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Server room cleaning -- not a DIY project

Server room cleaning is crucial for maintaining the life span of equipment in the data center. This task involves professional help to minimize operation interruptions.

A working server room can never be cleaned completely, but it can get close with the right tools and techniques. Even if you follow best practices, dirt can find its way into server rooms via people's clothing and new equipment.

Properly cleaning a server room isn't a DIY project, as it is tedious work and requires great care. Air filters may trap most of the circulated dirt, but the downside is that clogged filters reduce cooling and energy efficiency. Filtration devices, such as ISO 14644-1 Class 8 and Federal Standard 209E class 100,000, only address airborne particles, not total contaminants.

To get the job done, professional server room cleaners use special equipment, like high-efficiency particulate air-filtered vacuums, low-speed floor scrubbers and ion-neutral air guns. These tools are the key to cleaning a server room, while not interrupting operations.

Specific areas of a server room have special cleaning requirements. Have a look at the factors to consider before cleaning an area and how professionals clean it properly.

Underfloor cleaning

Start by cleaning any raised access floor, particularly one that conveys air. Underfloor cleaning involves removing only a few tiles at a time to avoid damaging the floor. Each slab must be carefully vacuumed, and every reachable spot must be hand-wiped with approved antistatic cleaning chemicals. Tiles must be reseated exactly as they were to avoid air leakage. Concrete slabs should be sealed to prevent flake-off particles from getting into the air.

It is recommended that server rooms are lightly cleaned daily and undergo a deep cleaning every quarter, or three months. More in-depth cleaning happens when inspection uncovers a problem, but staying on top of best data center cleaning practices can reduce the risk of efficiency issues.

Abovefloor cleaning

Abovefloor cleaning goes up to the ceiling. The process is similar to raised-floor and on-slab environments. Floor surfaces are vacuumed, carefully mopped or scrubbed. Shiny floors are not recommended in a server room, but they can be cleaned using low-speed buffers and special nonwax finishes that don't harm equipment. Removing polish involves a "strip and clean" process that requires messy chemicals and should only be done by professionals.

The outside of cabinets can be wiped with the same type of antistatic hand wipes used for underfloor cleaning. Reachable places on the inside of cabinets can be wiped, as long as equipment or connections aren't disturbed.

Server filters can be vacuumed. But, if equipment is excessively dirty, professionals can reach further into those areas. An example of excessive dirtiness of a filter would be smoke from a fire. Professionals can further clean inside IT hardware using techniques that include low-velocity compressed air from ion-neutral air guns. