By Richard Grundy, Director of Engineering, AVTECH
Every data center operator knows how critical it is to monitor the temperature in their facility. A quick spike of only a few degrees can put undue stress on cooling systems and sensitive equipment, especially during warmer weather or in naturally hot climates.
While many data center operators actively monitor their facilities’ temperature, we’ve found that a good number of facilities aren’t monitoring other environmental factors as closely. Humidity, flood, smoke, and air flow are all critical factors that can impact a data center’s ability to operate. Just like a sudden change in temperature, changes in these elements can all spell disaster if not addressed immediately.
Let’s take a look at some of the critical factors in environment monitoring.
Temperature monitoring is always the environment factor most closely monitored by data centers. The recommended temperature range is 64° to 81°F (18° to 27°C), with most facilities opting to maintain temperatures in the upper 70s. This range is slightly higher than it was in previous years, allowing many facilities to save costs on power and cooling.
With higher recommended average temperatures come the risk of temperatures quickly escalating in the event of cooling failure. Given the higher average data center temperatures, the aspect of hardware loss due to heat failure rises significantly. This makes it absolutely crucial that data centers closely monitor their temperatures and be proactively alerted to any abnormal swings in either direction.
Temperature and humidity monitoring go hand-in-hand. As temperatures fluctuate, so does the ambient humidity in the data center. Too little humidity below the 30% RH (Relative Humidity) range and the data center runs the risk of Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) damage. Too much humidity above the 70% RH range can lead to condensation and equipment corrosion, if not outright failure.
Maintaining the proper balance is important to ensuring a well-maintained data center. Being alerted once the humidity nears either of the levels above will help ensure a proper environment for servers and appliances.
Water damage can come from a variety of sources. Inclement weather can bring torrential rains and possible flooding in coastal areas, a major concern for low-lying data centers. Burst pipes within a building can flood floors or cause water to cascade down walls, or worse, server cabinets. A malfunctioning cooling unit can leak water into a data center, raising the humidity significantly or posing a slip and fall hazard.
Monitoring for water and liquid in key areas of a data center can help warn of unknown issues before they can cause too much damage or water loss. Being alerted by flood sensors can help prevent a small water problem from becoming a very big water problem.
In a data center environment, even a little smoke is too much smoke. Many times smoke is introduced due to an electrical problem or equipment failure that can quickly spiral into a much bigger problem. Overloaded uninterruptible power supplies can fail catastrophically, or another tenant in the building may do something to cause an actual fire.
If any smoke is detected within your data center it’s crucial to be notified immediately and quickly resolve whatever has caused it. Even a few minutes in detection and notification can mean the difference between a minor disruption and total hardware loss.
Maintaining proper air flow helps cooling systems keep a data center evenly cooled, while allowing for the proper exhaust of hot air out of servers and network appliances. If that air flow gets restricted or cut off, significant issues can quickly pop up.
Cooling vents and ports are often strategically placed around a data center for maximum impact; monitoring the air flow from them can trigger alerts if the air flow levels dramatically decrease. Keeping an eye on air flow can help detect a cooling or other environment issue long before it becomes an actual problem.
Reporting and Trend Tracking
Proactive monitoring of all of the above factors in a data center’s environment is an important step towards protecting your facility and assets. Being alerted to an issue immediately helps stop small problems before they become larger ones. Tracking these environment factors over time and reviewing reports can be even more beneficial; noting a trend may help forecast a potential problem long before it happens.
As you begin collecting various data points and viewing reports, you’ll be able to set baselines for the major environment factors in your facility such as temperature, humidity, and air flow. Gradually rising temperatures over a short window of time may help predict a cooling issue before it actually becomes a service-affecting problem. Likewise, decreasing airflow may signal a problem with filters or equipment that can be addressed on your time frame, rather than as an after-hours emergency if a unit were to fail.
Companies with multiple locations often benefit the most from routinely reviewing environment monitoring reports. In many instances, some data centers may be unmanned due to size or location. Noticing any factor slowly trending in the wrong direction can let you proactively address a number of issues before they become a costly repair.
Cloud-based reporting software that’s compatible with multiple devices can easily monitor and report on your facilities, while providing you with a multitude of reports at your fingertips. Desktop and mobile access allow users to track factors and trends within a matter of minutes, providing peace of mind and in a worst-case scenario, an early warning. Addressing issues as routine maintenance rather than emergency repairs can be the difference between a short extra trip versus prolonged revenue-losing downtime.
Monitoring environment factors in your data center proactively can help you quickly address issues to help maintain maximum uptime. Make sure all of your critical employees are alerted by email and text alert whenever specific environment thresholds are crossed to ensure your data center’s uptime and reliability. Data and hardware loss due to environment factors can pose just as big a problem as human error. By monitoring as many environment factors as possible, you’ll help increase reliability and network availability in your data center.
About the Author:
Richard Grundy leads the design, development and manufacturing of all AVTECH (www.AVTECH.com) products including Room Alert, GoToMyDevices and Device ManageR, and manages all technology projects. He has over 15 years of experience with AVTECH and has handled responsibilities across the company throughout that tenure.