Choose the right wireless protocol for your data center

Wireless monitoring networks for data centers have specific requirements that are not always obvious and can be painful if ignored. Packet Power has spent years building and running large scale wireless monitoring systems for data centers and found the following features to be essential.

Most people assume security means ENCRYPTION. That is a given and all protocols today provide that. Encryption, however, does not guarantee that the network cannot be breached by a careless insider or a malicious outsider. The real risk to consider is DATA EXPOSURE, mainly what happens if somebody were to break through the encryption.

The monitoring network (wired or wireless) should be independent from all networks that carry your (or your customers’) business traffic. It should be impossible to access any of your business data from any monitoring network, no matter how severely its security protocols may have been breached. One way to achieve this is through a monitoring network that uses a physically distinct transport protocol (e.g. different physical radio systems, frequencies, packet formats etc.) that make it impossible for devices designed for one network to communicate with the other. This is a strong reason to avoid any protocol shared with other business systems, such as Wi-Fi.

You don’t want a monitoring network that is easily detectable and can be probed for vulnerabilities using tools available to anyone with access to Google and a cell phone. Keep in mind that a network may technically be “secure”, but still be subject to disruption or denial-of-service (DOS) attacks using fairly simple probing or scanning techniques. This is why consumer protocols (Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Bluetooth) should be avoided.

Monitoring data center power and environmental infrastructure for many of our customers means thousands of monitoring network nodes. The networking protocol must function equally well for the first ten devices as it does for the next one thousand. All of this needs to work in a relatively tight and radio-hostile hall full of metal and sources of interference. Most protocols have not been optimized for this environment.

Managing thousands of devices effectively requires acting on them in parallel. Any protocol that requires device-by-device attention to configure or upgrade will not work. Spending even 1 minute per device on a thousand devices equals 17 hours, spending 5 minutes per device would require 5 days of full-time effort!

A monitoring network protocol must support many types of monitoring devices, including mains powered devices, battery powered devices, parasitically powered devices and devices locked in radio-impenetrable metal boxes with other devices having to act as relays. This creates network traffic and topology patterns not encountered or even considered by the designs of most generic protocols.

The bad news is this list has been heavily edited to keep it short.

The good news is all of the requirements discussed above (and many more) have been incorporated from the ground up into the wireless protocol used by all Packet Power monitoring devices in production worldwide since 2008.

Want to learn more? Check out a 4-minute video about our “wireless that works” technology.

Paul Bieganski
Packet Power Article