|Installing temperature monitors in the data center usually means stringing cables from the monitor base to the temperature probes. One probe needs one cable. If you add more probes for humidity, smoke, flood, or other environmental factors, you can wind up with an awful lot of cables.
One recently introduced product from AVTECH Software (401/847-6700; AVTECH.com), a maker of environmental monitors and software, aims to reduce all that cabling. The Room Alert 26W replaces cables with short-range wireless technology, which allows AVTECH sensor probes to communicate over a private, ZigBee-compatible protocol to the base unit. The monitor relies on a Wireless Sensor Hub, or WiSH, and antenna to send a signal of up to 250 feet. It can also support direct connection of cables via 26 built-in sensor ports and contact sets. The WiSH unit is battery-powered and comes with a built-in temperature sensor.
Senior product specialist Michael Sigourney says that the chief purchasers of the Room Alert 26W have been mostly large and mid-sized enterprises attracted to its wide range of monitoring functions, as well as its wireless technology. The wireless capability reduces the amount of cables that have to be laid, making installation faster and easier.
"One of the hidden traps when you buy a monitor is that you have to run cables. So imagine you're the manager of a data center and you have to wait until after hours to run cables through the ceiling or drill through the wall. It takes time, and you get dirty," says Sigourney. "With wireless sensors, you just hang them on a hook or set them on a rack."
For customers who want the extra monitoring support of the 26W but can't use the wireless technology-such as government agencies that are prevented by law from sending data over a wireless network AVTECH also makes the Room Alert 26WO, for "without wireless," which omits WiSH and uses only the direct connect ports. Both versions are bundled with a license for the company's PageR Enterprise network monitoring and management software.
The Need For Monitoring
Despite the availability of high-end, multi-sensor monitors such as the Room Alert 26W and 26WO, many companies fail to do adequate monitoring until after there's a data center failure. Smaller companies in particular are more likely to put off buying a monitor, says Sigourney. When they do realize there's a problem, the typical response is to buy in at the lower end of the monitoring market. AVTECH's low-end monitor, the TemPageR for temperature monitoring, is a popular option for first-time customers.
"People never think about environmental monitoring until there's a disaster, and the No. 1 problem they have is simply air-conditioning failure," says Sigourney. "The TemPageR is perfect for the guy who comes in Monday morning, finds the systems are down, the air conditioning has failed, and says, 'I must have something tomorrow that tells me if we have a problem or else my job is on the line.'"
For data center managers with large amounts of equipment to maintain or critical applications that absolutely can't go down, the 26W and 26WO have a lot to offer. Both units are capable of monitoring a wide range of environmental sensors they support, including temperature, humidity, power, and flood. The built-in features include a UPS in case of a major power failure, digital temperature monitoring, digital humidity monitoring, power monitoring, and a flood sensor. They also have 16 switch sensors in back and an additional six digital sensors in front. Those sensors can support any of AVTECH's a la carte probes for smoke, sound, light, flood, motion, and airflow.
The amount of data that can be gathered and tracked with a device such as the 26W can help remote IT managers understand exactly what is happening-a flood vs. a spill or an AC outage vs. a broken server fan.
"You can learn a lot of things [by monitoring multiple factors]," notes Michael Petrino of PTS Data Center Solutions (www.PTSDCS.com). "You can track the rate of change, for instance, so if the temperature rises by 5 degrees inside of 10 minutes, you know something is happening and could set an alarm on that. You could look for floor water from leaks with spot leak sensors. It helps to get those alerts and shut services down, if need be, before they crash."
Petrino suggests deploying a monitoring system that can track conditions in each data center room, row, and cabinet cooling zone. "Once effective cooling performance is established for a particular load profile, it will change rapidly. So it's important to compile trending data for all environmental parameters for a site so that moves, adds, and changes can be executed quickly," he notes.
Petrino advises putting a temperature sensor to monitor the temperature of the inlet air at each RLU (Rack Location Unit), plus one or two sensors per row to monitor the outlet air temperature.
A Central View Of Data
Along with monitors for temperature and humidity, Petrino suggests investing in a comprehensive IP-based monitoring package. Monitoring applications can help to centralize the data onto one interface or dashboard, as well as graphically display data trends and highlight problems.
The AVTECH PageR software, which comes with all of the company's Room Alert products, monitors a range of devices on a TCP/IP network. It provides a Web interface that data center managers can use to check status remotely, as well as receive alerts. It provides an event console for filtering and displaying status and event information and to start applications, issue commands, or run scripts when events occur.
Besides monitoring power supply and environmental conditions, the software can also display information on the status of critical applications, remote servers, network connections, disk space, and bandwidth.
Next Release: Long-Distance Wireless
Next month, AVTECH plans to release a Wireless Sensor Hub and Powered Relay, aka WiSPR, which will extend the range of the wireless signal. Each WiSPR unit will have the ability to send information up to 350 feet. By putting four WiSPR units in a line, it's possible to get a maximum wireless signal range of 1,500 feet, although that range may be reduced if the signal has to go through walls or other obstacles.
"We're writing the software to allow each WiSPR to take a signal from another device and pass it along the chain. It will expand the distance dramatically," says Sigourney.