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Server Rack Forecast: The Weather Is Fine in Rack 59



Monitoring rack environments is essential for any data center management strategy, driving new insights on how data center operators and IT managers can continually optimize facilities and reduce operating costs.

In the world of news radio, it’s not Blog_ RackEnviro_PDU_May31.jpguncommon to hear traffic and weather reports frequently throughout the hour. In the data center world, the weather is reported in real time.

While some people may scratch their head at that comment, monitoring the data center environment, especially down to the rack level, is critical on many fronts ranging from enhanced uptime to new-found cost savings.

Typically, external network threats get the lion’s share of attention, but abnormal environmental factors involving heat, humidity, power and other items can be just as devastating to the critical networking and compute equipment in the rack. In fact, environmentally-related issues account for roughly one-third of all server-outage incidents.

Monitoring racks, from security to environmental aspects, is essential for any data center management strategy. The ability to perform real-time monitoring of power, temperature, humidity, security and a variety of other elements allows IT and data center managers to have ample pre-warning regarding potential threats to availability and up-time.

But even more these days, beyond the aspect of critical availability, data center and rack monitoring solutions are now driving new insights on how data center operators and IT managers can continually optimize their facilities and reduce operating costs.

Hot as Texas in July

environment_hot.jpgIt’s hot inside a rack, and it’s getting hotter. While many data centers typically have their ambient temperature somewhere between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures inside the racks themselves can be exceedingly hot. 

ASHRAE (a handy acronym for the exhausting name of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) produces an ever-evolving set of environmental ranges and standards for data center cooling. Within those standards, it’s not uncommon for some typical data center servers to comply with some of the highest ASHRAE ratings, with operating certifications exceeding 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

As IT equipment continues to evolve to handle hotter environments, the potential for data center operators to save money by using less air conditioning is becoming more and more of an attractive opportunity, and the demand for more efficient and cost effective computing has driven organizations large and small to reevaluate their data center cooling strategies.

How much of a savings?  Some research indicates that data centers can save roughly 4-5% in energy costs for every one-degree increase in the ambient air temperature that a rack intakes. Depending on the size of the data center, that can translate into some significant dollars.

However, not everything in the rack can take those higher temperatures. For example, long-term temperature increases are especially problematic for UPS batteries, and some estimates indicate that the service life of a typical UPS battery may decrease by up to 50 percent when the ambient temperature increases from about 80°F to 90°F.

So, what’s a data center operator supposed to do? The ability to monitor temperatures inside the rack at multiple locations in real time is the foundation for being able to create the optimal balance of cost-saving cooling and performance of IT equipment.

The interior of the rack is its own little ecosystem, many times with widely varying temperatures from the top to the bottom, and the front to the rear. Typically, optimal temperature monitoring strategies include multiple temperature sensors that are placed near the top, middle, and bottom of a rack for both the front and the rear areas. This allows an IT manager to measure the temperature of the air being brought into the front of a rack as well as the temperature being exhausted from the back of the rack.  And since heat rises, temperatures can be monitored from the top to the bottom as well.

environment_cold.jpgBy strategically placing these temperature sensors throughout the rack, IT managers can create a comprehensive, holistic view of the entire rack’s temperature profile, and adjust a variety of factors such as cooling, power and compute performance to maintain that optimal balance.

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity

We’ve all heard the old adage of humidity being the culprit with regards to your personal level of comfort (or discomfort as the case may be) with the current air temperature. 

Your IT equipment thinks so too.  As we already noted, rack temperatures are closely watched.  However, monitoring humidity inside the rack is sometimes overlooked.  So, why is the right level of humidity important? 

Cooling systems typically remove moisture from the air, and in some cases can lead to extremely dry conditions which are ripe for creating static electricity. It should be no surprise that static discharges around IT equipment are not a good mix.  To combat this, cooling systems often add moisture to the conditioned air. Conversely, overly humid conditions that can lead to condensation buildup.  Add too much moisture to the air and your IT equipment might collect condensation that can cause electrical shorts.

Just like with temperature, real-time monitoring of humidity inside the rack can help IT and facility managers get the balance right.

The 100-year flood

It goes without saying that water and electricity don’t mix well, and little probably needs to be said about the dangers that various types fluids pose to IT equipment.  

Broken water pipes, leaking cooling systems, and a variety of other causes of flooding could be catastrophic to equipment in a rack, and the ability to have advanced warning of liquids threatening a rack can give IT managers ample time for mission-critical systems to be protected.

A secure rack is a safe rack

In one of my blogs, I talked about the growing demand for high-tech rack security.  Physical security is critical to any serious data security program. In addition to the advanced type of locking mechanisms for racks, physical intrusion detection systems can provide another level of deterrent to data and equipment theft.  

Sensors that can detect an open door or panel on a rack can trigger a variety of events such as alarms, signals to an IT manager and webcams.

Beyond these basic (but critical) areas of environmental monitoring for racks, there are numerous other types of monitoring that can be employed for things such as smoke and fire detection, vibration detection for earthquake-prone locations, and airflow pressure monitoring to ensure the right amount of air is being pushed through the rack, just to name a few.

Environmental monitoring for racks can be implemented in a variety of ways. To facilitate a comprehensive and consolidated solution for customers, HPE implements many of these monitoring solutions via our G2 Power Distribution Units.  This strategy allows customers to have a better holistic view of all their key environmental factors, including their critical power distribution, integrated with the rest of their overall IT management views.

So, regardless if you’re a small business with one rack or an enterprise-class data center, keeping an eye on your IT equipment’s environment can not only keep your operation running, it can put a few dollars back in your pocket.

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About the Author


Michael Pratt’s passion is helping customers go further. His job is making products that make servers go further. He spends his days connecting the two.