Monday 25 November 2013

Remote monitoring for small data centres and holiday homes

While experimenting with the interSeptor Pro my mind turned to how the technology could be used to protect our holiday home during the winter period. Our insurers demand the home is visited weekly while it is empty, but some form of continuous remote monitoring could greatly enhance this for a relatively low cost. The Jacarta equipment is good but is designed and priced for data centre usage. I had a look at some alternatives.  They don't offer the scope of facilities provided by the interSeptor, but could cover the need for monitoring a holiday home.
The same technology could be useful in small remote offices.

GSM based - PAYG SIM
These need no external wired connection to the premises and can raise alerts over the mobile telephone network. 

Low cost internet monitoring 
If the home has a broadband internet connection these devices provide scope for interactive remote monitoring.
  •  Neon 100 - Temp and humidity with email alert
  • Sensormetrix Titanium P8541 4 probes inputs; SNMP Traps, Email alerts and web interface.
  • Poseidon 3266 - Temp and humidity plus 4 Dry Contact inputs for other sensors; SNMP Traps, Email alerts and web browser interface
I've also been investigating software to monitor SNMP Traps (alerts from these devices) which is located on a central server. This monitor software can then be linked with SMS services to generate SMS alerts on an alert.  The monitor software allows software logic to control the type of response needed. Here's a list of items to consider

  • Nagios, 
  • The Dude, 
  • Zabbix, 
  • IBM Tivoli, 
  • HP OpenView, 
  • OpManager, 
  • IMM (Intellipool Network Monitor), 
  • Monitor one, 
  • Cacti, 
  • MRTG, 
  • Opsview, 
  • LoriotPro, 
  • Axence 
  • nvision, 
  • Ipswitch 
  • WhatsUp, 
  • Paessler IPCheck, 
  • MSC Operations Manager 2007
I eventually found some suitable software which has a small monthly subscription of a couple of pounds per month. It provides extensive monitoring and alert facilities including SMS text messages. It also allows me to monitor the devices from my Android tablet while I'm "on the road".

Sunday 24 November 2013

Initial impressions of the Jacarta interSeptor Pro

It works straight from the box, is well designed and robustly constructed.

Maybe I need to expand on that statement. I had to read a brief leaflet to check the process to set the IP address but the process of setting the address on the Jacarta unit was easy.  I'd assigned a static IP address outside of our normal DHCP range. Once that was complete I  plugged the interSeptor into a network switch port using a CAT5 patch cord to connect it to our office network. I was able to perform most configuration and monitoring over the network using a Java enabled browser, A full manual is supplied in pdf format on an accompanying CD.

The process of connecting temperature and humidity probes (EMD) was an easy plug and play process using standard 8 wire RJ45 structured UTP cabling and patch cords. Note that the EMD use all eight conductors of the network network cable for physical electrical connection. There is a range limitation of a maximum 20 metres cable length for the connection. It is not a TCP/IP connection between the interSeptor and the EMD probe. In practice in a data centre room I'd use a separate structured cabling system with different coloured cable to connect the interSeptor, but in practice there's nothing to prevent you from using an existing cabling system.

The EMD probe is not limited to temperature and humidity. Each EMD has two sets of additional inputs to which you can connect further Jacarta sensors or monitor relay contacts (normally open/normally closed). I've purchased the 8 port interSeptor Pro. It arrived with 8 EMD probes. This allows me to monitor temperature/humidity  at 8 locations within the 20 metre cable radius. A further total of 16 sensors can be attached via the EMD to the interSeptor.  There are other models of the interSeptor Pro which support a greater number of ports. I can easily visualise a single interSeptor Pro monitoring up to eight equipment cabinets. If you need more chose a model with more ports.

There are two output pair points per eight RJ45 inputs on the main unit. These can be used to control external devices such as relays or strobe/siren units. The output connectors can be triggered remotely or in response to an alert condition within the interSeptor unit. For example this unit might be used to remotely control both an alarm siren/strobe light and also an electronic door lock for a room or cabinet.

The main unit is supplied with rack mounting fittings for a standard cabinet. Power is provided via a C13 plug which fits into a socket at the rear of the unit. The RJ45 sockets are at the front of the unit. A serial port is located at the rear of the unit. The serial port is used for console connection or for an optional GSM modem which can be used to send GSM text message alerts.  It is designed for installation in a typical technology equipment room, though of course it can be used free standing.

