Have you checked your server's weather report?
It's great to know what the weather's going to be outside as you roll into the weekend, but your network server can't tune into the 6 o'clock news. And, even though you're not planning on giving your server the weekend off any time soon, unexpected changes in its environment could have it calling in sick.
There's a lot of sensitive electronics inside of a network server, and two of the things that those electronics are most sensitive to are humidity and temperature.
Understanding Humidity Threats
Network servers have non-operating and operating humidity tolerances. Non-operating refers to the amount of humidity a server can tolerate when it is powered down. Operating, of course, refers to the amount of humidity that a running network server can bear.
The environmental humidity ratings specify both condensing and non-condensing humidity levels. Condensing humidity occurs when the water vapor in the air turns back into a liquid which then coats the electronics inside the server box.
It's common to see network servers and other computers carry a non-operating humidity tolerance in the area of 90%, but actually operating a server in those conditions would likely cause serious damage. We all know that electricity and water do not mix, and condensing humidity has the same effect as sprinkling the inside of your server with a watering can.
Of course, none of this is news to the average network manager, and most professionally-run network centers have air and humidity-handling systems installed for just this reason. Controlling humidity is not the problem. What is the problem is what can happen when those systems malfunction and condensing humidity shoots up.
If you are fortunate enough to have this failure occur during normal NOC staffing hours, the issue can be handled with some human intervention. But what happens if there is an environmental breakdown when no one is there to intervene?
High levels of condensing humidity can short out essential circuits and bring a server down within 5 minutes or less. And THAT could result in a very expense and disruptive service-level commitment failure.
And then there's the temperature problem
Network servers generate a serious amount of heat. That's why most come equipped with multiple fans and strategically-placed heat sinks. On top of those layers of production, well-run server rooms are temperature controlled. Again, that's all good, but it's of little help if a fan malfunctions in the middle of the night, or the air handling system takes a night off. Damage from overheating is usually swift and extensive.
Your Network Weather Service Alert System
Just like the National Weather Service issues warnings when adverse environmental conditions threaten, you can install software that monitors the temperature and humidity levels, in real-time, right inside your server.
Environmental monitoring requires hardware devices that are installed inside the server room to measure temperature and humidity, and monitoring software to receive readings from the hardware. When you install this level of protection, it's like having a human being on duty 24/7 to be your server room weather reporter. And that can come in handy in a time of crisis.
What to look for in a server environmental monitoring system
One of the most important requirements of a network monitoring program is that the software be rules-based so you can define both the environmental tolerances that you are willing to accept along with the reporting and response actions that should occur if an alarm threshold is crossed. That way you can be confident that your server room environment is monitored for the precise levels that you deem critical and not what some programmer thought should be critical.
Environmental monitoring and response systems such as these are called "Agentless" systems because no human agent needs to be involved in the process until an emergency occurs. In fact, depending upon the network monitoring software that you choose, rules can be written to instruct the server to take some action, including shutting itself down, if a serious enough alarm condition occurs. That's especially important if the nearest first-responder is not on-premise when a temperature or humidity emergency occurs.
But why settle for weather reports only?
If you are going to install temperature and humidity hardware and monitoring software, you might as well choose a software package that is capable of monitoring the overall health of your entire network. The better ones handle almost every contingency including the availability of your web server, testing for HTTP, GET, POST, and HEAD response; content checking , CRC checking, as well as monitoring the status of FTP, DNS, SNMP trap messages, bandwidth usage, available disk space, and most other situations that affect the operation of today's business networks. If you install network monitoring software that comes with that level of protection, you'll not only be safe from environmental problems, you also won't end up getting blindsided by something else. It just makes sense to put one large safety net around your network, and today's best-of-breed network and server monitoring software programs do just that.
If your network server's health is your responsibility, start thinking about how you are going to guarantee it's availability 24/7 even when you're enjoying the nice weather next weekend.