Robert Hunt, manager of enterprise systems management at American Greetings, had one goal in mind — drive out costs related to energy use. This included energy in the company’s central 2,200-sq-foot data center in Cleveland as well as in 10 remote plants housing rack servers running manufacturing systems and four facilities outside of the U.S.

His team’s strategy to reduce energy usage and lower operating costs aimed at turning off a number of the CRACs that cooled the facilities.

Running “hotter” data centers aligns with the latest ASHRAE guidelines, which revise upward the allowable and recommended cooling guidelines. These new guidelines reflect the growing momentum in the industry for operating servers at higher levels of temperature and humidity. It also addresses the money and energy savings that can be attained by raising the baseline temperature inside the data center.

According to Hunt, the big question was, “If we shut off the air conditioning, what temperature could we safely run at, without jeopardizing the equipment housed in the facility or violating the terms of equipment maintenance contracts?”

What he needed was an environmental monitoring solution that would quickly provide the temperature and humidity data to help him know that ideal temperature.

Hunt uses IBM® Systems Director Active Energy Manager to monitor and manage where power is being used and where additional cooling may be required on servers and other systems. Consequently, he was only interested in monitoring options that would easily feed temperature/humidity/leak detection data into Active Energy Manager. Once he found the right solution, he was planning on standardizing it across all his facilities.

He piloted a wired monitoring solution but found it wasn’t practical. Then he attended an IBM Pulse conference where he heard about the RF Code Environmental Monitoring solution. The RF Code solution consists of Active RFID hardware and software that manages the data captured by the sensors and readers. Sensors capture environmental data about temperature, humidity, the presence of conductive fluid, air flow, and more. Then it transmits that data to readers who then send it on to software where the data is managed.

After seeing a demonstration he bought an Environmental Monitoring Starter Pack for one of his facilities that was asking for environmental monitoring. The plant had experienced a leaky air conditioning unit. They had managed to clean up the problem, but didn’t want  to be vulnerable to another leak.

Hunt integrated RF Code into IBM Tivoli Monitoring software. The plant experienced another leak, but this time, the RF Code solution immediately alerted personnel who quickly made sure the leaky water would drain properly.


Lessons learned

Sometimes the value of a solution is manifested by its absence. Such was the case when the data center in Cleveland experienced intermittent power shortages caused by the power utility that provided the juice to the facility. These outages brought down the CRAC units cooling the equipment. The servers in the racks, however, were still running on battery power.

As the room became increasingly hotter, a decision had to be made about if and when to power down the server equipment. With no monitoring system in place, there was no way to know if the temperatures in the rack cabinets were exceeding the server manufacturers’ specified temperature thresholds. Violating such thresholds effectively nulls the equipment warranty.

Better safe than sorry ruled the day, as Hunt and his team turned off the servers. Naturally, shortly after the servers were shut down, the power to the building came back up, which meant Hunt and his team had to then bring them back up — a task that took four hours. Such a loss of productive time could have been avoided with RF Code’s monitoring, says Hunt, helping them to avoid the binary on/off decision they ultimately made.

“We would have known if we were hitting a temperature threshold, getting close to it, or still safe. RF Code would have bought us more time, during which we could have, for example, turned on fans to cool the equipment and perhaps stave off having to shut it down and bring it back up,” said Hunt.”



Currently, Hunt is using RF Code’s Active RFID sensor-based monitoring for leak detection and temperature and humidity monitoring in several remote locations. He has just started deploying it in the Cleveland data center at American Greetings and plans to have it fully equipped within six months. Plans also call for all sites to be fully standardized on RF Code.

“Everything is running smoothly,” said Hunt. So smoothly, in fact, that he’s looking to bring in RF Code’s Asset Management solution to track and manage the company’s laptops and desktops.

He says RF Code Asset Management will be a boon for the desktop team. As in all companies, assets move and it’s difficult to keep track of where they are.

 All in all, Hunt is more than satisfied with the value RF Code has brought his company to date. He anticipates that when the Cleveland data center is fully equipped, American Greetings will experience significant energy savings.