Racks shown in netTerrain DCIM Software

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, we discussed the importance of discovering your organization’s unique needs and the features you would need from a DCIM tool. We talked about identifying the core tenets of a system such as openness, security, flexibility, network visualization and so on. In part 3, we outlined the importance of ensuring you have a pain point and have company buy-in; in part 4, we went over how to research DCIM vendors. As you learned, the research process will usually yield a great deal of vendors (which you should quickly narrow down to about a dozen or less, based upon your specific needs).

In the final part of our series, we’ll discuss the last steps: the demo and final selection stage. This is the time to get a feel for the plausible DCIM candidates by actually seeing their products in action — and what to expect if you do sign on.

I Am From Missouri, Show Me!

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to, say, 10 vendors, you should start making contact. Don’t waste your time on a series of demos at this point. Ask the vendor how their software will solve your pain points and get an idea on if the pricing will work for your budget. This should help you narrow your selection down to handful of vendors from whom to request a demo.

The demo is your chance to get a bird’s eye view of a DCIM tool’s key features; it is the company’s chance to show off what makes their solution really stand out from the crowd.

During the demo, you can get an idea of whether a product could be a good fit and have your questions answered. It’s through the demo process that you can really weed out weak candidates as you really don’t want to end up putting in the time and effort of testing something that simply won’t work for you. Make sure the vendor gives you a demo of the actual product – where you can also ask to show a specific feature in more detail – not just a Powerpoint presentation.

The DCIM Tool Demo is the “Show Me” Stage

Be resolute. This should be the “show me” stage. Naturally, the vendor will highlight the DCIM tool’s strengths and everything usually sounds just peachy. So, be selfish: put the vendor on the hot seat and make them sweat! If you need that customizable dashboard, ask them to show it to you. It’s like this: “Mr. DCIM vendor: show me in your product how you can customize the dashboard”. If you need to know how to display aggregated server inlet temperature per rack, well go ahead and ask them to show it. If you need to be able to bundle fiber strands into a fiber trunk, ask them to show you. If you need to ping, telnet, RDC or tracert devices from the DCIM tool, ask them to show it. If you need to discover and visualize VM images per host, then, well, you get the point…

Usually three things will happen when you ask about certain DCIM features:

  • a) The tool can do xyz and the vendor is happy to show it to you
  • b) The tool cannot do xyz and the vendor is forthcoming about it
  • c) The tool can’t do xyz (or a PhD is required to do it) and you hear some mumbling that resembles postmodernist babble

If the situation is b, that’s fine. One thing I can guarantee you: there is no vendor that does everything that could be considered DCIM by some customer. How do I know that? We do things no other vendor does (like certain things in our discovery or our visualization) and we certainly don’t do it all…

Let’s also cut us vendors some slack here: certain questions may be open ended or not well defined and the vendor may provide an answer that seems vague. If you ask us how we do Impact analysis, for example, you will probably get an answer that is open ended. What’s impact analysis, anyways? Impact analysis of what? How do you want it visualized? Etc.

But in general, if you run into situation c where you get a vague answer, then the lack of the feature is the least of your worries. You’ve got a vendor that is trying to dupe you and it’s time to run for the hills.

Use this time to get a panoramic view of the software. Find out if life will be easy for your end users. Ideally, they shouldn’t require anything more than a browser. Thick clients present an extra deployment step (which grows linearly with your user base): it’s another possible thing that later needs to be patched and an extra point of failure (besides other inconveniences).

If the solution is browser-based, make sure you understand the requirements for the browser. If the browser needs a plug-in or add-on this could be a security risk or a showstopper in certain environments. Make sure you get the full picture of what other software and hardware you need to commission. When quoting the tools, if each client, for example, needs Visio, this is extra money required for third-party licenses. So, ideally the tool should not use third-party components or as few as possible.

While some companies may offer a proof of concept, these can easily end up on the backburner (and probably should) when the company is 100% focused on their current customers’ needs. Our solution is to offer a Cloud version of netTerrain that gives potential users the ability to test our software for free (in addition to a success guarantee — see below). If the vendor you’re interested in offers a Cloud version like ours, you should be able to test the software with little to no training, and get a good feel for what the process and interface will be like.

Getting the Whole Picture about a DCIM solution is Important.

Due Diligence

After all the research, the demos, and the questions, you’ve finally arrived at a potential candidate. Congratulations. Before you sail full speed ahead, however, you need to do your due diligence.

What do I mean by that? Find out as much as you can about both the software and the vendor to whom you’re about to make a major commitment.

As we discussed in the previous blog, get an idea of the software’s longevity.

If you choose a large company that seems ‘too big to fail’, be careful. Large companies can be notorious for pulling the plug — and support — on a product for any number of reasons. Ask the following:

  • How long has the company been offering this product?
  • Has the company pulled the plug on products in the past – if so, why?
  • Are there plans for expansion and continued growth?
  • What is the turnaround on support (and can you dial a number and reach a human being when necessary)?

If you choose a small company, make sure they have the staying power to ensure you get a solid ROI from the product. Ask about the very basic financials:

  • Is the company profitable (you know, the actual objective of a company!)
  • Is the company debt free?
  • Does the company depend on rounds of funding to continue operating?
  • Is the company growing?
  • How long has the company been profitable?

Does the Vendor Stand Behind Their Product?

A good DCIM vendor will be more than willing to give you the transparency and access to information you need to make an informed decision. Before you sign, make sure the vendor you choose fully stands behind their product. Here’s how:

In the last blog, we discussed how corporate lists of logos probably don’t reflect who’s actually using the product (and it definitely doesn’t reflect who is happy with it or not). Ask for references (and really call them). As we discussed previously, user satisfaction surveys can tell you a great deal about how the software is actually performing. Ask if the company has conducted user satisfaction surveys — and ask about them to share those results.

The devil is in the details so take a look at the manuals. Yeah, we know, you don’t want to read them. Still, take a peek! It is very common for software companies not running a tight ship to be sloppy with the stuff that is hard to see during demos, such as user guides. If the vendor says they have an API, ask for the guide!

Finally, find out ahead of time what the company’s policy is if you just aren’t happy with the software. Does the company offer a satisfaction guarantee? The company you choose should believe in the product they sell — and the support they offer — so much that they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is. We do…for example, we offer a 30-day money back satisfaction guarantee for new customers. We do this because we want you to bring in your own data and put netTerrain to work for you. We want you to see the ROI you stand to gain. If you’re unhappy with netTerrain, we’ll give you a refund.

Your Time Investment Will Pay Off

Although it may be tempting to rush over one of the above steps in the race to get a DCIM solution in place, remember how important it is that the solution you choose responds to the needs your organization has. The demo and implementation stages are key to your success. Your time throughout the steps outlined in this series will pay off because the alternative may yield an expensive piece of shelfware.

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About Jan Durnhofer

As CEO / Product and Engineering Manager, Jan joined Graphical Networks with the purpose of creating the most advanced DCIM and IT visualization company in the market.