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Spick and span

Often overlooked, a tight cleaning schedule can dramatically improve data centre cooling efficiency. However, many choose to ignore the benefits, says Brendan Musgrove

Data centre managers are faced with a number of competing priorities when it comes to maximising the efficiency of their data centres – and traditionally, data centre cleaning may not have been high on the list.

However, failure to clean data centres properly could be potentially disastrous in terms of maximising performance and minimising cost.

With the rapid expansion in data centres, cleaning companies have at times struggled to keep pace and may use regular offices cleaning techniques in these sensitive environments.

This approach can sabotage data centre efficiency, purely as a result of lack of knowledge of how much maintaining correct cleaning regimes can affect the operation.

Regardless of environmental and operational controls, data centres will, over time, accumulate dust and other contaminants.

These represent a constant challenge that requires specialist cleaning knowledge to ensure best practice maintenance. This potentially very costly danger is somewhat hidden, because these are microscopically small particles, but they can cause significant issues.

The bottom line requirement of minimising downtime is put at risk if dust is not dealt with. For example, it can clog up heatsinks on servers’ microchips, causing them to overheat and shortening their service life. And this is not only about in-house data centres – the risks of not making cleaning a core part of maintenance are equally acute for co-located facilities.

The range of contaminant particles is as varied as the items contained within the data centre, and its users.

Data centres are dynamic, live environments and though human activity can be minimised, it will still occur, whether it is walking through the centre, opening cage doors or moving boxed equipment.

All of these will mean displacement of additional dust, fibres or metal filings in the environment to deal with.

If vents, drives and filters in cooling systems are allowed to become contaminated, those systems’ performance is hampered and servers may run hotter than desired, meaning increased energy costs as well as reduced server life.

And when half of a data centre’s energy consumption already comes from cooling, this will be hard to swallow for many organisations, especially when they have set themselves tough energy reduction targets.

New, more efficient designs of cooling systems are a double-edged sword as they pose further maintenance challenges to maintain optimum efficiency.

Non-refrigerated free cooling systems that push a larger amount of air through smaller ducts require an even more rigorous anti-contamination approach.

However, such an approach can increase and maintain a system’s availability and greatly reduce the likelihood of failure of fans and other elements.

Corrosion and corruption

When it comes to servers themselves, contamination means at best that their performance will be adversely affected, due to corrosion or corruption of hard disks or the aforementioned overheating.

The worst-case scenario is that they will fail completely.

Many server manufacturers’ warranties are only valid if the equipment is cleaned to the ISO 14664-1 cleanroom standard, and if your cleaning provider isn’t aware of how to do this, then you may be placed at risk if equipment fails and you need to use a warranty.

By the same token, using suppliers’ advice can be a benefit, particularly when it comes to inspection or maintenance regimes for cooling systems.

Specialist cleaning providers understand both the business-critical nature of datacentres to their clients, and the techniques and approaches which willenable facilities to be maintained at the optimum level.

They also understand the physical attributes of a data centre, which are not common to all office environments.

Often, data centres will have ceiling voids, subfloor voids or cabling that can be located in hard to access areas, but all of which are dust traps which require a specialist cleaning regime to address.

Not all data centres are designed for optimum access and perfect cable management, but this doesn’t mean these areas can be ignored, especially with fire risk being another concern.

Specialist firms with deep knowledge of data centre cleaning have the training to apply a high degree of attention to detail in order to ensure that an environment’s efficiency is maximised.

They will also use the right equipment such as high-filtration vacuums, microfibre cloths and anti-static products to avoid electrostatic damage to equipment from cleaning.

Finally, they will build cleaning into the lifecycle maintenance routine, and produce an appropriate schedule, which avoids the need to do complex one-off cleans.

Such firms can also add value for customers beyond cleaning itself, to offer services including particulate testing, zinc whisker remediation and firewalling.

In addition, their implicit understanding of data centres means they are able to work in a safe manner at all times, minimising risk to the customer’s asset from the cleaning itself.

Awareness of the importance of getting cleaning right is becoming more widespread, and savvy customers are seeing the benefits from employing specialists, and putting cleaning at the heart of the maintenance regime.

Brendan Musgrove is managing director of Cordant Specialist Services

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