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Learn about ambient temperature sensors for data centers

Ambient temperature sensors can help you keep track of environmental factors such as temperature, humidity and airflow in your data center so you can avoid downtime.

A shift in ambient temperature in the data center can result in downtime caused by overheating, hardware damage due to moisture buildup or complete system failure. With the right tracking equipment, you can detect and remedy problems with ambient temperature quickly and efficiently.

It can take time to figure out the right mix of sensors and trackers to monitor ambient temperature. However, you can't afford to take a trial-and-error approach with so much at stake. Measure several factors in your data center and review the top ambient temperature monitoring hardware to ensure a safe and consistent environment.

What ambient temperature factors should you track?

Temperature. Servers are very sensitive to temperature. You must maintain a certain range of temperature to keep them working well. This temperature threshold can vary depending on the size of your data center, the age of your equipment and your geographic location. Ambient temperature sensors quickly catch signs of overheating to help you avoid downtime.

Humidity. Humidity level in the data center is just as important as temperature. If the humidity dips too low, it can result in electrostatic discharge. If the humidity rises too high, it leads to moisture buildup. Ambient temperature sensors alert you when the humidity hits a level outside the designated range, so you can adjust humidity levels before issues occur.

Airflow. If your data center has poor air circulation, your equipment can suffer. Servers that take in hot, stagnant air can't cool efficiently. Ambient room sensors enable you to map out and track your data center's airflow and design a more stable ambient environment. For example, if air is hot under racks, consider implementing an air delivery system to push that air up.

Sensor placement

Start by targeting hot zones when placing rack-level sensors. Since heat rises, you should place sensors at the tops of your racks. For a full picture of airflow in your data center, place sensors at the top, bottom and middle of your server racks. Keep them away from air exiting your servers, because this can skew your readings.

Place in-room sensors near air conditioning units. This can help you target malfunctions in particular air conditioning units; otherwise, your sensors can't pick up on a malfunction, because the other units work overtime to compensate. Depending on the layout of your data center, consider which areas make the most sense ahead of placement. For example, you might want one sensor in each corner and one in the middle of the room for full coverage.

The best ambient tracking hardware for data centers

Consider ambient tracking sensors from several vendors before deploying them.

AVTech. AVTech sensors enable you to monitor temperature, humidity and airflow, as well as other environmental concerns you might have for your data center. AVTech sensors send a room alert message whenever the environment breaches a certain threshold.

Vertiv Geist. Vertiv Geist monitoring hardware comes with built-in temperature, humidity and dew-point sensors. Similar to AVTECH, you can set thresholds for these trackers that send you an alert via email, SNMP or email-to-SMS. You can also configure multiple alarms per sensor, which increases versatility depending on what factor you measure.

Paessler. The PRTG Network Monitor enables you to create your own custom sensors and notifications. It automatically sends alarm notifications to whatever external system you designate. Depending on the software plan you use, you can get up to 100 sensors for free for your data center.

Monnit. Monnit remote monitoring sensors send out alerts in real time. They come with thermocouple temperature probes for better mobility and can track coolant leaks or water damage in addition to ambient temperatures. However, Monnit only offers wireless sensors, so you risk sensor downtime in the event of a network issue.

Netmon. Netmon's AKCP sensors provide a holistic view of temperature and humidity levels. Netmon specifically designed them for server-rack temperature monitoring, and you can easily set them up and scale them for growing data centers.

Many of the above vendors offer software subscriptions to pair with their devices for easier monitoring. For more flexible software, you can consider Nagios Core, open source software you can configure to monitor your tracking hardware. To avoid the work of a custom implementation, Nagios also provides Nagios XI, a paid professional version of the software.

Monitoring ambient temperatures in the data center enables you to avoid hardware damage and achieve maximum uptime. However, to keep your data center environment fully protected, you should incorporate ambient temperature monitoring into a larger temperature monitoring system that includes server sensors, rack-level trackers and water and flooding monitoring tools.

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