infoTECH Feature

July 17, 2018

5 Tips for Keeping Your Data Center Clean

The 5 Data Center Cleaning Tips You Need to Know

Your data center is the heart of your business. If the data center goes down, the rest of the operation follows. And while it may seem like a tiny detail, cleanliness and sanitation are key to ensuring your IT department is operating at maximum capacity.

The Need for a Clean Data Center

It sounds like good advice, but have you ever stopped long enough to consider why a clean data center really matters? Doing so will give you a better idea of the need to prioritize this aspect of data center management.

  • Equipment damage. As is the case in any other room, dust and particulates can accumulate in your data center. Eventually, this dust can gather and interfere with equipment. And once it transitions from the surface into the inner workings of a piece of equipment, it becomes extremely difficult to clean properly.
  • Downtime. At the very least, dust and particulate buildup will shorten the lifespan of your data center equipment. In extreme situations, it could actually lead to damage that results in costly downtime for your business.
  • Media errors. Perhaps you’ve heard horror stories of media errors. Not only are they extremely difficult to fix, but they can also be expensive — costing as much as $50,000 per megabyte. What most people don’t realize is that dust is one of the primary causes of these errors. Clean data centers face a far lower risk.
  • Zinc whiskers. Are you familiar with zinc whiskers? NASA is, and you should be, too. “They are minuscule zinc formations on electroplated surfaces,” Instor explains. “They can cause electrical equipment to short-circuit. You can try to avoid zinc coated materials. But if you want to keep your metals rust-free, zinc is an important component. In short, cleaning is the only way to make sure you don’t have a short-circuit meltdown on your hands.”
  • Sickness and allergies. While far less common than equipment malfunctions, it is possible for a data center to become so contaminated that it causes employees to suffer from sicknesses and/or allergies. It would take years of buildup for this to happen, but it’s a risk that exists.

The biggest problem is that it only takes a contaminant half a micron in size (0.0001 inches) to adversely affect a piece of data center equipment. With people walking in and out, cooling systems blowing air and so on, it doesn’t take much for something bad to happen.

5 Data Center Cleaning Tips

Cleaning a data center isn’t as easy as walking in with a bucket of bleach and a mop. Because of what’s inside a data center, you have to proceed with extreme caution and make sure you know exactly what you’re doing. One wrong move can cost thousands of dollars. The following tips will keep you in line:

1. Bring in Outside Help

While you can certainly manage the regular cleaning of your data center on your own, it pays to call in the professionals now and then. Tom Deaderick, director of OnePartner, suggests bringing in a company that specializes in cleaning data centers at least once per year.

“Because we take such care, we don't generate dirt or dust, so we usually have this thing cleaned quarterly,” Deaderick says, speaking about his company's data center facility. “We escort cleaning company personnel into the secured spaces and allow them to do a damp mopping. We don't allow them in unescorted, and they can't take in watering buckets and pails.”

Among other steps, Deaderick recommends having your cleaning crew wipe out air-handling areas and using HEPA-rated vacuum cleaners for horizontal surfaces. Damp rags can be used to wipe down equipment surfaces that are accessible by hand.

2. Specialize Cleaning Tasks

In addition to having your data center professionally cleaned a handful of times per year, you should be spot cleaning every week or two. The key here is consistency. Don’t send just anyone into the data center with a rag and let them wipe everything down. It’s best to keep the same people cleaning the data center and even to assign the same tasks each time. This significantly cuts down on the risk of careless errors.

3. Use the Correct Products

As Deaderick emphasizes, it’s very important that you have the correct cleaning equipment. You also want to make sure that you have the right cleaning products.

Only work with cleaning product suppliers who will tell you exactly what’s in their products and stand by the product after use. Bradley Systems is one such example. While they design products for a variety of industries — including food and transportation — they also manufacture industrial strength glass cleaning products that are ammonia-free and able to be used in highly sensitive environments like data centers. These are the sorts of products you need to be on the lookout for.

4. Develop a Schedule

It’s really easy to push data center cleaning to the back burner and focus on more pressing needs. If you don’t prioritize it, you’ll never get around to it.

The best way to ensure you regularly clean your data center is to develop a concrete schedule. Treat these cleaning sessions with the same level of importance as a meeting with an important client. It’s never okay to miss them, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

5. Be Extra Careful With Dust

When cleaning, dust can really mess you up. Even if you think you’re being careful, your cleaning process is inadvertently stirring dust up into the air. In order to prevent the unnecessary spreading of particulates, turn off the air system while cleaning and wait a few minutes before turning it back on.

Make Cleanliness a Priority

“Clean data centers have better performance, efficiency, and longevity. Considering the amount of money spent on equipment and energy, it makes sense to keep every data center clean,” Instor believes.

There obviously isn’t a perfect solution, or you’d see more businesses following the same script. But if you want to keep your data center clean and avoid issues related to equipment problems, downtime, media errors and even sickness and allergies, you’d do well to pay attention to cleanliness. In fact, it’s a no-brainer.


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