Contamination of data equipment – not always an obvious threat, but one that must be contained

October 5, 2010

Most large buildings now contain concentrations of data equipment for information and communications processing. Whether these reside in small computer rooms or large data centres, continuous maintenance and protection is essential to ensure reliable, uninterrupted service. For example the provision of uninterrupted clean electrical power is essential, and well understood. By contrast, protecting the equipment from contamination is less recognised yet it’s just as important, as contamination effects can be as catastrophic as exposure to a sudden power loss.

These contamination effects range from increased power demand to unexpected equipment failure. This fact is not lost on equipment vendors who are starting to use evidence of insufficient data area cleanliness as a reason to void warranties. Preventing contamination damage is entirely possible, but it takes expertise to do so. It is therefore essential to work with a specialist data centre cleaner such as 8 Solutions rather than risk the false economy of a general purpose cleaner or DIY approach.

To effectively manage data area cleanliness, we need to understand what contamination is, how it can reach data equipment and the problems it causes if it does. Then we can see how a professional and planned approach to cleaning will prevent these problems arising.

Two forms of contamination affect data equipment particulate matter (PM) and gaseous. Contaminating gases occur naturally or result from industrial processes. They can either act alone or together with other gases or PM, forming compounds that oxidize metallic materials.

Contaminants arrive through air conditioning units, open doors, on clothes and on any equipment or materials brought into the data area. Activities such as equipment maintenance can also release PM which reaches data equipment through gravity, diffusion or electrostatic attraction. If this PM starts to block equipment cooling fans and heatsinks, these components must work harder to keep equipment cool. This can increase power demand by 2% or more, as well as potentially shortening equipment lifetime and causing hardware failure due to overheating. Zinc whiskers and other PM can bridge conductive tracks within electronics equipment, causing short circuits and equipment failures a growing occurrence as ICT equipment and tracking gaps shrink in physical size. Oxidisation from gas interaction can cause permanent corrosion with irreparable equipment damage and failure.

Controlling contamination starts with establishing suitable data equipment environments positive pressurisation, filtered air conditioning, Takmats capturing footwear dirt, and controlled access to sensitive areas. This must be complemented by an effective cleaning program, with both the schedule and nature of the cleaning activities being optimised a plan requiring specialist knowledge of how locally prevailing conditions can lead to contamination problems, and how to prevent this. Therefore, consultation with a specialist data centre cleaning company is essential. Using a general cleaning contractor or DIY may seem cheaper in the short term, but a critical lack of knowledge could lead to serious problems at a later time.

Vital to 8 Solutions’ cleaning strategy is their adherence to the globally accepted ISO 14644. This Standard defines Cleanliness Classes from Class 9 to Class 1, which specify maximum allowable concentrations of particles sized from 0.1 to 5 ?m. The lower the Class number, the more stringent the concentration limits. 8 Solutions recommends Class 9 to Class 6 cleanliness. After cleaning, 8 Solutions uses a particle counting meter to measure and prove the cleanliness level achieved. This not only shows that equipment is contamination free, but also provides hard proof and certification for the building manager and third parties such as equipment suppliers that the area is clean according to a universally accepted standard.

Also key to 8 Solutions’ strategy is their policy of using their own security cleared technicians rather than subcontractors – a major issue given today’s data environment sensitivity. With training and experience in deep cleaning, these technicians use the right tools and materials for the environment. This includes cleaners that preserve the antistatic properties of antistatic surfaces, and filtered vacuum cleaners. Water in data areas is avoided, as is accidently activating controls on live data equipment.

Particle sampling provides snapshot proof of area cleanliness, but 8 Solutions’ expertise is essential in maintaining this level. After performing an onsite assessment they can advise on contamination factors and how to contain them, and on the most cost-effective cleaning schedule solution.

Consulting a specialist cleaner such as 8 Solutions pays dividends wherever sensitive data equipment is installed. They have the skills and staff to produce a certified clean environment, and to maintain it continuously throughout the installation’s operating life.