Product Test: RF Code Sentry for Data Centers

For IT professionals, one of the hardest parts of the job is having “eyes and ears” in remote or “lightless” locations, such as B. in branch offices, distribution cabinets or remote data centers. It’s easy to understand the dynamics of the environment when you’re in the same place as the device, but it’s not so easy when you’re not. To make matters worse, IT pros are often forced to place devices in places that were never intended because of structural constraints; These often do not have the necessary air conditioning, power supply or other facilities that the IT infrastructure requires.

For example, when I was in corporate IT, I was responsible for our network, but because the company was in an old historic building, there was limited space for our switching equipment. In this case, I was forced to convert small offices into wiring closets, each containing a pair of Cisco Catalyst 6500s, a few servers, and other equipment. These rooms would get extremely hot but were too noisy for me to leave the doors open. Because of their location, I couldn’t install large air conditioners. This resulted in devices being turned off regularly, especially on hot days.

Managing these types of locations has been very difficult in the past, but recently RF Code announced a new product called Sentry that makes this task much easier. To validate RF Code’s claim, I reviewed the product, and below are my findings. All ratings are given on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the best.

hardware design

The Sentry device is a compact, lightweight device with an integrated thermal imaging camera in the center. The device can be powered either via a mains plug or via Ethernet (PoE). Network connectivity uses built-in Wi-Fi or Ethernet ports on the back of the device. It’s easy to wall mount, but its octagonal shape allows it to be placed on a desk, server, or other flat surface at the site.

Overall, it’s a well-built device that’s easy to assemble, power up, and connect to the network.

Hardware Design Score: 5

initial configuration

The product was relatively easy to set up and was conducted through an online portal. Once the basic account was set up, it was time to add Sentry devices. This was done with a “Create Place” icon at the bottom of the screen. The configuration required a unique identifier for the site, e.g. B. “San Mateo Branch” or “Boston Data Center”. I installed the device in my home office, so I used Acton, MA. The next field is “Address” and once you start typing, the portal will automatically fill in the location. My office is on a very short street in a small town in Massachusetts, so I was pleasantly surprised that the database found the address.

Once the location was configured, the RF code portal generated a QR code, which I pointed the camera on the Sentry device at. There was an audible tone as the camera scanned it and the device was connected. From there, the options were simple, including how to connect the device (wired or wireless) and a choice of DHCP or static IP address.

I’ve tried removing the location and going through the setup process again, but there seems to be a problem deleting the location. Although there is a “Delete location” option, it doesn’t actually delete the location. I asked Sentry and they told me this shouldn’t be a problem anymore, but I couldn’t get it to work. This is a minor issue as I don’t see many clients doing this once everything is set up.

Once the devices are configured, the RF code portal will have a map showing where the locations are.

The configuration process was simple and straightforward, although the inability to create an accurate address might pose an issue for some organizations.

Initial configuration score: 4.5

user management

As you would expect, RF Code allows multiple administrators to work with Sentry information. Under the administration menu there is an option “Manage Users”. Within this option, the admin has the option to create another admin or a “read-only” user. After the user is created, the admin can choose which metrics the user will be notified about. Options are:

  • humidity
  • movement
  • manipulation
  • Guard offline
  • room temperature
  • Thermal camera

The user can also choose to “select all” or “select none” for faster management. The only way to get notifications is through email, and while everyone generally has mobile email, an SMS notification would be a useful alternative. The company informed me that they are developing SMS push, which is a good mobile option. The ability to send alerts within specific windows of time or days would also allow organizations to customize the on-call technicians that are on call, rather than having “all or nothing.”

Setting up users is very easy and provides the flexibility needed for hierarchical support. The only addition that would improve it would be to create more options for the alerts that users see.

User management score: 4

policy management

The administration page of the portal allows users to manage alert thresholds for many of the metrics measured. As expected, Motion, Tamper and Sentry offline are not configurable, since they do not show any variability. For example, the Sentry is either off or not. The other three metrics have policies that can be configured within a band. For example, humidity can be set to normal (20-80%), strict (30-70%), relaxed (15-85%), or disabled. Room Temperature and Thermal have similar normal/strict/relaxed/disabled bands to choose from.

Ideally, the user should be able to create a custom threshold for the alert. When initially configuring, it makes sense to choose a pre-configured band, but over time organizations should have the ability to customize the notifications at a granular level.

Policy Management Score: 4.5

Current activities

Once the device is set up, operation is straightforward and easy. There is a map showing the locations. When a location is selected, the key metrics are displayed in large type at the top. In my lab, the thermal camera showed 74.8 degrees, the room temperature was 71.7 degrees and the humidity was 26%. It also presents beautiful graphics with easy-to-understand icons of different colors to understand critical issues. For example, a moisture violation appears as a red icon with a house and a drop of water on it. Below the icon list is a time band to allow admins to visually see when the event occurred.

There is also a calendar icon that allows the admin to look back in time and see when events have occurred. If there were no events the tag will appear blank, if there were only informational the tag would be colored blue with the number of alerts and if there was a critical alert such as B. too high a temperature, the day is colored red. and the number of warnings displayed.

There’s also a live video icon which, when clicked, shows what the camera is seeing in near real time. In my testing, there was about a 2-3 second lag when moving in front of the camera and when I saw it on screen.

The biggest issue I had with the operations dashboard was the frequency of notifications being sent to my email. When an alarm is triggered, an alert will be sent every few minutes. For critical alerts I see the need for this, but for events like motion detection it would be beneficial to be able to suppress the event for a specified number of minutes.

For example, if someone is working on site, there is no need to send alerts as the on-site technician creates the alerts. This could easily be accomplished via SMS replies or with a simple email reply. However, when it comes to infrastructure management, more information is better than less, so errors in reporting too much are better than too little.

The dashboard was simple, intuitive, and allowed me to keep my eyes and ears in a remote location, although custom configurability would improve usability.

Score on the fly: 4

summary

The RF Code Sentry device is an excellent remote monitoring device, especially for a first generation product. With a list price of $800, it offers an affordable way for IT admins to manage remote locations. Before becoming an Analyst, I was in corporate IT and would have found this extremely useful in branch offices and closets. I often had to rely on local administrators, who were often on the lower end of the technical scale, or I had to drive to the site myself.

It took only a few minutes to deploy and configure the product and start sending alerts almost immediately. Given that the product has only just been released, RF Code has created an excellent product for more features to build upon, and I expect the company to add new features quickly and consistently.

Improvements I would like to see:

  • Granular configurability for policy management
  • More options for notification like SMS or mobile messages
  • Time of day alert for different users
  • Better accuracy of location information or the ability to add a location manually
  • The ability to zoom and pan on the camera

Overall score ZK Research: 4.4

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