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Data Centers Go Wireless

by on March 10, 2010

RFID Looking for a micro local view of the temperatures around the racks and shelves in your data center? If you’re Microsoft, you’re turning to wireless sensor networks to find out that information in your centers worldwide.

The program began in 2006 with a few sensors in a single data center. Over the years, though, it has grown. Today more than 700 of the wireless devices have been installed in the company’s centers worldwide where they enable the software giant to closely monitor temperature and humidity around the server racks in the facilities.

A problem that has always plagued data center managers is how to make sure that their facilities are cool enough to keep their servers purring. Since data centers are large–in Microsoft’s case, they average 470,000 square feet–it has always been difficult to determine temperature variations at specific locations within a data center. The typical solution to that problem has been a crude one–jack up the AC. Microsoft’s wireless sensor approach, though, offers a more elegant approach to the challenge.

The wireless sensors in the system are called Genomotes. There are two types, a slave and a master. The slaves–placed at the top, middle and bottom of a rack–measure temperature and humidity every 30 seconds and send the info to a master. Masters operate in the 2.4 GHz band and comply with IEEE 802.15.4, as do certain RFID tags. The masters communicate with each other forming a mesh network that connects to a base station. The base station is linked to a back-end system through an Ethernet cable.

Through software developed by the company, the sensor information can be displayed on a map of the data center. It allows hot zones to be identified in real time and heating problems to be addressed immediately, such as adjusting temperatures or fan speeds, or rerouting computational tasks away from overheated servers.

“Using sensors to track temperature makes sense from the standpoint of the environment, and it makes sense from a business standpoint,” Feng Zhao, a principal researcher and manager with Microsoft Research’s Networked Embedded Computing Group told RFID Journal in an interview.

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