Critical business activities can be threatened by a range of environmental factors. Although it is common to have sophisticated monitoring and alerting capabilities in physical equipment such as the UPS, computer room air-conditioner (CRAC), and fire-suppression systems, other parts of the physical environment are generally ignored.
The truth is that the monitoring of equipment is often not enough; the surrounding environment needs to be viewed holistically and monitored proactively. Let's have a look at several of these threats and the challenges each poses in data centres and other point-of-presence sites where the devices are crucial to a company’s operations and the services it provides.
Temperature and Humidity
Excessive heat and rapid temperature changes can seriously damage a whole range of equipment. As temperature increases, the equipment works harder to stay cool until it fails or shuts off to prevent damage. Rapid temperature drops can cause condensation. Combined, heat and moisture cause the deterioration of equipment components. Additionally, low humidity levels can produce electrostatic discharge, interfering with hardware and causing system damage.
Surprisingly, sometimes changes in equipment design and greater use of network services compound the temperature threat. More circuits are placed closer and closer together and smaller equipment can be packed more closely, trapping heat in smaller spaces. For networks that operate around the clock, there is very little, if any, time to cool down.
Basic planning procedures will move equipment away from water pipes wherever possible, and so avoiding basements that might flood, or roofs that might leak. However, there are other water leaks that are more difficult to recognize and detect. Blocked ventilation systems can cause condensation if warm, moist air is not diverted quickly. If vents are located above or behind machines, condensation can form small puddles that may go unmonitored. Standalone air conditioners are especially vulnerable to water leaks if condensation is not properly removed. Even small amounts of water near air intakes raise humidity levels and can fill equipment with moisture.
Rooms with raised floors can be a particular problem. All of the cables and wires for an entire network are concealed beneath floor panels. While this approach keeps cords safe from being accidentally unplugged, it makes monitoring their physical condition an absolute nightmare. Cables could possibly be soaking in water for long durations of time before anyone notices.
Obviously, vandalism and theft, threaten the operation of your sites. Potentially just as harmful are animal intrusions. Rodents, insects and birds can cause the disintegration of components.
Power outages, “brown outs,” and voltage dips and spikes represent big problems for computing equipment. A straightforward change in power levels, let alone a lightning strike, can cause equipment to fail. In some cases, this costs your business precious time while the system reboots. In others, circuits are destroyed and must be replaced.
Although we haven't covered everything, this quick summary provides an overview of common environmental threats to data centres, telecom switching, and other POP sites. We plan to follow up this post next time by discussing how to address these challenges.
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