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Spotless Environments

18 September 2009

Rising power consumption and soaring costs, increased downtime and falling overall efficiency are all serious issues which can be caused by contaminates infesting your facility or comms room. Amit Mehta explains why professional data centre cleaning is vital

AS A FACILITY OR COMMS ROOM MANAGER there are many things you simply don’t want to hear, ‘a server has gone down’ is one of them and probably the one you dread most. For some, a server packing up, even for a short time, would be a disaster, for others it would merely be a big inconvenience but regardless of the severity of the problem it causes, you would need to know how and why it happened. You will have a responsibility to get to the bottom of the issue and find out exactly what caused it. Warranties would be called upon, assessors could be brought in, answers would be needed and blame assigned.
Now imagine the warranty provider has assessed the facility and deemed your warranty is void due to levels of contamination which exceed those laid out in your agreement. This might seem like an extreme scenario but in reality, a large number of facilities, both large and small, are currently running this risk. Warranty invalidation is just one area that facilities managers need to consider. The risk of contamination due to insufficient professional cleaning could already be having a serious affect on many areas of the business. Rising power consumption and soaring costs, increased downtime and falling overall efficiency are all serious issues which can be caused by contaminants infesting your facility or comms room.
At this year’s Ashrae Winter Conference, in Chicago, IBM’s senior systems and technology group engineer Joe Prisco, published a white paper on precisely this topic. As he described, any type of data centre contamination can cause serious problems but he started his talk with the biggest culprit, dust - chemically inert dust to be specific.
Chemically inert dust is by far the most common cause of problems; produced by the obvious sources like dead skin cells and clothing fibres but also from some slightly less obvious places, like cardboard packaging and even ink residue from printers. If left, this type of dust can have serious consequences, clogging server intakes and affecting their ability to regulate temperature; meaning more power is needed to cool the servers and keep air flowing, increasing your power bill and affecting your bottom line. In time, these issues only get worse and if not addressed will eventually result in server failure.
This is becoming an even bigger issue as servers become increasingly more powerful, requiring more air to be circulated for cooling. This results in fans and air conditioning systems working even harder to compensate, in the process spreading dangerous contaminates further and increasing electricity consumption. These issues are equally prevalent in facilities of all sizes, from smaller office based comms rooms to the largest data centres. Contamination does not discriminate towards just one group.
Deep clean
To use a recent example, one major UK telecoms company, who acquired an existing data centre that wasn’t up to their standards, called in professional cleaning specialists to provide a full deep clean of the whole facility. The results not only brought the data centre in line with warranty and company standards but increased power utilisation efficiency (PUE) by almost 1.3 percent. That may seem like a fairly small percentage but when you consider the total power consumption of a facility larger than a football stadium, you start to realise the affect professional cleaning can have.
Professional data centre cleaning may still be seen by many as a non essential cost, rather than at the forefront of business continuity, but it is this frame of mind that has the potential to cause severe problems in years to come. As a multinational business services company recently discovered, when its server popped due to zinc whisker contamination – ignoring the problem is simply short sighted and potentially far more costly.
Regular use of a professional deep cleaning specialist has many benefits and is a highly cost effective way of maintaining business continuity and improving return on investment of costly capital equipment. It is important to remember that not all contamination is visible to the naked eye and even in an environment which looks clean, damage could be occurring. Particle count devices are often used to measure contamination microns per cubic metre in line with ISO standards. Larger, professional, more accurate devices are able to pull in a full cubic metre of air from several points around the facility and calculate the contaminate count based on an average of all the information. This information can be used, along with other tests, to determine the level and varieties of contamination existing in the facility.
As well as dust, both corrosive and inert, there are many other different types of contamination which only a specialist will be able to identify. From zinc whisker fragments, which occur on bare metal surfaces coated with zinc in the galvanisation process, to contamination caused by construction or refurbishment and even vermin.
Although a general cleaner may be able to see many of these, it requires a specialist with the appropriate equipment and training to fully remove each and all contamination types. The value of professional facility cleaning is today still grossly underestimated and it is unfortunate that it will likely take a major failure, before many organisations regard the service as key to business continuity and the long term efficiency of their facility. As facilities and data centres continue to grow exponentially and become even more vital to a business’ operations, the risks from contamination rise proportionately and it is those who ignore those risks who will see their businesses suffer in the long term.
● Amit Mehta is managing director of 8 Solutions

Tips for a clean data centre
Only use professionals:
8 Solutions uses only a permanently employed, highly trained team who have also been police checked to work in secure environments, and they use only materials specifically designed for the purpose. Strong chemicals and water have the potential to cause corrosive dust that could contain ionic chemical compounds like sulphur and chlorine salts, which when wet, become corrosive or can create short circuits within equipment.
Between cleans: Have strict rules on what can and cannot enter the facility to limit the level of contamination between professional visits. Ban all food and drink stuffs and remove all packaging outside the facility. Limit the number of personnel who have access and remove all unnecessary equipment and work stations to help stop people feeling it is acceptable to remain inside.
Training and best practice: Simple ideas like creating a check list to be performed on set days each week, can have a big affect on contamination levels. These should include: remove all visible debris before leaving the facility each night; conduct a weekly spot check or white glove check to ensure dust levels are at the required level; enforce a policy of over shoes being worn at all times inside the centre and removed upon exiting the facility; make sure tack mats are in use at entrances and changed regularly; check the underside of raised floor panels for a bronze sheen – a sign of Zinc Whiskers; and changing Hepa filters in air conditioning systems on a monthly basis

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