Monitor The EnvironmentMeasuring Temp, Humidity Elements In Your Data Center Is Critical
By Ericka Chickowski - Processor - Vol.27 Issue 50
When it comes to cooling the small to medium-sized enterprise data center, many IT staffers would prefer to install and forget all of that expensive environmental equipment. Unfortunately, the data center is not a static environment. When new equipment is brought in after the environmental equipment has been installed, the new configuration can have unforeseen effects on the cooling setup. And even if the current configuration stays the same, there is always a possibility that the cooling and humidity equipment will malfunction or that it was not put in correctly in the first place.
The only way to measure the effectiveness of your environmental equipment is to properly install and utilize environmental monitoring systems. Without these tools, your environmental strategy is just a guessing game—and a big gamble for your investments.
“Monitoring can be a very important component, but it is an added expense in many people’s eyes,” says Robert McFarlane, a data center design expert and president of the Interport Division at Shen Milsom & Wilke, an international consulting and design firm. “Getting people to implement universally at all but the highest levels of enterprises is a challenge.”
Michael Sigourney of Avtech agrees. The founder of this environmental monitoring equipment manufacturer says that 80% of his new customers buy product after they’ve had a major event in the data center. At that point, they’ve already lost equipment to physical problems such as overheating, moisture, or fire. “People aren’t looking for these solutions until they have a problem,” Sigourney says. “If you think about it, you usually don’t look for a dentist until you have a toothache. Unfortunately, it is the same way in our field.”
Do It Right
Fortunately, things are changing, according to McFarlane. Companies such as Avtech are introducing products that are affordable and easier to use than in the past. As a result, data center managers are realizing that the “added expense” of monitoring equipment is negligible compared to the peace of mind it gives. McFarlane notes, though, that when purchasing monitoring systems, people should be wary of giving themselves a false sense of security. The only way monitoring will be effective is if IT knows where to put the monitors and how to utilize the data that they produce.
“The biggest difficulty with implementing monitoring devices is that very few people have a clue as to where to put the monitors and probes,” McFarlane says. “They might buy five or 10 probes and spread them out randomly through the center, maybe sticking one in each cabinet. But who knows if they are measuring in the right places. If they put them in front of a fan, for example, that monitor is probably not telling them anything important—just the temperature of the air as it is cooled.”
Without measuring from the right locations, McFarlane emphasizes that it is difficult to say whether all of your equipment is truly in the optimal environmental state. “Otherwise, the data is giving you false information, useless information, or no information at all,” McFarlane says of a poor monitoring configuration.
When you’re installing the probes, McFarlane suggests consulting information provided by ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) for advice in this matter. ASHRAE’s Technical Committee 9.9 specializes in mission-critical facilities, technology spaces, and electronic equipment. The document produced by this committee, entitled “Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments,” provides nine different optimal locations within a cabinet to place monitoring probes.
McFarlane realizes the logistical realities of the data center, though. “ASHRAE defines nine locations, but nobody is going to put nine probes in every cabinet they have,” he says. “But you can move some of your probes around to these locations if you have a newly installed cabinet or something you think is giving you problems, say [if] a certain machine is giving you an inordinate number of errors. It is foolish to invest in this kind of hardware and then leave it in one place—it’s a tool like anything else.”
McFarlane also notes that if a business is going to invest in monitoring systems, it must actually manage them to get a benefit from that expense. “All of this monitoring can add up to quite a bit of money that you don’t consider in an initial budget,” he says. “Unless it is managed, it is nothing more than data, rather than being information. Data does not become information until properly processed and utilized. And if you can’t turn it into information, there is no use to have the data in the first place.”
Keep Things Balanced
If you are just now considering monitoring because of a previous environmental event, McFarlane has one last bit of advice in terms of monitoring. “One of the things that I preach about is just because you have had a particular occurrence, don’t go running in and spending 70% of your budget to beef up that item,” he says. “Don’t overdo one area and neglect another.”
A well-balanced monitoring strategy will not only include temperature monitoring but will also track humidity, power, and air conditioning performance and will alert at the earliest stages of combustion.