No matter the size of the facility, every data center must remain online around the clock. This requires personnel to regularly monitor the status of critical equipment and the environmental conditions around it, especially when DCIM systems aren’t in place.

An independent remote monitoring system lets facility managers see real-time status updates on their mobile devices. These systems help to ensure 24/7 operation of critical equipment, even when personnel are not on-site.

Setting up a monitoring system and sensors can be easy and practically hassle-free if the following tips are considered.

1) Selection

The first step is to find an experienced monitoring system manufacturer with a well-trained support team that can assess your needs. The monitoring system representative will ask you to provide details about the scope of your data center. Advanced monitoring systems support data extraction from existing integrated sensors that are tracking intelligently controlled equipment. Your list should include UPSs, PDUs, HVAC systems, intermediate distribution frames (IDFs), and building automation systems. You can also monitor power consumption and energy usage to better manage cooling and other costs associated with running a server room.

The monitoring device can be connected to these electronic sources to make their information available remotely. Users can view all of this data in one place and receive instant alerts when values fall out of preset ranges.

Moreover, these monitoring systems can communicate with additional hardwired sensors to directly monitor equipment and environmental conditions. In most cases, sensors are sold separately. The sensors you select depend upon the conditions you want to monitor and how many you can connect to your base unit. In general, you will want to select sensors for monitoring ambient temperature, server rack hot and cold zones, humidity, water leaks, CO2 levels, power fluctuations, and physical security breaches. For HVAC monitoring, it is also recommended to include sensors to monitor vibration, airflow, and differential pressure.

Make sure to consider your present situation and future growth. The rep will then determine the type of system that would best serve your operation, the number of base units you will need, and the types of sensors required.

There is often no need for a site visit to determine which products are best for your application. If you feel you need someone to check out your facility, many companies can set up a video conference or FaceTime chat to substitute for being on-site. Alternatively, the manufacturer may be able to recommend local contractors.

You should not be charged for a demo, consultation, or assistance throughout the sales process. However, be sure to ask if there are any fees or licenses required for continued use of the equipment after purchase. Be sure to discuss hardwiring, programming, software setup, and integration requirements too.

2) Configuration and installation

In general, monitoring systems are easy to install, and users can often set them up without hiring outside help. However, installations can be more involved when interfacing with BASs, so you might need the help of an electrical contractor depending on the conditions you are monitoring. In situations where you need assistance setting up the system, ask if the manufacturer offers installation services or if they can recommend a local representative in your area.

Physical installation of the base unit usually requires only four steps: mount the device in a 1U server rack, plug it into an electrical outlet, connect it to the internet , and connect and program the equipment and/or sensors

External sensors are connected to the base unit with wire or patch cables. Some systems use existing RJ45 Ethernet patch cables and run up to 300 feet away from the base device. If you need to run wires through walls or ceilings, you might want to hire an electrician.

You might have a choice between sensors that are designed by the manufacturer to work specifically with the monitoring system or universal components made by a third party. For example, certain monitoring units can connect with most digital or analog sensors and transmitters regardless of the brand. If the components are not made by the system manufacturer, you will want to find out if they have been tested with the monitor you are choosing and if you need to work with another vendor to purchase the parts.

Once you plug in the device and connect the sensors, you will often have to create an account on the associated website to begin using the system.

3) Connectivity

Most remote monitoring systems require an internet or Wi-Fi connection and access to an electrical outlet to power them. Programming is completed through a website, so it is easiest to use a computer or tablet for the initial setup.

With these systems, designated personnel are instantly notified by call, text, email, or SNMP when sensor readings fall outside of preset parameters. If you do not want all your personnel to receive notifications at the same time, some devices can be programmed to send alerts in a tiered fashion or on a schedule.

Multiple communications methods, like phone, email, and text, provide extra assurance that you will receive the alert. It is a good idea to check the number of people the system can reach and if the system automatically cycles through the contact list until someone responds. Some systems allow for flexible scheduling, so that off-duty personnel do not receive alerts.

4) Wired vs. wireless

Wireless can mean two different things as it relates to monitoring: how the system communicates its data to the outside world and how the sensors communicate with the system.

Some monitoring systems require an internet or Wi-Fi connection to communicate their data to users, but if that is not an option, cellular systems are available. Landline phone-based systems are also available.

In general, external sensors communicate with the base unit either through wires that connect them to the monitoring device, or wirelessly through built-in radio transmitters that communicate with the base unit. Make sure to ask about any limitations and the reliability of wireless sensors before making a decision.

5) Data logging

A data logger is an electronic device that records sensor data at set time intervals. Using a data logger to automatically record information identifies trends in equipment performance and environmental conditions. This data can provide insight into potential issues, like temperature or power fluctuations, so they can be address before they become bigger problems.

Many remote monitoring systems have data logging capabilities and store limitless amounts of information that you can view in real time via a website or app.

6) Emergency backup

The safest choice is a system that comes with a built-in battery backup that will last for hours in the event of a power failure. Many remote monitoring systems will automatically monitor for a power failure on the circuit where they are installed. If they do not offer that feature, they should be able to monitor a designated power failure sensor. Should the power go out — due to a power outage or an employee accidently switching off the unit — the system generates an alarm indicating that power has been lost. If your device is using an internet connection, the connection will need to stay up to receive an alarm. Some devices have a built-in redundancy, such as a phone line or a connection to a cloud-based system. In either case, users are alerted about the disruption through phone, text, or email. All data collected during this time will be stored in the device and will be available when the power is restored.

If you opt for a cloud-based monitoring system, make sure the infrastructure used to create the cloud platform is monitored 24/7 by the manufacturer’s team. Ask if they have multiple backups across the country to ensure the system is never down.

It is important to note that the manufacturer of your monitoring system is not an emergency call center. You can program the monitoring system to notify the appropriate personnel in the event of an emergency. It is up to you and your staff to take action at that point.

7) Additional costs

Many web- or cloud-based systems provide free functionality with some limitations. You might have to purchase a premium subscription to unlock features, such as text messaging, phone call alerts, and unlimited data logging access.

8) Tech support

Purchase your system from a reputable manufacturer that provides a warranty and offers full repair services in the event the product stops working as it should. Also, research to make sure their tech support team is knowledgeable and willing to walk you through any questions you have about your monitoring system. Often, support specialists can diagnose and correct unit setup and programming issues over the phone.

It helps to record your observations regarding the problem, so the tech team can look for trends and circumstances concerning the issue and better diagnose the problem. Ideally, the manufacturer can provide loaner units if your problem requires mailing the device to their facility for repair.