Environmental Monitoring in the Data Center

In terms of heat, humidity, cooling, airflow, water, and other environmental conditions in the data center, what are common environmental monitoring mistakes enterprises make regarding these conditions?

Oftentimes, data center managers will use environmental monitoring solutions at the room level, but not at the rack level. The most common environmental concern to take place within the rack itself is the overheating of equipment. If there is not a monitoring system in place within the cabinet to detect and alert personnel of rising temperatures inside, chances are that by the time the ambient monitoring system detects the temperature change, the equipment inside the rack will already have sustained damage.

Because heat is indeed such a concern within the data center, many data center managers put so much time and effort into monitoring it that they neglect to look after another common environmental concern: humidity. The humidity levels within the data center need to be just right; if they are too low, you are more likely to encounter the occurrence of electrostatic discharge, but if they are too high, the condensation produced as a result can damage your equipment. It is very important to closely monitor humidity levels, inside and outside of the rack.

-Why do these mistakes generally occur?

For the most part, these mistakes generally occur as the result of trying to reduce costs, as it is far cheaper to monitor just the ambient environment than it is to have monitoring at the rack level. There are some cases where data center personnel just do not understand fully how to utilize the monitoring equipment, and as a result, alarms are not set to the appropriate levels (or set at all). A smaller amount of issues can arise from misplaced sensors or faulty equipment, so it is important to test your monitoring equipment from time to time.

-On average, how good of a grasp do enterprises have on their data center’s environment regarding heat, humidity, cooling, airflow, water, etc.?

Most larger enterprises tend to have a better grasp on their data center environments than SME’s do, since they generally have larger budgets allocated to IT; this allows them to invest in the appropriate monitoring equipment, as well as the appropriate staffing levels to keep tabs on all aspects of the data center’s health. This is not always the case for SME’s, however, so they often times do not have as much insight regarding the environment, outside of the ambient room conditions.

-What is your best advice for enterprises to gain better control of their data center environment?

Do not try to skirt costs by implementing or maintaining an environmental monitoring system that does not cover all of the bases. A good, comprehensive monitoring system will allow you to keep tabs on temperature and humidity, as well as alert you to abnormal conditions such as leakages or smoke (not to mention physical concerns, such as motion, power, cabinet/room access, etc.). Once your system is in place, make sure you understand how to use it properly. With the help of a manufacturer’s representative, training videos, literature, etc., you will want to confirm that you understand all of the various settings and reports that it offers, which will allow you to utilize the system to its fullest.

-Outside of cooling and airflow, what is the single most important environmental-related issue data center managers must be on top of?

Second to temperature and humidity, the most important environmental-related issue to be cognizant of would be water. While there is not much chance of a flash flood occurring within the data center environment, one huge concern is leaks from either the chiller/CRAC lines. You will want to make sure that you have water sensors located both inside and outside of the racks, generally at lower points. This will alert you to any water line breaks, as well as any condensation that might be accumulating due to high humidity levels.

-What advice do you have for enterprises that want to improve in this area but are operating with limited resources, manpower, and other limitations?

In a perfect world, every possible aspect of the data center environment should be monitored. However, if that is not possible, utilizing a system that will allow you to add on certain monitoring tools later might be a good way to go. Many systems offer a base physical monitor to which you will add whichever probes/detectors you would like (temperature, humidity, smoke, liquid, etc.). If you already have temperature or humidity probes in place from, say, your PDUs, then you might not need to invest in them for your monitoring system. If there are not any overhead pipes or anything running through your data center, then a liquid sensor might not be an immediate need. As some point in the future, you will want to make sure that all of the bases are covered, but if you are working with limited funds or manpower, building the system piece by piece with the most relevant pieces first will help you to begin gaining an understanding of the data center environment.

If you have questions about rack monitoring, contact sales@rackmountsolutions.net or call us toll free 1-866-207-6631.  www.rackmountsolutions.net

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