Ever heard the term “garbage in equals garbage out”? Never has this been so apparent when advanced and expensive Enterprise applications are tasked to forecast, react, account, display, triage or audit highly sensitive and mission critical information. In fact, yikes, this author is aware of several million dollar Enterprise applications that never made their way from the shelf as it was just too hard to keep the data that feeds them current.
Insuring data accuracy and reliability is a huge problem. Luckily, one company (Trackit-solutions) has a unique mobile solution and process that is in production at todays top data center operators.
Please enjoy my Skype interview with Trackit-solutions founder and CEO Steve Beber and learn how Steve’s company is bringing his solution to the aid of global DCIM, ITAM, Fault Management and Service Desk implementors and operators.
Data is the Foundation for Million Dollar Applications – Pinpoint’s Point-to-Point Exclusive Interview with Steve Beber
Data center auditing and data integrity are problems for a lot of companies. They don’t know where their assets are, they don’t know exactly what assets they’ve got, and they don’t know if they’ve been depreciated. Daniel Tautges talks to Steve Beber of Trackit about the problems data centers face with data auditing and data integrity and how they can be resolved.
Steve Beber is the CEO and founder of Trackit Solutions. Trackit is one of the leaders in this industry; they’ve audited more than one million assets worldwide. Before launching Trackit Steve held a number of senior management positions, most recently as VP of Professional Services for EMEA at Emerson Network Power (Aperture).
Daniel Tautges is the president and founder at Pinpoint Worldwide, a business acceleration company. Formerly he was the president of Nlyte Software, vice president of Rackwise, and vice president at Micromuse.
Why is data collection of interest to our audience?
Obviously if you’re buying assets it’s important to understand what they are and where they’re located. From a data center point of view, from an asset management point of view, it’s understanding your capacity. You grow within an environment, and if you don’t know what you’ve got and where it’s located you can’t do that accurately. It’s all about understanding where those assets are located. We do all IT assets with a focus on the data center, including power and network connections.
Is this only for big data centers? Small data centers? Regional distributors?
Any size. We’ve been doing this now since 2008, and we’ve done a range of sizes from small comm rooms to global banks. The biggest was over a quarter of a million devices for one of the world’s leading banks. We’ve worked around the globe in every size data center. It’s as important to a small business as it is to a large business to understand what assets are owned.
Are there trends in the marketplace with specific verticals like telecom or financial services?
In the early stages we saw a lot of banks and a lot of financial service businesses that were looking for audits to understand what they had and where it was located. I think some of that was driven by equipment that was put in very quickly, not necessarily in a structured and recorded manner. We’ve now seen the same trend over the past year on the telecom side due to the fact that the telecom industry is seeing a huge boom. A lot of communication rooms are now transformed into data centers. We trace what they’ve got and where it’s located so that they have an accurate record for consolidation and growth as well as for the future.
Why is it so hard to capture data? It sounds like a difficult problem for a lot of different industries.
It’s more a need for the right tool for the right job, the right people, and the right processes. I believe the reason we’re so good at what we do is because we’ve been doing it for eight years. We’ve matured over those eight years and we’ve refined our processes. We’ve got great teams of people who are very experienced with doing audits and we’ve got a great product.
What system does the data that you collect feed back into and can you interface with upstream and downstream systems that would utilize your data?
Sure. The Trackit Audit repository can pull or push information to service desks, CMDB, ITAM, and DCIM services. We can map existing data sources into our product, show them as rack elevations within our product, and take that onto the floor.
So if I’ve got an existing workflow system–for example, I’m a ServiceNow client or I’m a Remedy client or I’m an HP Service Desk or one of those asset management or service desk systems, how do I leverage Trackit and what value do you provide me?
Some of the failings in those products is the fact that they don’t have the visual element and they don’t have the mobility to take the data down to the floor. Before we became tablet driven, everything was about reading lines of data and not actually looking at elevations. No visual element, because the screens didn’t have the capacity to see rack elevations. With our new technology, there are rack elevations on the actual tablet, so you have the ability to view the rack against the racks that you’re actually looking at. One of the big advantages is you look at a rack and you stand side by side with that data, you can see instantly if there’s a problem with what you’re looking at, so the mobile view of rack elevations provides instant configuration feedback. It makes highlighting problems so much simpler.
If I’m a data center and if I have cables connected to the wrong port or if I have devices that are there but not accounted for, what kind of problems does that create?
From a capacity planning point of view, from the management of day-to-day operations point of view, it can create huge problems. The worst case scenario is if you have an outage in a data center and you don’t know which devices have gone down, you don’t know where they’re located, you don’t know which applications are running and what servers. How do you go about finding those servers? You need to find them quickly. IT is at the center of a business and if a device goes down it can cost a lot of money. You want to find that device and you want to work out what the issue is. If you’re using outdated Excel spread sheets, it’s a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Are you hearing anything from your clients about compliance? I would think compliance would be a big issue, specifically for the financial services business, but for any business that depreciates their assets.
