Clear the Air: Prevent Major Data Center Damage

Server roomHow clean is your data center? If you haven’t considered the quality of the air, it might be time to give your data center the white glove test. Keeping your data center free of airborne contaminants is crucial for safeguarding your highly valuable and critical equipment.

Airborne contaminants, including dust, other particles and gases, can wreak havoc on your equipment, causing serious damage, and in severe cases, they may render some equipment inoperable. The prevalence of contaminants in data centers has been increasing, partly because of the more common use of outside-air cooling, so it is important to stay informed and aware.

Types of contaminants: Particles and gases

Numerous types of contaminants might be lurking in your data center, and because many of those are not readily visible, it is important to know what they are. There are two types of dust that could be resting on your equipment: chemically inert dust and corrosive dust. Other particle contaminants include dirt, soot, pollen and fly ash.

Gaseous contaminants include sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, chlorine, hydrogen chloride, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and ammonia. Sometimes, when two or more of these gases mix with one another, their negative effects on data center equipment are compounded.

Problems introduced by contaminants

The various contaminants that take up residence in your data center can cause serious damage to your equipment, including:

  • reduced airflow through equipment
  • circuit failure
  • corrosion
  • overheating

Worst cases involve complete equipment failure and result in inconvenient and expensive downtime, as well as the costs of replacing damaged equipment.

Prevention and solutions: Averting and resolving contamination

By following some relatively simple procedures, you can help ensure that your equipment remains clean and fully functional, not damaged by contaminants.

Prevention is key. It can be difficult to eliminate problems related to equipment contamination after the damage has already been done. Fortunately, there are numerous strategies you can implement to prevent contamination and damage to your data center equipment.

Follow these preventive strategies:

  • First, install and use air filters throughout your data center, making sure to use the type that will filter out whatever contaminants are prevalent in your particular environment. Be aware that some particles are so small that air filters are unable to capture them.
  • Also, keep all equipment and rooms that house your equipment as immaculate as possible by performing frequent cleaning. When using cleaners, be sure to use only those that are designed specifically for use in and around your type of data center equipment.
  • Finally, use protective devices, including protective cabinets, that prevent harm to your hardware. If necessary, you can check with the equipment manufacturer to see what protective devices are needed and recommended.

Monitoring equipment and keeping tabs on contamination

On an ongoing basis, it is critical to monitor equipment to prevent extensive damage. All data centers should have monitoring procedures in place, but it is even more important for data centers that use air-side economizers to carefully monitor contamination and equipment. Air-side economizers can increase the likelihood of contamination.

Your monitoring protocol can include frequent visual inspections of equipment, which should involve checking for any contaminant buildup. One way to monitor the contamination situation is by using copper coupons, which develop a measurable copper buildup over time if corrosion is taking place.

Through vigilant prevention and monitoring, you can increase not only your peace of mind but also your equipment’s reliability and longevity.

What would you do? Send your best practices for troubleshooting dust, particles, gases and other data center contaminants to We might just share your ideas in the next issue ofRackmount Solutions.

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