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Dirty data centres impacting on operations

Data Centre Alliance to develop best practice for reducing risks of airborne particles and gasses to hardware

Dust and particles such as human hairs, dead skin, wool and artificial fibres can clog heatsinks causing overheating.
Dust and particles such as human hairs, dead skin, wool and artificial fibres can clog heatsinks causing overheating.

Dirty data centres are posing a risk to efficient operations and reducing the life of hardware, according to the Data Centre Alliance (DCA).

The DCA, an international industry association that promotes best data centre practice, is warning that inadequate design, poor cleanliness practices, poor cleaning and even over-zealous cleaning are all threatening smooth operations of data centres.

The organisation said that dust and particles such as human hairs, dead skin, wool and artificial fibres, can all be circulated by a data centre's cooling systems, infiltrating servers and clogging up heatsinks, which in turn cause overheating and chip deaths. Microscopic airborne particles and gasses can also damage hard disks, connectors, and air cooling systems, which can result in early mortality of equipment, excessive energy use for cooling, reduced reliability, reduced data centre life expectancy and increased running costs.

Other threats include corrosive gasses from exhaust fumes brought into the building through the air-supply and from standby batteries, airborne salt and even zinc ‘whiskers' which can grow on metalwork inside the data centre can corrode sensitive connections or cause short-circuits leading to failures and outages.

Over zealous or inappropriate use of cleaning equipment such as floor polishers can add to the airborne particle problem, through excessive use of abrasive wheels to scour floors, which create massive clouds of invisible particles.

Simon Campbell-Whyte, executive director of the DCA, said that there is a lack of awareness among designers and operators of the risks, which can lead to shortcomings in the initial design, leading to long term problems

"Uniquely, the Data Centre Alliance (DCA) brings together competing companies from around the world to work together for the greater good of the industry," said Campbell-Whyte. "The consensus of some of the most advanced data centre cleaning and decontamination specialists, consultants and academics was that most data centre designers and operators are simply unaware of this invisible but insidious threat to billions of dollars-worth of very sensitive computing equipment."

DCA technical council director and independent consultant Dr Ian Bitterlin added: "It's not a problem that is visible in the short term, but many companies that deploy the latest energy efficient equipment for competitive advantage will find that advantage eroded over time as filters degrade and energy costs of cooling rise - sometimes by many MWh (Megawatt Hours)".

In response to the risks, the DCA has formed a new anti-contamination steering group, which will be tasked with collating a working guide for designers and operators on best practices, drawn from sources around the world. The steering group includes specialist decontamination and cleaning companies.

DCA will publish a consultation paper at the end of February and hopes that designers and operators will add to it to produce a distillation of the worlds' best practice on anti-contamination to be published for all to use at the end of May 2013.