Manage a Data Center Virtually in 3-D

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-02-20

Manage a Data Center Virtually in 3-D

Imagine being able to control a company's data center through an avatar, a digital projection of a person.

IBM has made this possible. Fresh from IBM's research lab in Hawthorne, N.Y., the 3-D Data Center application allows IT experts to use virtual reality technology to manage data center resources from remote locations all over the world without leaving their offices.

The 3-D Data Center is a three-dimensional replica of servers, racks, networking, power and cooling equipment. The application lets IT managers' avatars rove server rooms to check various server gear.

Users can open and close rack-mounted server doors with a couple of mouse clicks. 3-D widgets slide out like drawers in a server to show the host name, CPU and memory utilization, said IBM Researcher Michael Osias, architect of the 3-D data center service.

Click here for 3-D Data Center images. 

To enable users to visualize server hot spots, a thermal widget is represented as a flame to indicate overheating areas that must be cooled down, Osias said.

Alerts are streamed from systems management software, such as IBM's Tivoli or Hewlett-Packard's OpenView, to the 3-D Data Center, which renders them as klaxon alarms or spinning lights. Users can check the systems individually or click for the total data center status.

IT staffers can put the kibosh on machines that aren't needed, distribute workload between data centers and move processing to cooler sites, all without having to be physically present.

For example, the software lets users send a message from the virtual world about the physical device to IBM's Director software to get a server shut down.

In addition to managing live systems, IT staffers can conduct simulations of space, power and cooling planning, and disaster recovery scenarios. Users can move data center assets, interact with them and infuse them with real or simulated data.

App Could Be a Boon

Such an application could be a boon at a time when data centers are often sprawled across different buildings, cities or countries. IT workers, who are pulled in several directions to work on different projects, can't physically be two places at once; 3-D Data Center is designed to make it so that they don't have to be.

Virtual reality is popular among gamers, thanks to Linden Lab's Second Life and other applications. With 3-D Data Center, IBM's goal is to apply the virtual technology paradigm to real-life enterprise IT scenarios.

Virtual worlds aren't as fun and interesting if there aren't any other people playing in them. IBM's 3-D Data Center features instant messaging to let users carry on active discussions in-world.

This type of collaboration is much faster than the traditional practice of exchanging messages and two-dimensional drawings via e-mail. Osias said the company is testing audio capabilities in 3-D Data Center prototypes but is not offering them yet.

Some IBM customers have already taken the 3-D Data Center for a test drive. Implenia, a Swiss real estate management company, used the software in eight pilot sites to monitor its customers' servers, security and HVAC systems.

For the most part, functionality in the 3-D Data Center is currently limited to monitoring, but Osias said the company will eventually add the ability to provision servers and other tasks.

IBM is offering its 3-D Data Center, based on the OpenSim Application Platform, in a beta test now. Ultimately, IBM's Global Services unit will charge for the hours its engineers put in to set up the application for customers.

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