Eye on the Servers

NetBotz's WallBotz 500 offers near-human security and monitoring.

July 1, 2003

5 Min Read
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You can dock the camera and sensor pods onto the base or tether them up to 5 meters away through a standard USB cable. You can also daisy-chain up to six USB hubs for a maximum distance of 30 meters. The base offers additional expandability with four USB ports.

WallBotz 500click to enlarge

The camera comes with an adjustable, CS-mount lens and offers both widescreen and pan and scan, letting you zoom in on power LEDs and ensure that your server-room staffers are wearing matching socks. Given WallBotz's modest price--despite the price increase with this version--and modular architecture, you may want to populate your entire facility with the devices, but remember to keep your employees' privacy in mind.

An integrated microphone in the camera pod lets you capture monophonic audio input and stream it with video to a PC running WallBotz's Advanced View software. For added clarity, you can attach an external microphone (3.5-mm miniplug).

Sensor pods come in analog and state varieties. Analog sensors monitor conditions for which thresholds must be set--temperature, humidity, air flow, audio and amps. State sensors monitor mutually exclusive states--on/off, open/closed--and can detect fluid, motion and dry contact state. To add monitoring capabilities, you can attach up to four external sensors to a sensor pod.

Setting Up the PodsNetBotz sent an engineer to our Syracuse University Real-World Labs® to help install WallBotz, but I found this unnecessary. We simply positioned the WallBotz, including the base station, camera pod and sensor pod, in a corner of our lab.

I aimed the camera at the front of the server racks, then attached a second camera pod to the base station with a USB cable and aimed it at the back of the server racks. Sensors should be mounted as close as possible to the appliances being monitored, so I set up the remote sensor pod in the rack that supports a cooling fan. I would later set the pod to detect the operating conditions of the machines in the rack, including the air flow of the cooling fans, temperature, humidity and dew point.

Configurationclick to enlarge

I set an optional fluid detector beneath the racks to detect standing water. I also connected an amp detector to a test server and installed a dry contact sensor on the glass door of the rack to keep out trouble. With the hardware in place, I turned my attention to configuring settings and alerts.


The base station runs a Linux kernel and offers all network services, including an HTTP and HTTPS server. You can configure the device for monitoring and alerting through HTTP using NetBotz's Java-based Advanced View 2.0 software on your PC, a Linux box or a Solaris box. Without the Advanced View software, you can see only a basic Web-based view to monitor environmental conditions (to check out a basic view of our lab, see NetBotz500.w2k.nwc.com).I installed the Advanced View software on my laptop to configure, monitor and maintain the WallBotz (see screen, above). The necessary JRE (Java Runtime Environment) 1.4.1_01 with online, context-sensitive documentation is installed automatically using approximately 53 MB of disk space. These write-once/run-anywhere applications are great unless you happen to have critical business applications wed to an earlier JRE. Divorce may not be an option.

Alarming Alerts

Alert-notification capabilities have improved since we tested WallBotz 400. The 500 version adds an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) interface and lets you specify primary and backup servers to send alerts and periodic reports. The new model also lets you set up multiple thresholds per sensor with various types of alerts and severities--information, warning, error, critical and failure. You can set multiple alert actions for when these thresholds are exceeded, allowing for a variety of alert profiles that can escalate alarms to more advanced support teams when the alerts go unanswered for a specified period of time.

Alerts can be sent to users via e-mail, FTP, SNMP, HTTP Post or text message to a cell phone. New to version 500 is an audible error message--a computer voice that identifies the alert and the sensor that initiated it--that can be sent to the server-room floor.

Because the base station can be expanded with up to four camera pods and 16 sensor pods, you might consider monitoring out of the server room. Although the WallBotz 500 is more expensive than previous versions, its modularity and flexibility make it a physical monitoring device to reckon with.Sean Doherty is a technology editor and lawyer based at our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®. Write to him at [email protected].

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When we tested WallBotz 400 last January, the camera pod could take pictures every 0.2 to 15 seconds and produce gray-scale images at 320x240 dpi. Version 500 offers an image processor that captures up to 30 frames per second with 1280x1024 dpi resolution in 24-bit color--quite an improvement--but the actual frame rate depends on the resolution of the generated image. If you are simply monitoring your server room, you can reduce the resolution to as low as 160x120 dpi with a capture rate of one frame every 30 seconds.

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