In 2020, approximately 59 zettabytes of data will be created, captured, copied, and consumed in the world, according to Global DataSphere from the International Data Corp. (IDC). Global DataSphere also forecasts data created in the next three years will exceed the amount of data created over the last 30 years.

Data centers are the critical facilities storing this information for enterprises and governments. As data continues to drive business operations and enhance everyday life, it is essential that data centers are protected and continue to operate optimally. An unplanned data center outage costs $9,000 per minute on average but can reach as high as $17,000 per minute, according to a Ponemon Institute study.

For this reason, securing data centers from external and internal threats is a top priority. This starts by safeguarding the perimeter, keeping unauthorized personnel off the premises to prevent anyone from sabotaging key equipment that could result in downtime. This continues by implementing protocols that maximize the health and safety of employees while optimizing uptime. Without a solid predictive and preventive maintenance (PPM) program for critical equipment, data centers risk service interruption, which leads to angry customers, a bad reputation, and thousands of dollars in lost profits.  

Keeping Intruders Out

Data centers simply cannot afford to ignore physical and perimeter security. According to the 2020 State of the Data Center Report, 50% of respondents said the biggest security concerns are “outside human threats,” and 46% noted advanced persistent threats, “such as theft of IT and corporate data,” are key problems. Other threats include schemes to inflict damage on equipment that could sabotage data center operations.

When it comes to protecting data center property, it’s important to understand the various location types. Some data centers are located in urban settings, where there is regular pedestrian and automobile traffic. These smaller data centers often take up less than 1 acre. On the other hand, enterprise data centers are typically located in remote settings. They are often arranged in clusters, meaning multiple data centers — anywhere from two to five — exist within a single perimeter.

For data centers of any size, it’s essential that security systems provide continuous surveillance to detect threats across the perimeter as the first line of defense. Because thermal cameras rely on heat instead of light to produce images, they enable 24/7 video capture in low-light conditions as well as in total darkness, rain, and smoke. With their long-range detection capabilities, they are able to detect external threats long before they reach the perimeter. Thermal cameras provide the best “eyes” on the fence line and ensure no threat goes unnoticed.

When thermal cameras are paired with radar in an integrated solution, they deliver superior target-tracking. When an intruder’s detected by radar, a pan-tilt thermal camera slews to the location of the suspect. This allows command center staff to follow the suspect’s movements and plan a more strategic response. Data center perimeter security systems with thermal cameras provide early warning, enhanced threat assessment, and opportunities for real-time intervention to prevent a breach from occurring.

Keeping Viruses Out

Beyond the perimeter, there is a critical need to protect data center staff from everyday environmental and health threats. Beyond employees, at any given time, there can be as many as 10 contracting companies doing work and maintenance at data center facilities.

Thermal cameras for elevated skin temperature screening deployed at key data center entry points can help to stop the spread of infectious diseases in the workplace. They provide a zero-contact temperature screening tool for employees and guests who are entering the facility. The devices measure skin temperature and alert personnel when a predetermined threshold has been exceeded.

The cameras come in handheld, tripod-mounted, or fixed-mounted options.

Keeping Critical Equipment Running

Inside of the facilities, data center assets are particularly vulnerable to overheating, which can result in extended server downtime, permanent damage to critical equipment, and irretrievable data loss. Data centers can contain anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 servers, according to Forbes, meaning that manually monitoring these devices is inherently an error-prone task.

Radiometric thermal imaging cameras, however, can help data center personnel continuously monitor the temperature of critical equipment, such as environmental control equipment, server racks, cable management supplies, and power sources, for early fire detection and process control monitoring. For example, a fixed, compact, radiometric thermal camera can be installed to monitor critical components within switchgear cabinets that can overheat. These devices are designed to trigger automated alarms upon detection of a faulty or overheating component. They also have a long track record of saving time and money by protecting high-value assets from causing fires and avoiding the emergency repair costs that ensue.

Deploying infrared windows in mid-voltage rooms to monitor cabinets is another effective tool. Installing IR windows creates a barrier between inspection personnel and energized equipment, which reduces the risk of arc flash injury. Inspectors can use a high-resolution, handheld IR camera to survey critical wire terminations in the main switchgear through the IR window. This allows them to monitor undisturbed assets inside energized electrical equipment while complying with the requirements of NFPA 70E. As a result, data center teams can conduct inspections with more frequency without causing a disruption to operations, and they have a reduced need to suit up in full personal protective gear. This ensures electrical maintenance tasks are completed efficiently while also increasing safety.

Choosing the Right Thermal Technology

While thermal cameras are seeing greater adoption in applications that protect property, people, and equipment, not all thermal cameras are created equal. When integrating thermal cameras into security, safety, and PPM plans, consider the following features that set superior options apart from standard ones.

1. High Resolution

The more pixels a thermal camera features, the greater image detail that camera will yield. For data centers, where image clarity and target detection are important, thermal sensors with full thermal resolution of 640 x 480 are the optimal choice, as they deliver 16 times as many pixels as a standard thermal camera.

 2. Video Analytics

Automatic tracking of threats using video analytics is a distinguishing capability of a total security solution. Video verification of alerts is also important to reduce false alarms and ensure first responders are only dispatched for true threats.

3. Interoperability

Choosing thermal cameras that are compatible with existing data center systems simplifies integration and deployment. For perimeter cameras, this means deploying products that are ONVIF-compliant and can integrate with existing video management software. For condition monitoring cameras, this means choosing cameras that are Modbus TCP-compliant, so analysis and alarm results can be easily shared to a programmable logic controller. 

4. Screening

As data centers deploy thermal cameras for elevated skin temperature screening, remember that skin temperature can vary throughout the day based on the environment and other factors. As such, look for thermal cameras that account for this variance. Some thermal cameras allow users to set a skin temperature threshold against an average temperature value based on data gathered by previously screened individuals.


From the perimeter to the server rack, thermal cameras are specially designed to protect every angle of the modern data center. Whether it is detecting an intruder and alerting security personnel, identifying an elevated skin temperature, or notifying the facility engineer of an overheating server — thermal technology can do it all.