Exposing and banishing data centre pests

Exposing and banishing data centre pests

Felix Berndt, Business Development Manager for IIoT and Data Centers EMEA at Paessler AG, discusses potential threats – such as DDos attacks, viruses and Trojans – that can damage the data centre and why holistic monitoring is key.

Many people might think that data centres are haunted. Virtualisation is going crazy, unified computing is doing its own thing and other systems are robbing the IT admin of sleep. We all know that evil spirits are not the cause of these phenomena – even if sometimes IT admins may get that impression.

What dangers lurk in data centres?

DDoS attacks, viruses, Trojans and other threats from hacker attacks can damage a data centre. However, IT systems are not only vulnerable to threats from the IT world. Besides cyberattacks, ‘earthly’ threats such as wear and tear or environmental parameters can have an enormous impact on systems and equipment. To keep an eye on the obvious hazards, data centres usually have various security systems in place, such as locking systems, fire alarms and surveillance cameras. But what about the dangers that are initially invisible to the human eye?

Even the smallest changes in the ambient air – such as temperature, CO2 concentration or humidity – affect the reliability, performance and service life of IT components. Increased humidity, for example, can cause condensation inside a server. Consequently, short circuits and corrosion are hardly predictable or traceable.

Excessively high temperatures also cause problems for IT components. An increased room temperature is often enough to cause small smouldering fires or short circuits. But that’s not all: if the temperature is too high, many processors slow down or servers shut down for security reasons. Once this state is reached, it takes some time for the devices to reach normal temperature again and resume operation.

The availability and function of essential applications, business-relevant processes, access to valuable data and the work of entire departments can thus be jeopardised – a potential nightmare for every company.

Monitoring reveals the invisible

To avoid such unpleasant surprises from the outset, administrators should keep an eye on the environment of the data centre in addition to their systems and devices. Holistic monitoring makes it possible to monitor various areas such as:

1. IT and network infrastructure: Network devices such as switches and routers, servers, firewalls, load balancers, virtual environments, etc.

2. Applications and services: All applications and services hosted in the data centre, for example: web servers such as IIS, Apache, NGINX, SQL servers such as Microsoft SQL Server 2005-2016, Oracle, MySQL, PostgreSQL, mail servers such as Exchange, IMAP, POP3, SMTP as well as web applications (websites, portals), backups, security and custom applications.

3. Data centre facilities: Physical sensors, temperature, relative humidity, dew point, carbon monoxide levels, motion and vibration, security cameras, power supply, access control, etc.

With such a tool, IT managers can monitor the entire data centre 24/7 and expose all visible as well as invisible dangers.

Equipped for ghost hunting

To meet the requirements of the data centre and uncover all phenomena, the network monitoring tool should have various key features. It is particularly important that the IT admin finds all information from their heterogeneous data centre infrastructure in a central dashboard without having to switch back and forth between various different tools. For this purpose, the monitoring solution should support as many components as possible from the get-go.

To protect the data centre from physical ‘attacks from outside’, some monitoring tools keep an eye on building security. To this end, for example, various security systems are integrated into the monitoring, such as locking systems, smoke and gas detectors, temperature sensors and surveillance cameras.

But what is the best way to integrate environmental parameters into monitoring? First of all, appropriate hardware sensors are needed that provide measured values for temperature, humidity and other environmental factors. In order for these parameters to be monitored, sensors must be placed inside or outside the server room. After connecting to the network, the transmission technology is selected.

Keeping an eye on the data centre – even at the witching hour

Since those responsible for data centres are increasingly working remotely and are not always sitting in front of their computers, it makes sense to have a mobile version of the monitoring tool. This enables them to have an overview of the status of their data centre from anywhere and at any time.

Through predefined threshold values, the administrators immediately receive an alarm via email, SMS or push notification in the event of a deviation. Curious phenomena can thus be detected and banished immediately, even before they become a serious problem.

All-in-one monitoring of the data centre enables:

– 24/7 monitoring of the data centre

– The ability to check the performance of the infrastructure in real-time

– Prevention of costly outages

– The ability to deal with bottlenecks before they become a problem

– Insights into data centre trends for better capacity planning

– A better quality of experience (QoE) for customers

– Time and money to be saved

Tracking environmental demons

While monitoring can, among other things, monitor the continuous power supply to equipment, it can equally help to save electricity. More and more companies want to sustainably reduce emissions as well as resource consumption for energy, water and IT equipment. This is confirmed by a recent worldwide survey of over 1,200 IT administrators.

The data centre is still an area where a lot of electricity is needed, however, there are also various potentials for optimisation. The main thing here is to have a holistic view of the corresponding infrastructure of the physical data centre as well as the IT. Monitoring tools create the necessary transparency and enable a comprehensive analysis. In this way, current IT utilisation, excessive reserves, redundancies or backups can be uncovered, which may not even be necessary and consume electricity unnecessarily.

Monitoring puts an end to the spook

Countless dangers lurk in the data centre. However, monitoring exposes threats and prevents unexpected surprises. If the data centre is monitored around the clock, dangers can be detected early and countermeasures can be taken. Furthermore, long-term trends become visible and enable forward planning, resource savings and prevention of bottlenecks.

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