5 Distributed Physical Threats Found in a Data Center

The most common threats to data centers include power issues, cooling problems, and fire.  There is however, another type of threat known as distributed physical threats which include the following:

Air Temperature

Monitoring air temperature is essential in any area with IT equipment.  It is particularly important to monitor air temperature in rooms, racks, and directly around the equipment.  The most common method of achieving this is by using temperature sensors.  If air temperature is not monitored, it can lead to equipment failure or a reduction in the equipment lifespan.  This is caused by constant air temperatures above equipment specifications and frequent, drastic temperature changes.


Humidity must be monitored at the room and rack level.  The focus must be on the relative humidity at specific operating temperatures – not humidity levels in general.  This is achieved by using humidity sensors.  If there is too little humidity, equipment failure can be caused by static electricity buildup.  If there is too much humidity, condensation can cause equipment failure and create an unsafe working environment for personnel.

Smoke and Fire

All data centers already have basic smoke and fire detection monitoring because it is required to meet local building codes.  The codes are governed by specific legal and safety regulations.  Unfortunately, the legally required smoke and fire detection monitoring in a data center is not enough.  Supplemental smoke sensors strategically placed near all operating IT equipment is critical to preventing electrical and material fires.  Unmonitored fires cause equipment failure as well as a loss of assets and data.

Airborne Contaminants

There are a number of potential airborne contaminants in data centers which become hazardous at high levels.  The most common airborne threats include hydrogen from batteries and dust particulates.  Using chemical sensors, hydrogen sensors, and dust sensors eliminates the risk of airborne contaminants in a data center.  If hazardous airborne contaminants are left unmonitored they can quickly create a dangerous situation for personnel.  Excessive hydrogen can also affect UPS reliability.  The risk of equipment failure also increases because dust increases static electricity and clogs filters and fans.


One of the most difficult dispersed physical threats in a data center to monitor is liquid leaks.  The leaks are most likely to be either water or coolant.  This can damage floors, cabling, and equipment.  It can also be an indication of CRAC problems.  The best way to monitor for leaks includes rope leak sensors and spot leaks sensors.

These lesser known threats can cause just as much downtime as the more common threats. A minimum level of monitoring for physical threats is never adequate for identifying and preventing dispersed physical threats in a data center.  The best data centers utilize a variety of additional sensors and monitoring techniques to protect themselves from these threats.  Since these physical threats are distributed throughout the data center, the location of sensors will vary based upon the room layout and equipment positioning.

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