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Protect Your Network With Environmental Monitoring Apps
 

Tom Goldman, CEO of environmental monitoring system vendor NetBotz, knows what can go horribly wrong in a data center due to environmental issues.

"The last act of one IT administrator was to put our [monitoring] system in place. The previous weekend, on the 30th floor of a building, water tanks on the roof leaked, which destroyed everything in the data center," Goldman says. "Most IT managers are unaware of environmental risks and think that they are the facility manager's job. But when the network goes down, it goes down, which then always goes back to the IT guy."

 

The incident probably could have been avoided. An environmental monitoring system that detects fluctuations in humidity, temperature, and electrical currents could have triggered a warning for an IT admin to stop the water leak before the damage was done.

NetBotz's Goldman has an obvious vested interest in seeing that network admins invest in monitoring systems. However, there is evidence that environmental threats pose significant risks to data centers and infrastructures. A power outage, overheated servers, or water leaks can all decimate hardware to a much greater extent than any virus or black-hat hacker attack.

The responsibility—and ultimately the blame—is placed on IT when environmental factors destroy equipment and disable a network. "I think that the IT community was right in dealing with and identifying the digital threats first by getting the virus protection and firewalls in place, etc., but you can't just stop there," Goldman says.

 
The Offerings 
 

Environmental monitoring systems represent a nascent market sector as IT admins continue to focus on fighting viruses and malicious hacker attacks. Indeed, the environmental monitoring space remains too small to track, say analysts Processor interviewed for this article.

"The market is below the radar screen of analysts," says Jean-Pierre Garbani, an analyst for Forrester Research. "I've seen [dozens] of large companies and just stumbled over [a few small vendors] that offer this application."

While heavy-hitter software and systems houses such as IBM, Cisco, and others don't have a large range of specific environmental monitoring systems, vendors such as AVTECH and ITWatchdogs, as well as NetBotz, can offer network admins what they seek, analysts say.

"What is needed, and what [these vendors] offer, is the capability to detect floods, fire, gas leaks, temperature, or any abnormal condition in the environment," Garbani says. "It is going beyond that and the flexibility to adapt to different situations that makes the difference [between vendors]."

Network-monitoring systems offer Ethernet-enabled connections that monitor environmental conditions in or around servers, workstations, or data center environments. When the monitoring system detects a significant variance or abnormality, such as a sudden increase in temperature, an admin receives an alert.

Where the monitoring systems are placed and what they detect varies. Sensors exist, for example, that only gauge electrical current fluctuations in data center outlets or the ambient temperature of a server room. Some environmental systems that only monitor CPU temperatures and humidity are housed internally within servers.

Applications also vary. Server racks, workstations, or large central data centers that house main frames all could potentially benefit from environmental monitoring, depending on how mission-critical they are.

 
NetBotz 
 

NetBotz claims to offer the most extensive environmental monitoring product portfolio, which it says accommodates more than 2,500 customers, including the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Treasury Department, Proctor & Gamble, the Chicago Stock Exchange, and Verizon. NetBotz's appliances offer sensors that monitor and detect variances in temperature, humidity, or even toxic chemicals. Sensors also monitor electrical current consumption in circuits that power data centers or servers.

A major component of NetBotz's offering, which the company claims distinguishes it from the competition, is camera pods that offer video surveillance and recording. The videos are transmitted over Ethernet or an 802.11 wireless connection and offer resolutions of up to 1,280 x 1,024 and frame rates as high as 30fps; they can be viewed from a LAN workstation or remotely over the Internet. A microphone also offers an audio option to accompany the video streaming. Depending on options, a typical NetBotz appliance ranges in price from $9,679 to $22,879.12. For more information, visit www.netbotz.com or call (512) 439-5800.

 
AVTECH 
 
Room Alert hardware and software solutions from AVTECH help track and monitor trespassers, humidity, smoke, and other environmental abnormalities that pose threats to equipment. The company is especially focused on temperature monitoring. 

For example, AVTECH says its TemPageR box allows for temperature monitoring in up to four different computer rooms or data centers, three of which can be located up to 900 feet away from the TemPageR ID box. Once a certain temperature threshold is reached, the system alerts individuals or groups with a custom alert message that includes the real-time temperature, time, date, and more. Price quotes for AVTECH's systems are avail able upon request; call (401) 847-6700 or visit www.avtech.com
 
ITWatchdogs 
 
ITWatchdogs says its WatchDog Console ($179) manages to combine multiple devices into a single Web interface so that all ITWatchDog products can be measured and graphed at any time. The applications the company's products accommodate vary. 

ITWatchdogs' WeatherGoose ($389) contains an internal Web server that the company says requires no supporting PC or client software. Internal sensors offer temperature, humidity, airflow, light-level, and sound-level monitoring. The unit also generates internal Web, email, and paging alerts. 

ITWatchdogs' Weather Duck ($199) is geared toward server room or remote computer room monitoring. Door sensors send alerts whenever a door is opened. A Web cam allows for video surveillance. Internal sensors also monitor temperature, humidity, air flow, light level, and sound for when external smoke alarms go off. 

The company also offers specific systems for power monitoring. Its Power Egg device ($179) plugs in between the power outlet and the existing power strip and can be used as a standalone device or attached to a WeatherGoose or WeatherDuck for remote monitoring and logging. For more information, contact ITWatchdogs at (512) 257-1462 or visitwww.itwatchdogs.com
 
What The Future Holds 
 
As all of these systems demonstrate, vendors seek to offer systems that monitor all or several relevant environmental factors in a single interface. At the same time, IT admins will also likely see offerings that converge all different types of IT monitoring systems. So as environmental systems become better and cheaper, IT admins may one day select a single package for environmental monitoring folded into complete network, security, server, and storage management applications. 

"It is now appropriate to think of systems in the context of a holistic type of interface," Garbani says. "This will likely happen as physical security of data centers becomes as important as monitoring and protecting against viruses and other threats." 
 
by Bruce Gain