Rediscovering the value of remote management and monitoring

Oct. 14, 2021
By CALVIN NICHOLSON, Legrand -- The COVID-19 lockdown forced organizations to rethink the manner in which they conduct business and education, as they embraced remote work tools.

By Calvin Nicholson, Legrand

The COVID-19 lockdown forced organizations to rethink the manner in which they conduct business and education, as they embraced remote work tools. This near-instantaneous shift in the working environment created new data center challenges for IT and data center managers as many were prevented from doing hands-on troubleshooting.

Because of their limited access to the physical IT infrastructure, network managers—more than ever—turned to remote network management and monitoring tools to help with rebooting servers and other devices, switching off unused outlets so that new devices could not be installed without their knowledge as well as gathering general data.

Although data center footprints did not increase much during 2020 (Gartner says there was a 10% spending decline in 2020), many facilities did realize an exponential service demand, brought on in part by an enormous number of remote workers using new applications. This placed a great deal of stress on IT management as many data centers were operating on reduced IT staff and HR mandates that prevented personnel from entering the facilities.

An Uptime Institute survey underscored this issue when they asked over 200 critical IT/facility infrastructure operators around the world, “What is the number one risk that COVID-19 poses to your organization's critical IT infrastructure operations over the next 90 days?” An overwhelming 32 percent selected: Reduced level of IT infrastructure operations staff. 

The Value of Remote Management 

While being physically distant from their data centers, IT and data center managers also turned to power devices such as Switched PDUs, connected directly into the network, so they may manage devices remotely. Some of the most valuable features these Switched PDUs provided was the ability to remotely command and control functions for power loads, such as:

  • Remote rebooting and power-up sequencing. Rebooting isn't always easy - especially for multi-site data centers or colocation facilities. Rebooting can be performed remotely from a web interface, eliminating the need to deploy service technicians.
  • Scheduling power loads. It's an undeniable fact that data centers waste power by running servers that actually are doing nothing. A Switched PDU offers the ability to remotely manage a power schedule on a per-outlet / device basis.
  • Locking out available outlets. Sometimes the rack is out of power or the phases need to be rebalanced. Using a Switched PDU provides the ability to change an outlet from a “power off” mode to a “power on” state, which is important for managing the critical load and ensuring uptime.

The Value of Environmental Monitoring

Needless to say, it's difficult to remotely manage a data center if you don't have visibility into its environment and associated elements. And visual modeling tools that are static and work in silo mode have little integration with other critical tools such as Data Center Infrastructure Monitoring (DCIM). This often forces managers to comb through CAD drawings to pinpoint faulty devices. However, over the course of the pandemic, data center managers began a deeper dive into devices and tools that give an enormous amount of visibility into operations.

 Among the devices used in data centers, environmental monitoring sensors play a big role. Like the proverbial miner’s canary, environmental sensors have been helping IT and data center professionals by monitoring the health around cabinets and providing alerts into potential problems that can jeopardize the performance and life of IT assets. Data centers of all types (edge, core, and colo) rely on smart sensor tools that provide accurate insights into the environmental health in and around IT equipment racks.

Today, much of the IT equipment has been optimized to detect and report on adverse operating conditions so managers can quickly take action—even remotely from home—before a costly issue arises. Additionally, smart sensors assist IT and data center professionals by:

  1. Preventing overcooling, undercooling, electrostatic discharge, corrosion, and short circuits.  
  2. Reducing operational costs, deferring capital expenditures, improving uptime, and increasing capacity for future growth.  
  3. Providing environmental monitoring and alerting managers to potential problems like the presence of water, smoke, and open cabinet doors. 
  4. Saving up to four percent in energy costs for every degree of upward change in the baseline temperature a.k.a, a set point. 
  5. Helping to populate AI, ML, and other future initiatives. 
  6. Providing valuable information for a multi-dimensional view of distributed data center operations.

A Data-Fed Dashboard That Really Matters

Most data centers operate using some type of Network Operations Center (NOC) dashboard that aggregates information across multiple sources, but this can sometimes lead to inaccuracies. If the data is not trustworthy, the decisions will be flawed, and if the decisions are flawed—a trip to the rack is necessary to verify the information. Obtaining accurate information is not rocket science and can be automatically gathered by smart sensors and intelligent PDUs at the device level, to provide those trustworthy environmental insights. 

Data that really matters will yield reliable operational insights, and if it’s displayed in a user-friendly format, managers will engage with it. Data Center Information Management (DCIM) solutions offer that easy interaction by taking the rich, live measurement data and combining it with detailed asset management, including full power-chain connectivity configurability. It does not matter if a COVID lockdown is in effect or not, using 3D dashboards, data center managers can see the environmental conditions of their facilities from a remote location—better than actually being on-site. 

Aggregated data fed into DCIM  dashboards allow IT and data center managers to view the server racks and pathways into cabinets as well as easily drill down to isolate a single cabinet to get a view of all the compute devices including the name, make, and status.

But it does not stop at the rack level, the visibility extends above the cabinets for a deep dive into tap-off box critical power monitoring, which may be used as part of a Track Busway system or as a standalone solution. A simple double click on a tap-off box from the 3D dashboard will reveal a live feed of watts, amps, volts, or kilowatts. All this detailed information is kept in a model library to eliminate redundant data input and includes: which protocols are enabled on new units; DCIM integration information, and load balancing data.

Remote monitoring data taken from PDUs gives a DCIM dashboard the ability to display how power resources are performing and what they are consuming at the rack level. With this type of insight, IT and data center managers can better plan for capacity changes. In addition, with the data feed from PDUs and sensors, they can also receive an at-a-glance view of: 

  • Cabinet temperatures.
  • Abnormal amps on intelligent rack-mount PDUs or busway tap-off boxes.
  • Humidity fluctuations.  

A good rule-of-thumb is to always look for intelligent PDUs that are able to integrate with all BMS, DCIM, or other tools such as Splunk or Tableau.

Conclusion

If there ever was a time for data center and IT managers to embrace their remote management and monitoring tools it was at the onset of the pandemic. Even now as vaccinations are quelling the spread of COVID-19, a large percentage of workers will still remain, or partially remain remote. In a recent Gartner poll, 90% of HR leaders said employees would be allowed to work remotely even once COVID-19 vaccines are widely available and yes, this includes IT professionals.

Far into the foreseeable future, data centers will continue providing high-demand services. But in order to meet demand, those who manage these mission-critical services must also embrace the tools to enable an ever-growing remote workforce to constantly monitor thresholds, predict capacity utilization, set the voltage traps, and balance the data center’s environmental conditions. Deploying intelligent sensors, sensor management, PDUs, tap-off boxes, and a DCIM solution to bring a 3D dashboard to life, will empower remote workers to conduct their jobs—often faster than walking the server isles or power path to make hands-on assessments. 

Calvin Nicholson is Senior Director PM Power at Legrand. He is responsible for overseeing Power product strategy and product management for Server Technology, Raritan and Legrand product brands for the company’s DPC Group globally. He holds a number of patents in both the power/data center and gaming industries and has held various positions within Server Technology, including Director of Product Marketing and Director of FW Engineering.

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