|Environmental Problems are the main causes of data center downtime. When environmental conditions are not perfect-or worse, out of control-equipment, productivity, and the data center budget are all affected. Indeed, there is a science to implementing the right environmental monitoring solution for the data center, but every data center is not the same. Knowing where to begin, what tools to use, and understanding the benefits and pitfalls, can help you manage risk, make the data center more comfortable, and save you huge headaches down the road.
Understand The Basics
For Dave Ruede, vice president of sales and marketing with Temperature@lert (www.TemperatureAlert.com), getting started with environmental monitoring is much like deciding which temperature in your home is most comfortable. "For data centers, server and telecommunication rooms, this can be as simple as taking a look at the thermostat in the room, which will tell you the temperature at that location. From there, collecting data for a baseline is the next step. But temperatures in data centers and even server racks and aisles can vary significantly."
Ruede says taking a baseline will require measuring temperatures in several places, near the floor, ceiling, at the outlet of the AC registers, and for a complete data set, at the bottom and top of server racks both inside and outside.
According to Bob Douglass, vice president of sales and marketing at Sensaphone (www.Sensaphone.com), the first step is always to determine your needs. "That may sound simple and obvious," Douglass notes, "but there are usually more things to consider up front than most people realize." Although people typically think of temperature first, Douglass says, there are other issues that need to be considered, such as humidity, which can produce condensation or corrosion and shorten the lifetime of electronics. Other issues can arise from city power or UPS failure, and airflow issues such as smoke and fire. "In the event of an actual fire, who is contacted first? It is not always the IT staff responsible for implementing the disaster recovery plan," Douglass says.
Understand The EnvironmentMichael Sigourney, Sr Product Specialist at AVTECH Software (www.AVTECH.com), says he recommends that IT and data center managers "know thy facility." "The first thing an IT or facilities manager needs to consider and create is an understanding of the basic layout and elements, both structure and equipment, within their facility," he says. "Knowing where threats are likely to occur or have occurred in the past is key to planning success. Environmental monitoring is not a ‘one size fits all' scenario, as each facility is unique."
Sigourney says as equipment is relocated or replaced over time, the environmental structure of a facility changes and will likely require changes in sensor location, a need for additional sensors, changes in cooling, or other considerations in order to maintain effective monitoring.
The most important information companies can consider before getting started, in the opinion of Temperature@lert’s Ruede, is the history of the data center, server or telecommunication room’s operation related to environmental monitoring. Ruede suggests questioning issues such as the reliability of the location’s power company; potential power interruptions due to thunderstorms, the status of the facility’s electrical systems and equipment; and whether or not cooling systems can maintain during peak demand periods.
Understand The Tools
After evaluating your needs and analyzing your vulnerabilities, Sensaphone’s Douglass says you should choose a vendor and basic platform to work from. "Most systems will involve some sort of base hardware device that sensors connect to, and that also handles the communications," he says. "The next step is to start planning sensor types and locations, start buying, and start installing." One further optional step, Douglass notes, is to consider integration into your existing network management software using SNMP. "This investment is only time, but is well worth while." One thing to be careful of, Douglass says, is equipment dependencies. For example, monitoring systems that operate on a server or PC would be useless if the server went down. And wireless sensors should use their own Wi-Fi network to ensure operation during power failures. He says built-in battery backup is never a bad thing with monitoring products.
In AVTECH’s Sigourney’s opinion, after a facility has been analyzed, it is important to look for a solution that will meet both current monitoring requirements and allow room for future expansion as needs change. There are several environmental monitoring options available for SMEs, he says. "Whether a manager is looking to monitor temperature only, desires a wireless solution capable of monitoring up to 100 sensors, or something in between, an environmental monitoring solution typically includes the following key components: a monitor, sensors, software, and support services."
Sigourney points out that some vendors don’t provide software, although their products can still be monitored using third party SNMP-based software. In his opinion, the best solutions include software. "This prevents wasted time trying to get hardware and software from two vendors working together."
Costs & Benefits
According to Douglass, environmental monitoring costs can range from a few hundred dollars for a simple monitor to $3000 or more for an expandable enterprise system. Ruede says costs largely depend on the number and type of sensors deployed and how they are monitored.
At the end of the day, Sigourney says the benefits of installing an environmental monitoring solution include a faster response to potential disasters, reduced downtime, lower ongoing management costs, reduced overtime and perhaps most important, peace of mind. He says the pitfalls of not installing an environmental monitoring solution can be expensive hardware replacement, unexpected downtime, working overtime unexpectedly, or looking like your organization is out of business.