|How devastating can heat, humidity, airflow, electricity, and other environmental factors be to a data center? As equally devastating as viruses, spyware, and other network threats, says Mo Sheikh, marketing programs manager at ITWatchdogs. Implementing a low-cost, Web-enabled monitor, he says, can save hundreds of thousands of dollars by letting responders act before a disaster strikes. Michael Sigourney, senior product specialist at AVTECH (www.AVTECH.com), sees environmental monitoring as the responsible thing to do in today's real-time, online world. "History shows that the invisible hand of Mother Nature calls on all of us sooner or later, and when that occurs, she doesn't send a calling card in advance," he says. Read on for more on starting an environmental monitoring program.
Just Do It
Room entry, temperature, smoke, power, water, humidity, and airflow are issues arguably every enterprise should monitor. Of these, John Burk, vice president of Burk Technology, says temperature, humidity, and water, are most critical to monitor because "these three represent the most serious threats that aren't likely already accounted for."
Sigourney advises to first focus on "where the most expensive IT equipment is located," especially supporting high-level functions that the organization can't afford to lose. Sigourney also stresses that different types of facilities typically require different levels of monitoring or sensor types. A successful environmental monitoring implementation requires understanding the physical facility and equipment layout and knowing where threats are likely to occur or have occurred previously, he says. Also important are understanding desired objectives, creating a plan and working it, making adjustments as events occur or equipment is added, and periodically testing monitors.
Although SMEs "typically start their focus where they have the most pain or based on the latest disaster" and "the IT footprint is unique for every organization," Sigourney says, temperature is "something everyone needs and wants to monitor. The thing that is constant and heard every day is the tone of remorse that people have for not installing monitors earlier."
Monitor To Optimize
Once, environmental monitoring was purely about protecting against physical threats, says Chris Gaskins, RF Code vice president of product development. Today, data center efficiency and optimization are also focus areas. "You can't optimize something you don't measure, and you can't measure something you don't instrument," Gaskins says. Energy costs, space utilization, capacity planning, and systems automation are all optimization target areas, he says.
Among energy related costs, power used to cool the data center is one of the largest, Gaskins says. Overcool the data center, and too much energy is used. Reduce the cooling load and significant money can be saved, he says. "Statistics show that if the air intake temperature for IT equipment is reduced by as little as 1 degree, as much as 2% annual savings can be realized in energy costs." Raise temperatures too much, he says, and IT equipment may overheat and fail prematurely. "So, raising CRAC set points can't be safely accomplished without monitoring at a fine-grained level the temperature and humidity throughout the data center."
Gaskins says short- and long-range capacity planning requires understanding existing heat loads and airflows. "A temperature heat map is very valuable; it can show operators where cool spots and hot spots reside and allow operators to move IT computing loads and equipment to even out the data center cooling," Gaskins says. Do this by placing enough temperature, air pressure, and airflow sensors to get a granular level of monitoring. Gaskins says the more automation that's built into a data center, the more efficient operations will be because "automation frees up valuable, highly skilled resources to focus on nonstandard problems" and new projects.
Water & Humidity
Humidity is an environmental issue that's often overlooked, Burk says. "Low humidity increases the risk of an electrostatic discharge, which can cause anything from immediate equipment failure to troublesome intermittent problems," he says. Sheikh says moisture and humidity sensors should monitor for leaks inside cooling equipment and from nearby pipes and water resulting from a flood or disaster. Place water sensors at the lowest point where water would tend to puddle on the floor and underneath pipe junctions, he says. Also equip air conditioning condensation trays with sensors to detect overflow.
Sigourney says water damage from melting snow or rain coming through cracks dripping onto expensive electronic equipment can be a big surprise to IT. "Know your building and prepare for the unexpected. Repair older roofs or move equipment to safe locations," he says. Flooding, meanwhile, is a recurring threat to computer rooms that aren't designed to be computer rooms, he says. "This means adjoining restrooms or kitchenettes pose a threat if plumbing problems occur, and they will from time to time, allowing water to flow under walls and come into contact with cables and equipment."
Go Beyond The Room
Because temperatures change in IT environments by the rack and row, Sigourney says, it's critical to monitor temperatures in more locations within the room. Distributed telecom closets or building facilities housing HVAC equipment are frequently overlooked areas. "Managers need to learn that having one temperature sensor in the room provides a false confidence that will surely get them in trouble; it's just a matter of time, and the clock is ticking," he says.
Burk advises specifically focusing on rack temperatures vs. room temperatures. "Placing temperature sensors in each rack is affordable and eliminates the need for the safety net of overcooling," he says. He advises to place sensors on a rack's top and bottom to obtain a sense of ventilation in the rack. "Effective ventilation will result in low temperature differential."
Cam Rogers, vice president of domestic and international sales at RLE Technologies, warns data center managers to keep options open when it comes to sensors. "Make sure the system is flexible and can accept third-party sensors," he says. "This allows you to integrate sensors you may already have onsite and source/integrate sensors that may be more specific to your needs. Systems that require proprietary sensors or connectors will only limit your options."
Best Tip For Easy Implementation: Consider Wire-Free Or Open SolutionsChris Gaskins of RF Code suggests using wire-free monitoring solutions, which "are orders of magnitude easier to install, and sensors can be placed in ideal locations without you having to be concerned about wire management." Open solutions, meanwhile, can easily integrate with other applications (DCIM, BMS, etc.) or solutions, he says.
Best Cost-Savings Tip: Contain Cool Air With CurtainsMichael Sigourney of AVTECH says if the computer room or data center has exterior windows, install curtains to insulate against thermal loss. Close the curtains when temps are high outside and open them when cool. Depending on room size, window size, and the angle that the windows face the sun, "you may be able to harness free cooling or at least reduce the need for additional cooling during winter months by simply positioning the curtains effectively for the weather," he says.