While IT equipment is typically locked away in safe, restricted environments, digital transformation has dramatically changed the game
Digitization is now possible in industries where harsh environments — such as drafty warehouses and manufacturing plants — are part of the equation due to higher demand and modern technologies
At the same time, the need to build IT infrastructure in these settings is only set to increase in coming months and years, as online shopping, US-based manufacturing, and 5G applications continue to rise, requiring IT infrastructure to be housed in a broader variety of environments.
As the pace of change quickens, companies will be forced to reckon with the risks associated with placing micro data centers in environments that lack the physical infrastructure necessary for delicate IT equipment. Fortunately, there are solutions designed to keep edge computing machinery safe from known risks in harsh environments. IT leaders will need to take advantage of these solutions to avoid the possibility of costly downtime resulting from these dangers.
Physical infrastructure needs and risks in local edge sites
Harsh environments typically lack the key elements that serve to protect IT infrastructure. The fundamental physical infrastructure needed in local edge sites acts to ensure the availability of ongoing business processes. When infrastructure is housed in spaces that lack the necessary aspects of physical security, IT rack enclosures, environmental separation, power and cooling infrastructure, and means for monitoring assets, equipment faces considerable risks.
There are a variety of equipment risks present in any environment, but in harsh indoor IT environments, temperature changes, opportunity for collision, and the possibility of corrosion are often present. For example, fragile IT equipment can be in direct contact with variable outdoor conditions in an open warehouse. Similarly, arc furnaces in metal casting factories can heat up nearby equipment and cause room temperatures to rise, resulting in equipment going haywire. As for the possibility of collision, industrial settings with forklifts and heavy mobile machinery present the risk of crashing into micro data centers.
Aside from temperature and collision, corrosion can damage equipment in harsh environments where hard disk drives, servers, and printed circuit boards are exposed to chemicals that release gaseous contaminants, commonly used in manufacturing processes. All these factors can negatively impact equipment reliability, causing serious issues.
How companies can keep equipment safe When evaluating risk factors, the ideal solution is to isolate IT equipment from the harsh environment. It is often necessary to create a new micro-environment based on the tolerances of the equipment, as the equipment tends to be non-hardened and designed to reside in a controlled IT room. Fortunately, specific solutions and partners exist to solve the needs of unique applications in unconventional settings, created to address each risk factor: · Temperature changes: Extreme highs, lows and rapid changes can affect the lifespan and reliability of IT equipment. Dedicated air conditioners and heaters for micro data centers that experience fluctuations in temperature can be a solution. There are micro data center solutions that have self-contained air conditioners, which are ideal for environments where equipment is isolated from indoor air-conditioning. There are also external sensors which can be used to monitor equipment for changes in temperature and other environmental con
· Potential collisions: Collision with heavy machinery can cause severe damage to equipment. It is preferrable that facility managers position equipment away from the main traffic areas in the facility when possible. Additionally, placement of concrete bollards to keep IT equipment separate from vehicles and machines is highly advised.
· Chance of corrosion: Corrosion can impact the internal mechanisms of equipment – keeping micro data centers covered with coatings or paints that offer protection based on the type of environment can prevent corrosion. Additionally, there are enclosures that use double wall panels, thermal insulation, gasketing, and robust cable fittings (e.g., Roxtec) to isolate equipment.
These dangers can put the longevity and functionality of equipment at risk, complicating the efficient operation of facilities in harsh environments. Fortunately, by proactively performing the actions required to keep machinery running smoothly, companies can operate even in the worst conditions.
The importance of protecting IT equipment in harsh environments Protecting IT equipment can be difficult in a variety of indoor environments due to often unexpected risk factors, including temperature change, the chance of collision, and the possibility of corrosion. Facility operators who neglect to implement protective action face the considerable potential that equipment could become irreparably damaged.
The primary risk stemming from damaged equipment is downtime due to loss of connection, which can cause security gaps, failures in physical infrastructure systems, and lead to halted operations that hurt the business. Managers must first assess the environment they are building their infrastructure in and then conduct the best practices required to keep equipment safe and prevent downtime. It is important that facility managers planning IT infrastructure in extraordinary environments dedicate time to researching and considering best practices for protecting equipment. Those that perform their due diligence will experience better outcomes in the long run.
About the Author
Adam Compton is the Director of Strategy for Schneider Electric, where he leads business strategy for the North American business, focused on IT and data center markets and applications for high available power and cooling solutions. With over 20 years of experience, originally hailing from APC, he is responsible for monitoring and analyzing market intelligence towards the goal of revenue growth for Schneider Electric. As an entrepreneurial leader, Adam attends industry conferences and is a mentor capable of directing large cross-functional teams. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Junior Achievement of Rhode Island and received a Bachelor of Science in English from Tulane University.