Securing Your Storage Assets

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Storage equipment can be pricey. And the data it holds is priceless. That’s why so much attention is placed on security via firewalls, intrusion attention and AV. But this emphasis on IT security often masks a gaping hole that is waiting to be exploited — physical and environmental security.

People can stroll into the data center and walk off with your equipment. Humidity and temperature fluctuations can ruin equipment. And water damage will leak through any firewall.

Case in point: a large hospital in the Midwest. The hospital basement, sited in a flood zone, hosted 166 servers and a Fibre Channel (FC) SAN. The FC SAN consisted of EMC Clariion boxes (3 TB) along with Brocade switches. One floor above the data center were six hot tubs, each containing 1,000 gallons of water. To make matters worse, Exchange Server storage requirements for e-mail alone were increasing at a rate of 40% a year.

“We were running out of space in the hospital basement for the data center and we badly needed a disaster recovery site,” says the hospital CTO.

A failure with three days of downtime, plus the potential threat from water damage, led to the establishment of a second data center for failover. This time, though, it was sited outside a flood zone.

But you don’t necessarily have to take on the huge expense of a parallel storage environment to improve physical security. One of the cheapest ways, in fact, is the purchase and installation of a set of environmental sensors. They can be used inside server rooms, data centers, and wiring closets to monitor water, temperature, humidity, airflow, voltage and dry contact. If a preset threshold is exceeded, users are notified. Say a server room or rack enclosure is tampered with. Or a device overheats. Or a room or device experiences a loss of airflow or water leakage. Alarms automatically go out by e-mail, SMS and/or SNMP trap.

When it comes to selecting sensors, a simple rule of thumb is to keep it simple. Since the idea is to keep costs down, avoid bells and whistles and stick to obvious benefits. You can spend thousands on top-of-the-line sensors to monitor dozens of factors, yet you may be able to get away with a couple of hundred dollars per sensor if you stick to the basics of temperature and humidity. If you need more functionality, add it. But only if you really need it.

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Is It Getting Hot in Here?

Cameras to keep an eye on the server room are nice, for example, but may not be worth the markup. If you can get an environmental sensor with an inexpensive webcam feature, go ahead. But be warned that you might not use it for anything other than showing off to your peers. So focus on temperature, notification and humidification as the most important factors.

Temperature hikes, after all, can be one of the most troubling scenarios. They may be caused by broken fans or AC failure. Prolonged elevated temperatures accelerate the semiconductor aging process and shorter their lifespan. Microprocessor-based temperature sensors in the server room alert you if the temperature drifts out of range. To save hours of hassle, avoid sensors that demand calibration to maintain the correctness of readings.

Humidity is also a vital factor to monitor. Too little and static can damage electrical components. Too much means your equipment can rust. Use a sensor to maintain a fine balance.

Once you have covered your bases with temperature, humidity and alerting, there are other factors to look into to make your physical environment more secure. Dry contact, for example, refers to the detection of broken surfaces when someone opens a door or breaks a window. Every time someone enters a secure area, you receive a trap or page. Inexpensive sensor packages are available that can add this feature for a small amount.

Airflow is another area that may cause you problems. A steady flow of air is necessary to dissipate heat. Placing airflow sensors in the air stream can spare you some heartbreak. Usually, they detect the early signs of problems — a fan has slowed down or an air filter is starting to clog. But sometimes that new storage array you just installed is the problem. You inadvertently stationed it in such a way that the server room airflow has been disrupted. All of a sudden, key equipment overheats and you wonder why. Airflow sensors save hours of fruitless effort trying to troubleshoot the problem.

When it comes to flooding, no sensor will hold at bay the Nile or the Colorado River. But in a less spectacular way, they can give you an early indication of water on the floor before it shorts out your gear.

Tool Tips

You have to factor three elements into the cost of environmental monitors: a base unit, probes, and network management connectivity and integration. Base units often contain one or more built-in sensors as well as ports for hooking up external probes.

There are several vendors to choose from. NetBotz Corp. (Austin, Texas) is the market leader and offers the most sophisticated range of products. Javica (Sanford, Maine) is a fast-rising competitor offering most of the features of NetBotz and excellent price-performance.

Article courtesy of Enterprise IT Planet

See All Articles by Drew Robb

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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