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IT Technician to Manager: The Dog Ate My Servers!

Oct 28, 2014

USB 101 Part 1: Protecting server rooms is easier than ever with ready-to-use low-cost USB alerting device

Small and Mid Sized Businesses (SMBs) don’t generally have the budget that large data centers do to manage server security and environmental conditions.  Mega Data Centers are staffed 24/7/365 with control room personnel and technicians to jump on any problem that can arise.  The alarm and monitoring systems are wired into a myriad of dashboards checked regularly by security and technical personnel to help maintain the data center’s reliability, security, safety and uptime guarantees.  And yet things go wrong.

So what do SMBs do when environmental conditions threaten their servers?  My first thought is blame the dog; after all almost everyone has made one excuse or another blaming their canine companions especially when it comes to not having one’s homework done.  And some companies have employee’s dogs roaming the halls, so why not blame the dog?  My granddaughter has many examples of her and her mom’s shoes and other items being chewed beyond repair or even recognition when the juvenile pooch is left alone for any amount of time.

Dogs have been known to damage computers, so why not “The dog ate my servers!” the next time they go down. (Link to Source)  I’m sure IT managers will understand.

Seriously, “the network is down” is a common occurrence in every company.  Electrical grid reliability is often the cause of unplanned outages.  Updates and human error contribute to many outages even at companies like Facebook and Google.  Not all events are preventable, grid outages for example.  Training may help reduce human errors.  One more common reason for SMB server room outages is Air Conditioning failure.  This is especially true in hot summer months when the AC compressors are working overtime at maximum capacity.  And many times AC failures are not preventable: the compressor fails without warning or a coolant leak occurs in a line that flexed once too often from vibration.

The interesting thing to me is that so many SMB server rooms are not monitored for temperature excursions, especially when so many are in former storage closets with little ventilation; maybe one AC outlet and return inlet in the entire space. Given the heat generated from a couple of racks of servers and telecom equipment the cooling is often marginal at best. HVAC systems are not generally rebalanced for server rooms so when workers complain they are not getting enough cooling, damper adjustments are often made without regard to the server room’s needs, exacerbating the problem.

It doesn’t take much to trip a server, room ambient of 125°F is often the thermal switch cut off point.  This is the outside temperature of a very hot day in Phoenix; at these temperatures the airport closes because air density is too low to generate sufficient lift.  And in server rooms low hot air density interferes with heat transfer from electrical components to the cooling air meaning chips run hotter.  If the temperature rises enough and power is maintained, electrical component failure is likely. At the least components are stresses and performance degrades sometimes permanently and failure some weeks or months later likely. Major data center personnel I have talked to at conferences note they see a rash of failures a few months after servers are stressed by high temperature excursions.  The often older SMB server room equipment can be more vulnerable to thermal damage.

Temperature@lert USB Edition and Screenshot showing alarm condition.

So what’s an IT professional to do?  Temperature data loggers are ubiquitous and easily purchased online.  Temperature alarms are likewise easy to find and install and they ring a bell or flash a light when things get too hot, even when no one is present to hear them.  Given enough time IT personnel can make anything work.  But what does one do when they want a ready to use, temperature monitoring and alerting that can be configured to work in minutes, collect data in formats useful for charts and graphs for reporting such as XML and text files, send out one or multiple email alerts, able to be configured for SMS text alerts, provide hooks such as support for SMTP authentication, run custom Power Shell scripts and log alerts to the PC’s net log?  Temperature@lert’s USB Edition provides this and more, helping reduce setup and custom configuration time compared to low cost options.

In the next piece of this four part series I’ll look at these functions in detail to help understand the power of Temperature@lert’s USB Edition.  In the final piece I’ll look at a fault-tolerant option that provides the ultimate in server room protection short of hiring a security service.

temperature monitoring ebook, best practices for monitoring and sensors

Written By:

Dave Ruede, Well-Versed Wordsmith

Dave Ruede, a dyed in the wool Connecticut Yankee, has been involved with high tech companies for the past three decades. His background in chemistry and experience in a multitude of industries such as industrial chemicals and systems, pulp and paper, semiconductor fabrication, data centers, and test and assembly facilities informs his work daily. Well-versed in sales, marketing, management, and business development, Dave brings real world experience to Temperature@lert. When not crafting new Temperature@lert projects, Dave enjoys spending time with his young granddaughter, who keeps him grounded to the simple joys in life. Such joys for this wordsmith include reading prize winning fiction and non-fiction. Although a Connecticut Yankee, living for a decade in coastal California’s not too hot, not too cold climate epitomizes Dave’s favorite temperature, 75°F.

Temperature@lert Dave Ruede

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