Are you putting your IT security at risk?

October 5, 2010


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 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 contaminates infesting a facility, data centre or comms room.

[Our website designer and freelance marketing consultant, Steve Sims has experience of IT Security and considers it to be one of the most important elements that businesses need to assess going forward.]

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 contamination can cause serious problems but he started his talk with the biggest culprit, dust (or 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, potentially invalidating your warranty in the process. 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.

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%. That may seem like a fairly small percentage but when you consider a facility larger than a football stadium, where 60% of its total budget is consumed by energy requirements, 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 risk management, 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.