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If you're responsible for hardware maintenance, there's one piece of equipment that belongs in your tool kit -- a handheld infrared scanner for measuring component and airflow temperatures. A good scanner costs less than $500 and can save hours of troubleshooting time as well as thousands of dollars in failed equipment costs.
Heat is the great enemy of semiconductors, and also often the first sign of component failure. It's a great clue for tracking down hard-to-spot problems like loose connectors. A quick pass or two with a handheld scanner can make these conditions pop out at you by reporting the temperature of the components. In general, higher than normal temperatures indicate a component that is either trouble already or will be soon.
Beside the temperature of components, a scanner can also be used to check the temperature of the air flowing into and out of your systems. This is a valuable adjunct to temperature alarms in keeping the racks and other components cool. It can also help you track down where the hot air that is entering your system is coming from.
Scanners are superior to direct-reading thermometers because they don't have to touch the component to measure the heat. The kind of scanner you need for a data center doesn't have to measure very high temperatures. In fact, a range up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit is plenty. But it does need to be accurate to a degree or so through most of its range. Because scanners are analog instruments, it is important to follow the manufacturer's recommendations for calibration and care.
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About the author: Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80 K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last 20 years, he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.