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Managing Humidity Levels in the Data Center Makes Everyone Happy

November 21, 2008

Humidity is an often discussed topic in Central Texas. Most days the humidity is at a comfortable level and we go about our day in relative comfort. On some days though you may hear comments like, “I feel like I’m in Houston the humidity is so high,” which is equivalent to saying I’m out of my comfort zone and I’m not happy about it. Similarly, if the equipment in our data centers could speak, they might make Houston-related comments too. Conversely, if humidity levels are too low it is an uncomfortable situation as well.

Unfortunately data center equipment can’t speak, so it is up to data center managers to remain aware of all environmental conditions that affect the operational stability of the equipment. If the data center is a small one, it is more easily monitored, but if it is a large one, like the new $450 million data center recently built by Citigroup less than two miles from where I’m sitting, the task is not so simple. Fortunately there are products designed to do the monitoring for you.

CPI has a Humidity Sensor that is part of the Remote Infrastructure Monitoring (RIM-600) system that “speaks” for your equipment. It will literally call you on your phone and tell you if there is a problem. Or, if you prefer, it can be programmed to notify you via pager, email, fax or SNMP trap. Depending upon strategic positioning, the Humidity Sensor will monitor humidity in a room or inside an equipment cabinet. There are two versions to choose from; one has a measurement range of 0-100% RH and does not have a digital display, the other has a measurement range of 5-95% RH and does have a digital display. Both connect to the RIM-600 Host or Node using an RJ-45 cable. The connection from the sensor to the host can use your existing network wiring infrastructure.

RIM-600 Humidity Sensor

What are acceptable humidity levels for a data center? The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommend a range of relative humidity between 40 and 55% for data centers. If you feel that range is too narrow, know that ASHRAE does say that a range between 20% and 80% is "acceptable".

What are the dangers with humidity levels that are too high or too low? According to an article recently published on the Data Center Journal Website titled “Managing Humidity in a Data Center”, excess of humidity is not only uncomfortable for data center personnel but can also form condensation of parts which is equally damaging. Apart from that, the condensation on the cooling coils of the HVAC systems will cause them to exert more effort and consume more energy in the process for supplying the same amount of cooling effect. On the other hand, if humidity is too low data centers can experience electrostatic discharge (ESD), akin to giving someone a shock after shuffling along a carpeted floor in stocking feet. That sort of event can shut down electronic equipment and possibly damage it, explains an article on The article gives an example of a systems operator who got a static charge and touched a system, which tripped an internal thermal sensor on the server and caused it to power off.

The RIM-600 has many other options in addition to the Humidity Sensor that can monitor environmental, security, and safety conditions. It will monitor room or cabinet temperature, presence of water, smoke, motion, power, door open/close status and can provide N/O, N/C dry contact bridge monitoring as well as IP address monitoring. The system will record and analyze environmental conditions and includes battery backup and non-volatile data storage so you do not lose monitoring capability if the power goes out.

For a more thorough explanation of humidity and its affects in the data center, read “Managing Humidity in a Data Center” for more information about the RIM-600, visit our Website, leave a comment or call our Technical Support Team at 800-834-4969. Keep your data center cool and comfortable and your equipment will thank you with uninterrupted service. Kim Ream, Sr. eCommerce Specialist

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