In order for a data center to function at the optimal level, the environment — meaning the temperature and humidity levels — must be maintained to precise specifications. A data center that’s too hot, cold, moist, or dry can affect the functioning of expensive equipment and lead to costly repairs and downtime.
There is some disagreement among experts about what actually constitutes the “ideal” temperature for a data center, with some arguing for cooler temperatures while others claim that a few extra degrees won’t make much of a difference in terms of functionality but can lead to significant energy savings. However, whatever is deemed the perfect temperature for the data center, keeping it there is of paramount importance. And in order to ensure that all of the environmental factors are exactly where they should be, data centers must rely on environmental monitoring.
Environmental Monitoring in the Data Center
At home, you usually rely on your own comfort level to determine whether to raise or lower the thermostat. Too cold, you turn on the furnace. Too warm, you crank up the air conditioner. Thanks to modern technology, though, it’s easy to keep track of your home’s temperature even when you aren’t there. If you have the right systems installed, you can easily monitor and adjust the temperature inside your home right from your desk at work or your smartphone. That way, you can save energy by keeping your home on the cool side during the day and turning up the heat when you’re on your way home from the office so it’s comfortable when you arrive.
Environmental monitoring in the data center follows a similar concept, only the monitoring takes place 24/7 and is adjusted automatically as necessary. Using sensors that are placed strategically around the server racks, data center managers can ensure that the environment is maintained at the proper levels throughout the day. Ideally, sensors are placed in places where temperature and moisture levels tend to fluctuate, including the floor, the top of server racks, and server air intake vents.
These sensors are connected to the HVAC system controls, which adjust temperature and fan speeds as necessary. Temperature sensors are also closely linked to humidity controls; not only can excess moisture damage equipment, but air that is too dry can potentially cause a buildup of static electricity, which can cause significant damage if not appropriately discharged.
However, temperature is not the only factor that needs to be monitored. Airflow is vital in the data center, as well. Airflow that’s not controlled could create pockets of hot air that could damage equipment, or prevent the cooling system from working efficiently. Environmental monitoring sensors keep track of the airflow under and around server racks, ensuring that the air is moving correctly and not overheating sensitive equipment.
Finally, environmental sensors monitor the data center environment for other hazards, including smoke, fire, and water. The ideal data center is equipped with fire suppression systems that allow for blazes in one area of the data center to be extinguished without disrupting operations in other areas. This is where environmental sensors differ from the standard smoke detector/sprinkler fire management system. Where a smoke detector might detect a problem in somewhere in the data center, which then needs to be located in order to be extinguished, environmental monitoring pinpoints the exact location of the fire and automatically launches the suppression system, protecting the data center’s other assets.
Why Environmental Monitoring Is Important
The most obvious benefit of a comprehensive environmental monitoring system is the prevention of problems. Fire and water are the most obvious problems to avoid at all costs, but overheating and static electricity can also lead to costly short circuits, corrosion, and other failures.
Of perhaps greater benefit, though, is the cost savings associated with environmental monitoring. Because the sensors ensure that the equipment operates within the optimal environment, equipment lasts longer and thus clients do not face major expenditures for new equipment, at least not for environment-related failures or repairs. Downtime is drastically reduced as well, preventing losses — and of course, you cannot overlook the energy savings. Because sensors can eliminate or adjust for factors that affect temperature, such as humidity, there’s no need to overcompensate by keeping the thermostat set at “meat locker.” In fact, studies show that data centers can reduce energy expenditures by an average of 4 percent for every degree by which they raise the thermostat, allowing them to pass the savings on to clients.
So between cost savings, reduced downtime, and equipment maintenance, environmental monitoring is a worthwhile investment for any data center. Before you contract with a provider, inquire about their monitoring protocols to ensure that your equipment and business are as protected as possible.