Protecting Vital Information

County uses remote monitoring system to protect computer network infrastructure

IN 2003, Jefferson County, Wash., administrators had a decision to make. A remote monitoring system purchased more than a decade earlier was showing signs of its age. Growth in the county's population, the Internet boom and the increasing reliance on computer record keeping all but required that the county upgrade its monitoring system to protect the vital information and equipment it uses to run the county government.

Originally, county executives simply wanted to replace the previous device -- a SensaphoneTM 1104 remote monitoring system purchased in 1991 -- with the same make and model.

"At the time we bought it, it seemed like the best product available," said Mark Burnfield, records manager for Jefferson County, and the person responsible for replacing the unit. "The cost was good, and the functionality was excellent. We could program it to call anyone we wanted and in whatever order we wanted. So the decision was made to simply replace it."

After initially ordering the replacement SensaphoneTM 1104 unit, county managers realized there were other, more robust products capable of accurately monitoring the government's growing computer infrastructure, while offering scalability to meet future demands. Though capable of meeting the county's needs, the current system did not offer the versatility administrators were seeking.

A Growing Concern
Jefferson County is located a few hours drive from Seattle on the Olympic Peninsula. From the county seat of Port Townsend, Canada can be seen across Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It's a quiet, peaceful kind of place.

In the years since the original equipment purchase, the county's needs have changed. The population is more than 28,000, a 28-percent increase since 1990, according to U.S. census figures. New services were added to support the growing region, and new facilities were added to help deliver the new services. The county government workforce ballooned to more than 250 full-time employees, making it the second-largest employer in the region behind a local paper mill. After Sept. 11, 2001, security issues were catapulted to the forefront of discussion.

Geographically, the county is divided by 922,000 acres of the expansive Olympic National Park, adding an additional challenge to securing facilities and equipment on the county's western boundary along the Pacific Ocean.

Still, according to Burnfield, the original system more than delivered as promised, monitoring the main server (IBM AS400) and other computer equipment, all located in a single room in the county administration building.

A Change in Plans
Burnfield and the county administration staff researched other options before eventually settling on the SensaphoneTM infrastructure monitoring system.

The IMS-4000, originally introduced in 2001, monitors critical environmental conditions, including temperature, humidity, smoke, water, intrusion and power outages, in the computer room environment. When potentially dangerous conditions occur, the system alerts IT managers so the necessary steps can be taken to prevent network downtime and infrastructure damage.

The security equipment also monitors IP devices through pinging and port availability. When a network component -- network link, router, printer and server -- becomes unavailable, an alert is issued.

Today, Jefferson County uses a single host unit in the county administration building and one remote node in the sheriff's department, both located within the town limits of Port Townsend. The host unit is monitoring the county's computer room facilities -- water-cooled air conditioning unit, water intrusion and sound -- using water, temperature and audio sensors. That room houses 20 servers and the support equipment necessary to maintain the county's entire computer network infrastructure. The computer room is located adjacent to the phone switch closet and even shares some of the same equipment, adding to the level of importance in protecting the site.

The county also is using the equipment to monitor vaccine storage conditions at the health department, located in a separate facility in Port Townsend. It pings the network router at the health department to ensure it is properly functioning. If the router does not respond, the assumption is the power is out, Burnfield said.

"We have tens of thousands of dollars in medical supplies stored there and they need to be taken care of. The system is a nice solution to the problem," he said.

Such a cost-effective solution has now opened the door for continued expansion of the system. Burnfield said the county is considering expanding the monitoring system to include environmental and intrusion monitoring of an animal shelter located in the western area of the county.

"That is certainly on the radar screen. With a recent upgrade in high-speed connectivity, it's now easier to hook them into the monitoring network," Burnfield said.

Return on Investment
The security equipment returned its value following a strong storm with heavy rain and wind. The storm knocked power out to the computer room in the administration building. An alarm was sent and the manager on call was able to install an alternate power supply.

"Our 911 emergency calls are routed through that room and that makes it a public safety issue," Burnfield said.

He added that because the IMS-4000 operated properly, no emergency calls were rerouted during the storm.

Meanwhile, the IMS-4000 node is monitoring the temperature of the corrections facility, located about 10 miles outside of Port Townsend and operated by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. The idea, Burnfield said, is to provide a log of temperature readings in the event a prisoner complains about prison conditions.

In both situations, Burnfield said the unit's effectiveness and efficiency has provided the entire staff peace of mind.

"Frankly, I don't spend much time thinking about it," he said. "Whenever we're called, it's for a good reason. Nothing is ever classified as a false alarm because the equipment is doing what it's supposed to. In two instances when the microphone picked up excessive noise, it turned out to be a custodian vacuuming the room. But it could just as easily have been a hard drive about to crash, so it needed to be checked out.

"It comes down to being a public safety issue," he said. "The benefits of the system far outweigh the costs. We didn't have to go through any real justification for buying the system. Everyone understood it was necessary. The system has more than paid for itself."


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