It’s that time of year again when data center managers and administrators alike, are mid stride heading into the summer months. By this time of the year, machines have been actively keeping your business operating on a 24-hour clock. Clearly reliability and consistency are main concerns of a data center. But when you ask a data center administrator about their apprehensions, rarely is cleaning mentioned.
However, anyone who maintains a high traffic facility knows how missing a few days of clean-up can eventually lead to larger issues down the road. Data centers are one of those high traffic facilities with many of moving parts. That’s why we put together a spring-cleaning to-do list for your data center.
How to Clean a Data Center
Get Rid of the Clutter
First things first you should de clutter any excessive equipment you’re not using. Are there old servers, switches, or data storage supplies that are considered retired and taking up space? Instead of allowing these retired assets to consume precious real estate and collect harmful dust (we’ll get to that later), it’s time to get rid of them once and for all. If you’re worried about the cost of e-waste services or the data security involved with them, stop right now. There are programs out there that will actually PAY YOU for your old equipment. Companies like WeBuyUsedCisco offer industry leading equipment buyback, e-waste recycling, and even charitable donation programs to help you dispose of your old yet still valuable assets. Not only do they pay for all logistical costs associated with the data center cleanout, but they guarantee the security of your data along the way.
Other options may be to donate equipment that is in good working order to a local school or try to sell them yourself via an online marketplace like eBay. If you are considering selling your retired equipment on a forum such as eBay, my advice to you is simply, seller beware. There have been several instances involving scams with either unscrupulous buyers or sellers. Make sure you are aware of eBay’s seller protection policy and keep an eye out for red flags such as negative buyer reviews. If all of this seems way too risky for your particular situation, it probably is. After all, the consequences of data ending up in the wrong hands is way too costly.
Unfortunately, I have never seen the selling of used equipment be worth the effort when done by a lone amateur seller. Always trust your gut and go with the pros who know what they’re doing and can get you a fair market value for your assets.
Secure Your Data
The absolute most important thing to always consider when disposing of your retired data center assets is data security. Always, make sure all of your data is erased from any data storage device, no exceptions. When working with a third party such as WeBuyUsedITEquipment, you can rest assured that all security concerns with your data center equipment such as removing asset tags, erasing or destroying the hard drives, or degaussing tapes is taken care of. If you don’t feel comfortable with data leaving your facility intact, be sure to ask about on-site data destruction services. Finally, make sure you always ask for a certificate of data destruction at the end of the process. Decluttering the data center is the first step, so make sure you do it with security in mind.
Dusting “IT” Off
A period cleaning of data centers is a necessity as contaminants can contribute to overheating, corrosion of metals, or even electrical and mechanical failure of disk and tape drives. How often does equipment failure happen due to the direct result contaminants?
Currently, there is no proven way to be 100% certain of the frequency or even a way to verify a failure was caused by them. However, as the contaminants collect over time and multiple pieces of equipment start failing in the same general area, then it could steer in the direction of a dirt problem.
After a data center construction, decommission, or server maintenance order is performed, all remains such as nails, wire clippings, tape, and saw dust should be carefully be removed. The area around the server racks should be visually inspected and cleaned of any dust particles using a vacuum.
HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) and ULPA (Ultra-Low Penetration Air) vacuums should be used for cleaning subfloor and ceiling areas. All surfaces of electronic devices, entry ways, windows and storage cabinets should be wiped down with anti-static solutions.
Data centers are evaluated on “ISO 14644-1: Classification of air cleanliness by particle concentration.” According to the International Organization for Standardization this defines the standards for air quality of cleanroom environments and rates facilities based on the presence of particulates in the air. Data center managers should be aware of the industry standards and be certain their facilities are compliant with the conditions.
Get Inside all of the Nooks and Crannies
Data centers are an ideal nesting place for all sorts of contaminants. With wall to wall equipment, tons of tiny spaces, continuously running cooling systems and raised floors, there are endless amounts of places for contaminants to hide. Even a data center that appears to be diligently-cleaned can be a potential disaster zone if the smallest particle gets in the wrong place. Believe it or not, as much as half a micron (0.00001 inches) sized contaminants are enough to adversely affect data center equipment.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of contaminants in any facility, no matter how often it gets cleaned. Dust and other microscopic particles can be brought in by simply walking into the server room or by the cooling system air ducts. Debris too small to be seen by the human eye, such as zinc whiskers, can easily damage server, networking and storage devices.
Watch for Zinc Whiskers
Zinc whiskers are especially hazardous in the data center environment. So much that even NASA published an article about the dangers of them. Zinc whiskers, as the name implies, are tiny hair-like filaments of zinc that actually grow from certain zinc-coated metal surfaces. According to NASA, during a one-month period, their data center experienced at least 18 catastrophic power supply failures in newly installed mass memory storage devices. The data center managers found that small metallic filaments (later known as Zinc whiskers), had been growing from the underside of the raised floor tiles. Maintenance on the newly installed servers dislodged the contaminants. They were then dispersed throughout the data center by the forced air-cooling systems and drawn into the equipment power supplies; where they bridged exposed conductors, and caused electrical failures.
Now you can do everything in your power to try to avoid zinc filaments, but in order to keep metals rust-free, a Zinc-coating is needed. Therefore, proper and thorough cleaning is the only way to possibly avoid a potential a short-circuit meltdown.
Install an Air Quality Control System
The good thing is that data center managers have taken the time to learn that cleaning on a consistent basis and monitoring the foot traffic within the facility can actually help in preventing unwanted equipment failures. Most of today’s secured facilities have implemented proper safety measures to prevent the spread of contaminants. One major improvement has been making sure air filtration systems are installed to keep the air clean.
It’s common knowledge that the sub-floor air space in your data center plays a vital part to distributing the much-needed pressurized cool clean air to your server room. Therefore, it critical to prevent contaminates from developing into airborne particles and entering the intake air vents of your computer equipment and other IT assets. Remember, contaminants that can lead to overheating, corrosion of metals, electrical and mechanical failure of disk, tape drives, and power supplies.
Cleanliness Leads to Improved Performance and Efficiency
Clean data centers operate with enhance performance, efficiency, and longevity. Taking into account the sizeable investment that is spent on data center equipment and energy to keep it running, it only makes sense to keep a clean data center. Sustaining a clean data center is critical to its long-term success and continued uptime. See below for a list of data center cleaning tips we’ve put together.
Data Center Cleaning Tips:
Clean data center floor surfaces at least once quarterly
Clean IT equipment surfaces quarterly or more frequently if possible
Clean sub-floor plenum at least one time annually
Increase data center cleaning frequency after new construction od recent renovations
Use a dry mop or vacuum to pick up dirt particles on the floor and subfloor surface instead of sweeping. Sweeping only makes dirt particles airborne and will cause a bigger headache later on
Have a data center dedicated mop, to prevent the risk of bringing in outside contaminants
Make sure any vacuums being used have a HEPA filtering system to filter particles
Wiping down the tops of racks and the insides of cabinets is done best with lightly damp and clean disposable cloths. If using cleaning chemicals, make sure they’re approved for us in a data center environment.
Make sure all vacuum cleaners and other equipment is emptied outside the data center.
If you have floor tiles wrapped in galvanized steel, be sure to check for any zinc whiskers, these can cause serious problems with your equipment if they become airborne.
Seal all raised floor cable cutouts with brushed grommets to eliminate airflow bypass and limit contaminant migration into the air handlers and electrical equipment.