Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Be Heat Sensitive: Stop Your Server/Network Room from Turning into an Oven

Alternate Title: 
Be Heat Sensitive: 5 Criteria for Choosing a Temperature Gauge for Your Server Room

Problem: Do any of you use any inexpensive room temperature monitors that can send you an SMS text message when the room reaches a certain temperature?

“The air conditioning can’t keep up with the Texas heat,” shared a colleague last scorching summer. “If the temperature rises higher than 80 degrees, we start paying attention!” If you consistently run server/network equipment at high temperature (higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit), it is more likely to fail and the District will lose its significant investment, as well as experience down-time. As one Texas Technology Director put it:

“We’ve had our AC go out a few times in the server room even with a brand new unit.  I can’t afford to replace all the equipment and sure can’t afford down time.  If I know there is a temperature issue, I can come up here and turn everything off until the AC is fixed to prevent damage.”

This revelation immediately set everyone on edge--who wants to lose half a million dollars (or more) of equipment because the air conditioning units at a campus classroom, converted to a wide area network (WAN) room, couldn’t handle the heat?

And, disaster could be lurking around the corner, especially with fire sprinklers in gentleman asked, “How hot does it have to get in here before the sprinklers go off? We’d be really be up the creek then!” The short-term solution while the air conditioning unit was fixed was to put fans in the open, unsecured doorway of the WAN room and hope that this would do the job. This article explores how to monitor the problem barring implementation of definitive solutions to the problem.

Solutions abound for beating the Texas heat in server rooms, including some of the following:
  1. Constructing a building just to house a district’s Wide Area Network (WAN) Room;
  2. Install air conditioning unit just for the WAN Room, separate from the main building.
  3. Replace existing racks with self-cooled racks that consolidate space and eliminate the need for the equipment to rely on a school’s air conditioning units.

What other solutions would you suggest?

“Price is always an issue,” points out one Technology Director, “but less so for me in this case because of the value of the equipment being protected.” When you have hundreds of thousands of dollars in one room with critical data, you have to treat losing all of that to anything--including the Texas heat--as a disaster recovery event worth preventing.

If one of those 3 solutions isn’t tenable for the short-term, then, with a Texas hot summer on its way, you’ll want to consider monitoring the solution more closely. Several benefits of monitoring include the ability to gather data on the temperature if it rises above the maximum temperature allowed, as well as the ability to respond quickly and shut down critical equipment before it overheats.

“I used the data from these monitors to get the district to purchase me a back up air conditioner unit for my MDF!”  
Source: a Texas Technology Director

You can accomplish temperature monitoring with “smart” temperature gauges that will send SMS text messages via phone, as well as alerts via email. There are a variety of criteria, such as the features elaborated on in this product comparison chart by IT WatchDog for their own solutions.

Five criteria--suggested by Texas technology directors--that you should consider before selecting a temperature gauge for your server room include the following:

  1. Ease of Installation
  2. SMS Text Message to a Mobile Phone
  3. Price and Recurring Costs, if any
  4. Temperature Threshold for Alert to be sent
  5. Specific Sensing Parameters (e.g. presence of water, fire, tampering)

Note: The criteria and solutions offered in the chart are not meant to be exhaustive and you are encouraged to share your criteria and/or solution in the comments.

These temperature gauges will send out a message that looks like this:
NOC #1 Temp Alert temperature is out of range. The current temperature is 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
Current acceptable range is 68 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Link to device (fake)

Here are six temperature gauge solutions available and in-use in Texas school district server rooms include the following:
  • AVTech (
    • Cost: $145
    • Actual Feedback from School District: R26W for our NOC’s and RA3E’s for our MDF/IDF’s. The monitoring is setup to email us when temps exceed or drop below configured levels. There are wet and dry contact sensor options. The price point for the RA3E’s are $145.  Room Alert 3E-
  • IT WatchDog (
    • Cost: $ Price varies
    • Actual Feedback: I use IT Watchdog. Have had one in my server room for YEARS. I now use them for my refrigerators and freezers. It Watchdogs are very inexpensive.
  • Temperature Alert (
    • Cost: $299.99
    • Actual Feedback: Two of the WiFi Editions are installed, one in each of our network and server rooms. So far, so good!
  • Temperature Guard (
    • Cost: $450-$500
    • Actual Feedback: We have one of their Computer Room Guards and two of the Server Room Net Guards.   Easy to set up and so far very reliable.
    • Cost: $200-$300
    • Actual Feedback: Triplite temperature sensors are connected to our UPSes in all our IDF/MDFs. These report with temperature information to our Solarwind’s Orion SNMP trap. The Orion sends SMS messages at various temperatures and if the closet exceeds a maximum threshold, the Triplight UPSes shut off the network equipment before damage is done from the high temps. This works great and has really helped protect the district’s technology hardware. You do not have to use and SNMP trap server, but it helps increase functionality.
    • Cost: Work through an available reseller; check web site for list
    • Actual Feedback: They work wonderfully and the prices are really good.

If you’re worried about a hot Texas summer zapping your server/network equipment while you’re away, then consider investing in a comparatively inexpensive temperature gauge! After all, what’s a few hundred dollar investment compared to the loss of equipment and downtime due to intolerable heat?

Special Thanks to All the Texas Technology Directors who contributed their solutions and quotes.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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