I liked the configuration, monitoring and alert capabilities which were easy to configure and sufficient to cover most situations. The unit can be monitored by most network management software tools via the TCP/IP network connection, so it is well suited to remote operation. I'll cover more detail on the Jacarta software in a later blog, but suffice to say you do not need extra software to use this device. Jacarta also offer a remote monitoring/alert service for a low annual subscription.


Tuesday 19 November 2013

Data Centre Technology at home

This year we've moved the business to Derbyshire. Our new home is a sprawling 210 year old building located on the edge of the flood plain of the River Derwent. The previous owner was a bit disingenuous about the flooding risk. He said there'd been no insurance claims against flooding. After our arrival we discovered that every 10  years or so the river will come and visit our garden. The flood water in the garden can be knee deep. There is usually some warning from the Environment Agency when flooding is about to occur. 

We're not terribly upset about this as the way the house is constructed means it is not normal for any damage to occur. However we are starting to plan some demountable flood defences which can be stored until needed and then quickly put in place. This is not absolutely straight forward as we have to modify the building's drainage system to prevent back flooding from the main sewer.

Our building is Grade II listed, in a World Heritage Site and also is sited in a Local Authority Conservation Area.  Any change to the building, its outhouses, trees, garden and garden walls needs the approval of the Local Authority and potentially English Heritage. If we breach the regulations we face criminal sanctions plus the cost of returning the building, walls etc to their original state, We'll need to seek approval for the flood defences.

The most difficult problem is the garage which is located 60 metres away at the foot of our garden closest to the river. We could wake in the morning to find our expensive car wading in knee deep water. Not a good thing. We can't raise the garage floor because of the planning regulations. We have considered a rebuilt garage with an in-built pontoon to float the car (and roof) above the flood water but the costs are prohibitive. We've decided to use Data Centre technology to provide a reasonably priced solution to this dilemma.

We'll install a water leak detector cable around the garage wall about one centimetre (half inch) above the concrete floor.
water leak monitor

We'll use a Jacarta interSeptor Pro control unit to monitor the water leak detector and raise an alert if the garage floor is covered with water.

We're also using a temperature monitor cable, from the interSeptor into the adjoining hen house and trigger a heating pad if the temperature drops too low. 
temperature monitor
Finally we'll add a security contact to the garage door to detect any unwanted intruders, this will be monitored by the Jacarta unit.
 security monitor
The connection back to the house will be via directional Wifi antennae utilising 5 GHz (802.11n) band. The combination of intervening trees, thick stone walls, distance, and interference defeat normal domestic Wifi. We don't want the construction and planning hassle of running CAT 5 cables or fibre between the buildings.

It sounds like overkill to use the technology to protect a garage, but it will put us experience of installing and operating the devices. It will also put us in the position to endorse the product as something we use to protect our own assets. We'll note progress on this blog. We've also looked at alternative devices to monitor the status of our holiday home.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Pet hates - credit munching

One business practice we find particularly annoying is "credit munching".  Credit Munching is where the organisation arbitrarily decides to cancel credits a few months after they've been purchased. Not only have you already given the company a free loan for the period, they then decide they confiscate the credits because you've not used their services recently. It is little better than an act of corporate theft, like people stealing money from a fountain where people have thrown coins to make a wish and/or donate to charity.

Those organisations think they can justify this practice by sending you reminders warning that credit you paid for is about to expire and can be saved if you do business with them.  If the are so concerned about the (non-existent) administrative effort of maintaining the credit records they should refund the credit to the original card. 

When an organisation plays this deceitful little trick on my company we automatically blacklist them. In our terms that means:
  • they automatically become the last choice for any future business;
  • we never recommend them to clients or friends;
  • their domain name is added to our email blacklists, so we are never troubled by their emails again.
If the majority of consumers adopted these reasonable defensive measures the despicable practices of Credit Munching would stop. We apply the same rules to loyalty point systems.

Here's our current blacklist:

British Airways (as a consequence of Air Miles, Avois) -
The Air Miles organisation - for loyalty points munching - - for credit munching
Hilton Honors - the hotel chain - for loyalty points munching.

BA and the Hilton have lost substantial amounts of business from us as a direct consequence. They'll come off the blacklist when they apologise and refund in full the credits/loyalty points.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

It looks great a great Data Centre, but ...

