Product Reviews

Environment Watchdog

For keeping an eye on the Server room, the RackBotz 303 has you covered.

Part of keeping a network alive and functional is to protect it from adversaries that can destroy the hardware. Concerns like blazing heat, restricted airflow, security and flaky power can literally wipe out hardware in a second. Environmental concerns are the number one cause for hardware failure and protecting the hardware means keeping track of these variables, almost on a constant basis.

That's where NetBotz comes in. NetBotz has created a family of sensing equipment specifically designed to monitor environmental concerns. There are two different flavors, RackBotz 303, which fits in a rack, and WallBotz 300, which hangs on the wall.

I got a chance to have a look at the RackBotz 303 with an additional external current sensor. The 303 mounts into a 19-inch rack and takes up just 1U of rack space. The 303 has connectivity for three external sensors.

I put the 303 in our company development lab where the environment changes rapidly. The unit sets up quickly and can be configured via IP or serial interface. Once I brought up the Web browser interface, I was greeted by pictures and the environmental settings present within the lab. I left the device in the lab throughout the night and in the morning I received 166 e-mail alerts indicating that relative humidity in the lab had exceeded the upper threshold of 50 percent. There were also other alerts about temperature and power statistics. After that, I placed the unit in our small server room, added an additional temperature sensor and monitored the interior conditions.

Once the unit is in place, you configure it with upper and lower limits for all the things that it monitors and leave it alone. If someone opens your server room door, you can get an e-mail alert. You can even peek through RackBotz's Web cam to see who it is. If the air conditioning unit on the roof goes out, you no longer find out about it six hours later, after the temperature has risen to 90 degrees. Instead, an alert gets sent to your cell phone or pager and you can avoid the headache of unattended, overheated computer equipment. You can also set these alerts to monitor only when necessary. For example, it may not be necessary to keep the door trip alarm active when you expect people to be coming and going.

Upgrade News

As we went to press, NetBotz announced the next generation of their products, including the WallBotz 310 (equivalent to the RackBotz 303 in a smaller package) and the WallBotz and RackBotz 400. The 400 series implement new features including built-in motion detection for the camera, extra sensor ports, improved camera exposure ranges, and FTP data delivery.

In addition, they support an optional add-on known as Last Call. Last Call is a battery-powered modem that can notify you of trouble even if both your primary and backup electrical power sources fail.
—Mike Gunderloy

The 303 can be upgraded with an option called Crawlerz, an SNMP monitoring service that can report information to the RackBotz from up to 15 other SNMP devices. Then you can use network management software, such as Computer Associates' Unicenter or Hewlett-Packard's OpenView to collect information from the 303.

You can get a 303 for $995, with additional sensors ranging from $195 to $265. Crawlerz is available for $195. The WallBotz 300 is $895. While my personal opinion is that the price of this device is a little elevated, the cost may be justified the first time it saves a $20,000 server from heat damage due to an air conditioning failure. In other words, the RackBotz 303 may be the thing that saves your bacon when the server room starts getting hot enough to fry bacon.

About the Author

Rick A. Butler, MCSE+I, is the Director of Information Services for the United States Hang Gliding Association.


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