I think more and more there’s a push on compliance, with businesses taking more ownership for the full lifecycle of the equipment they have. How can you be sure that you’re managing your data security properly if you don’t actually know where your assets are located? A lot of people use spreadsheets for data that they can’t be sure is accurate. I see a lot of legislation coming in the future putting more ownership on data center owners and businesses in general to have accurate records.
Are you seeing anything around security, such as not knowing where assets are physically located or thinking that they’ve been decommissioned when they’re still working?
Hard drives these days can contain confidential data and if a device is decommissioned and you don’t have accurate tracking of where that device went and how it was disposed of, all of a sudden that data crops up. This is where you hear bad stories in the press about data that’s been found in a dump somewhere, and it turns out to be bank records or account details. We track assets throughout their lifecycle and then at the end of their lives have a document attached to show that they’ve been properly disposed of.
From a Trackit perspective, give me an idea of the envelope of the solution, what you guys do from end to end, how you differentiate yourselves.
A lot of solutions on the market are focused on the high-end features vs. low-level raw data collection–things like worrying about graphical dashboards instead of focusing on asset management. If you build a house you wouldn’t build the house from the roof down. You have to start with the core, asset management. You have to start with good quality data and you have to have a mechanism to maintain good quality data. Once you have that, then you can layer on other things.
We like to take people on a journey, and that journey begins with a data collection workshop that introduces our approach, typically a one-day workshop. In the workshop we look at what the customer is doing now for asset management. We present some best practices and then we come to a decision with them about what they want to achieve, how they can maintain that, and the standards that can be adopted to maintain the system accurately.
We want to find a way for the customer to maintain good asset quality first, and once they’ve done that for a set period of time we look at whatever layers can be added on, such as intelligence sources that can be polled internally or sniffers and devices on the network that can collect information. We also look at power audits and network connection audits that give even more granular information and permit more complex reports. Then we can build reports and dashboards that help the customer get the benefits of that good quality data. It’s very much a phased approach. We like to say we take customers on a journey. We start at the very beginning, set standards, understand what it takes to get and maintain good quality data, and then take that through a full lifecycle so the customer gets value out of it very quickly.
Can you give me a use case? Where was the client before Trackit and after Trackit? What did the journey result in for that client?
Over the last eight years we’ve done some big global projects, with clients including the world’s leading banks, retailers, and telecoms. We had a customer recently that for six months had been trying to get data to deploy on a site. It was about 500 racks, around 11,000 devices. The issue was that the in-house teams were trying to collect data as well as doing their day jobs. It wasn’t happening. We went in—in a two-week period, we collected 11,500 devices. A team of five, which is one administrator and four auditors, will collect in excess of 1000 devices per day. Every device we hit is QAed by the audit administrator. Every time a device is audited it’s timestamped and user stamped. We have a full tracking history. All the data is in a cloud environment that we hold for customers, and it’s visible at the end of every working day. There’s no waiting around, there’s no time lapse, it’s instantly available, instantly viewable, and that data can then be exported or it can be maintained and managed in the cloud. It provides real value for money straight away.
During these operations they’re still doing move, adds, and changes?
Typically, what we do is put a change process in place so that the customer is recording their changes while we conduct an audit. We don’t want the changes to affect anything, so we like to make sure the data’s contained and not causing a problem.
So can you do an audit anywhere in the world?
There’s no limit. We’ve completed audits in Australia, Brazil, China, Singapore, India, and all over the US. We deploy teams wherever there’s a requirement. Very small sites to very large. It’s critical for all sites to know what’s there and what equipment they have.
What about pricing? How do you price the product?
The auditing service is priced per device cost, so typically what we do is go out to a customer and conduct a pre-audit survey. We can deliver a project plan to the customer with timing, resource structure, and associated costs. We offer several different flavors of solutions, and we sell bundled kits. We’ve got some of the biggest banks around the world using those for their asset management in conjunction with their DCIM tools. Then we have our Enterprise solution, which can be a fully housed cloud service that we manage. You can access it via the web, or you can have it hosted internally. Different flavors. One size doesn’t fit all. We have a completely different approach for banks, for telecoms, for small telecoms, for daily trading rooms. We have different technologies, different sets of equipment, some of which are very bespoke. It really is about just what fits the customer.
How would someone get more information about Trackit?
Get in touch via:
Data asset management and good quality data are important. This is a solution that’s been grown and developed over the last eight years, it’s very mature, it’s very tried and tested, we have very good case studies and very good customer stories that we can share.