I've just visited a small data centre which had been developed by someone who's had little previous training in creating such rooms/buildings. This lady has good business qualifications and has had plenty of experience as a general manager, but little in the operation of a data centre. 
She was proud at the low development costs of the site, partly achieved by using lowest bid general contractor. The overall decorative appearance of the "Data Centre" is good, but when you dig a bit deeper into the construction methods the picture changes. 

To spare her blushes I won't go into too much detail but there were some basic mistakes. I've made some recommendations relating to safety which shocked her as there's now no budget to fix the issues and she doesn't want to interrupt operations with additional works.

There are many factors to consider when planning and designing a Data Centre, but here are the main factors I put into consideration:

  • Power
  • Cooling
  • Resilience
  • Weight bearing capabilities of the building structure
  • Noise and vibration
  • Insulation
  • Security and safety
  • Lighting
  • Personnel
  • Access
  • Data, telecommunications and power cabling
  • Shared Mechanical and Electric facilities
  • Space allocation
  • Storage
  • Maintenance
  • Expansion and upgrading planning
These factors overlap and are often interdependent leading to many careful design decisions being required.

In the case mentioned at the start of this blog article. I've recommended an increase in the fire rating of a couple of walls and doors. It is possible to retro-fit this, but the process will require some minor building works. I've also recommended one stud wall where there is public access should have greater security by adding security mesh lathing with a surface covering of lightweight wallboard. I'm sorry to ruin the wallpaper!

Monday 14 October 2013

Interest Rate Swaps to small business debacle

Just watched a BBC article about a small childrens nursery business which had taken a loan from Barclays and which bundled in an Interest Rate Swap trade to "protect" them from interest rate increases. The additional cost above the loan so far has been £100,000.

I'm not surprised by the reports of small businesses being caught out by interest rate swaps. The banks who sold these to businesses can have no defence. I was working in a City of London Moneybrokers in the 1990's and remember the banks being forced to unwind similar IRS deals made to the treasury departments of Local Authorities. If Local Authority had been caught out by such trades it is obvious that small businesses were in a much worse position when it comes to being aware of the risks.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Karcher Dry Ice Blasting - do they want to do business>

My company is looking into providing dry ice blasting as part of a Disaster Recovery Service. Cleaning up after flood and smoke damage can be expensive and messy. Features of dry ice blasting are attractive in that they do not create secondary waste material and are not as abrasive as sand blasting. In order to venture into that business area we've allocated a substantial R & D budget to investigate what equipment is most suitable to offer a service and also to provide operator training.

As part of those investigations we decided to look at the Karcher IB 15/80 dry ice blasting machine. We made contact through the Karcher UK web site with a view to identifying local distributors and the investment required to start using their equipment.

The only response from Karcher was a phone call a couple of days later from a sales clerk whose opening statement was that Karcher wanted to send a representative around to inspect our site. When we queried why we were given the response that this was for "Health and Safety." There was no discussion of our requirement, and no request of what information we needed. We terminated the call immediately saying we were no longer interested and there were alternative suppliers we could approach.

There's since been radio silence from Karcher. No follow up to determine why we backed away. We do wonder if Karcher really wants this type of business in the UK.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Filling gaps in Datacentre

Windchill Engineering market a fire rated memory foam which is good at filling gaps in your datacentre thus avoiding air loss.

Microsoft Azure outage - again

There must be a few CTO's feeling rather uncomfortable at their recommendation to the Board that their organisation should use Microsoft's Azure hosted computing facility. It was down again for eight hours on 23rd February from 9pm GMT. Someone in MS had forgotten to renew a security certificate. This is almost on the anniversary of a similar failure last year.

Apparently Microsoft will offer "credits" for the lost service hours. They should be showing someone's head on a platter, after paying genuine compensation.

Monday 21 January 2013

Protecting your building during construction work

Like most business managers I get loads of emails every day which I quickly delete after a cursory glance at the title and contents. One which caught my attention was from a company called Protecta Screen. They do a range of temporary protective sheeting for floors, walls, doors, stairs to prevent damage during construction and decorating works. It is worth noting their web address if you are likely to be involved in any office, home or data centre expansion work. It might be worth suggesting such a range of products to your contractor.