IoT adds smarts to IT asset monitoring

Organizations are using IoT sensors to monitor equipment performance and environmental conditions in data centers.

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The Internet of Things (IoT) is beginning to play a key role in monitoring and maintaining internal IT systems and environments. With many IT pros working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, IT teams are leveraging networked sensors to gauge the performance and condition of servers, storage systems, network devices, and other technology components.

IoT can help organizations not only evaluate how well equipment in data centers is performing and when systems need to be updated or repaired, but also monitor environmental conditions and events such as air temperature, humidity, and water leaks. IoT systems can also help organizations detect intrusions that could result in downtime or data breaches.

"This is happening more and more as IoT adoption is [becoming] mainstream," says Laura DiDio, a principal at research and consulting firm ITIC. "IT and security administrators are now more comfortable and secure deploying, configuring, and using IoT on an ongoing basis." At the same time, organizations recognize the need to monitor physical assets such as servers, routers and switches in data centers, the cloud, and the network edge, as well as the desktop, laptop, tablet, and mobile phone devices used by employees and contract workers, DiDio says.

The market for IoT tools that can monitor IT assets (as well as many other devices) has attracted major technology vendors including Cisco, Dell, HPE, Huawei IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and Schneider Electric, along with IoT specialists including Digi, Gemalto, Jasper, Particle, Pegasystems, Telit, and Verizon.

IoT is often deployed in existing physical systems to increase the contextual understanding of the status of those systems, says Ian Hughes, senior analyst covering IoT at research firm 451 Research. "Compute resources tend to already have lots of instrumentation built in that is used to manage them, such as in data centers," he says.

Companies can use IoT to provide additional information about the physical infrastructure of a building such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, Hughes says. Data centers would tend to need building- and environmental-related IoT equipment, to measure environmental conditions and possible security threats, he says.

As with any IoT rollout, preparation is key. "Some approaches yield too much data, or non-useful content," Hughes says. "So understanding the context for measurement is important."

Furthermore, IoT can be an organizational "silo buster," he says, which can lead to cultural clashes. For example, IT's responsibilities might overlap with those of operational technology (OT), which could lead to turf battles or misunderstandings. Using IoT for asset management may require more interaction between these groups than in the past, Hughes says.

Using IoT for IT monitoring also means there are more devices to manage and secure, DiDio says. "The proliferation of IoT-enabled devices introduces a slew of new, potential vulnerability points and entry points into the network that can be exploited," she says.

It's worth considering starting small with an IoT implementation for IT monitoring, Hughes says. "Getting the basics in provides the infrastructure needed to expand," he says. 451 Research has seen in its surveys that many organizations are starting with simple monitoring of equipment, and then over time, adding more advanced capabilities such as using machine learning to improve predictive maintenance of IT systems.

IoT keeps tabs on IT gear at robotics manufacturer

Bossa Nova Robotics is using Cisco Meraki MT sensors to monitor temperature, humidity, water, and door status (open/closed) in its data center and other locations housing IT equipment.

"We are watching for temperatures or humidity that's out of our equipment's operating guidelines," says Todd Shipway, director of IT at the San Francisco-based robotics manufacturer. The sensors are located in IT closets, data center racks, and key "hotspots" around the company's facilities, he says.

"We also monitor the status of access doors to all IT areas," Shipway says. "This allows for easy access to information on whether a door is open or closed, when it was last opened, etc. We know when doors are expected to be opened or IT areas accessed. If an issue arises, we have quick access in a single dashboard."

Bossa Nove began using the IoT technology in 2019, when it needed a way to monitor key details of its IT assets across offices and manufacturing facilities.

"Cooling and airflow were a large concern, as we had previously experienced temperature-related issues [with] our IT equipment," Shipway says. That included heat-induced hardware failures, particularly during the summer months when temperature and humidity levels rose significantly.

When the pandemic hit, the ability to remotely monitor IT assets became even more vital.

"We went from 90 percent on-site workforce to less than one percent onsite," Shipways says. "We still had IT services and equipment that needed to stay up and running for remote workers to utilize and work on. This created a need to have access to all of our IoT sensor data remotely, without a need to have a human on site to alert the IT staff of a potential environmental issue within the office."

While the technology was easy to set up and deploy, the biggest challenges have involved how to best use the data that's collected and add automation capabilities, Shipway says. For example, IT wanted to have the ability to automatically adjust air conditioning fan speed or temperature settings if the air temperature in a location is above a certain threshold.

"The ability to add automation to our environmental systems has given us peace of mind, knowing that our critical infrastructure and assets will be protected in the event of HVAC system failures, leaky pipes, severe weather events, and other adverse environmental conditions," Shipway says.

By eliminating issues such as overheated equipment, the company has avoided costs of more than $30,000 in hardware replacement as well as the cost of temporarily halting operations and losing productivity.

In addition to ensuring that critical systems remain functioning at all times, and helping to maximize network uptime and equipment lifespan, the IoT sensors are vital for protecting the company's robotics products. "If we didn't have a way to monitor the temperature, we could easily lose one or more robots, and at upwards of $100,000 each, that's obviously a significant cost hit for the business," Shipway says.

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