, an open-source solution for data center infrastructure management.

Data Center Infrastructure Management software like OpenDCIM provides a convenient visual inventory for hardware in data centers. It also tracks space, power and network capacity. Matt Marino, Chair Person of the DCMT, agreed with UBIT News when we noted that it is essentially Sim City for servers.

There are three primary data centers at UB: North Campus, South Campus and one located off campus. “We have made it a point of not putting all our eggs in one basket. If we lose power on campus, our services can still function,” explained Tony Recchio, Senior Computer Operator and Network Applications team member.

Savings and Security for UB

Proprietary software to provide this functionality can cost over six figures to purchase and tens of thousands of dollars to maintain annually. In January 2015, the Data Center Management Team determined that a new solution was needed.  The existing software system was being discontinued by its parent company and the software would no longer be supported. In June 2015, rather than purchase new software, the team determined that OpenDCIM would provide all the functionality that UB currently needed with no licensing cost.

How Does OpenDCIM Work?

“OpenDCIM is a software package that allow us to inventory all of the physical hardware that we have in our data centers.” said Matt. All computer hardware has a warranty and a recommended life cycle. As these deadlines approach it is necessary to upgrade, or risk catastrophic failure and loss of data. OpenDCIM allows easy upgrading of hardware by displaying a convenient visual map for 10-20 key staff members in various departments.

“It allows us to do space, power and network provisioning,” explains Matt, “For example, if someone has a new device they need to install, we can tell them to go to this room and put it in rack number one and plug it into power strip A and B. Power, space, heat and weight capacity are all finite resources we have to monitor.”

Making the Transition

Tony Recchio charting power strips as part of the project's phase two.

The transition to OpenDCIM started with Tony Recchio setting out to document every piece of hardware that needed to move. While most of the data was in the old system, it still needed to be verified in case of undocumented changes. “This process, which was the first phase of the project, took three to four months,” Tony said.

Tony also created custom visual symbols for use in OpenDCIM. “All the symbols in OpenDCIM are of different devices. I created all of them. The floor plans in OpenDCIM were also drawn in by another support team member.”

In the second phase of the project, which is expected to be completed by Fall 2016, the team will document all of the electrical power going to individual UB servers. “Most servers have dual power supplies, so if one feed goes down, the device is still powered,” said Matt. “Documenting the power should hopefully only take a few months. A lot of the cabling is under the floors.  Sometimes it can be a little tricky to track down what is where,” explained Tony.

What is Open Source Software? defines Open Source as "a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is higher quality, better reliability, greater flexibility, and lower cost."

"The good thing that I see about the open source development is that it results in a product that meets the real world needs, whereas manufactured products sometimes put in unneeded modules and subsystems. There are often a lot of different bells and whistles added to products that you don’t use, but still pay for. In our case, we wanted the basic functionality that you see in OpenDCIM," Matt added.

Servers of the Future

Servers of the Future

Considering the future of data center management, Matt said, "The big push is to virtual servers. You can have a lot more individual servers in a single space. Previously you would have a server the size a pizza box dedicated to one application. A virtual server you can think of as a partition of a hard drive.”

While having numerous virtual servers using one set of hardware is efficient, it introduces new resource considerations. “OpenDCIM uses very little resources, for example, but as part of a virtual server with many other more active applications, the CPU is working harder and the hard drives are spinning more as they are constantly shifting from doing the chores of one application to another. The problem with that from a data center management perspective is you have a greater deal of hardware density, which would generate more heat. You have to develop a new cooling strategy. Tools like OpenDCIM will help accomplish that,” said Matt.

OpenDCIM could prove equally useful for other teams with dedicated hardware. “It’s scalable to an installation of our size. But you could also see a smaller company using the same tool,” Tony added.