Mucking out the data center.

I’ve just been reading this piece about data center contamination. There’s certainly a few good points in there but I think it misses the point by a mile on a lot of it.

There are certainly a number of contaminants that can play havoc with a data center. Copier and laser printer toner is definitely a bad one, very abrasive. Airborne sand and volcanic ash are also terribly abrasive as well. It’s also true that gaseous contaminates can cause oxidation, but I’m not sure what the average data center could reasonably do to counteract that.

At this point, I diverge. First of all, cleaning a data center to “clean room” standards is ridiculous. Most data centers are NOT built as clean rooms and the first person to open a door or the first puff of cooling air under a raised floor used as a plenum is going to blow that in a big hurry, not to mention that the article recommends doing this BEFORE raised floors, servers, and cable racks are installed. What about the dirt involved in this?

Second, what data center equipment really needs or would even measurably benefit from this level of clean? Data center equipment will usually go FAR beyond its useful lifespan with a lot less of a cleaning level than this. Cleaning the data center as if the same IT equipment was going to be run for 20 years is an awful waste of money.

Sticking with hard surfaces and avoiding fabrics in the data center is certainly a good idea, as are mats to trap as much incoming dirt as possible. Proper filters for air handling equipment is also a smart idea.

Zinc whiskers are probably the only contaminant that stand a significant chance in tiny quantities of causing an IT equipment failure in the data center. Zinc whiskers are formed on the surface of zinc plated metal, such as raised floor tiles and frames. The little whiskers break off on air flow (such as using a raised floor for a cold air plenum) and the head right for vulnerable parts of IT equipment, such as power supplies.

There are a bunch of good reasons NOT to used raised floor in the modern data center (added floor weight for no benefit, expense, under floor fire suppression, etc) but zinc whiskers and the inability to decently clean under them are the biggest. Dump the raised floor and you dump nearly everything that could really cause your equipment problems, as well as a major source of dirt.

Cleanliness in the data center is certainly an important issue, but keeping known offenders like raised flooring out and doing smart, cost effective cleaning instead of trying to achieve clean room perfection will be a lot more sensible.

Email or call me or visit the SwiftWater Telecom web site for green data center services today.


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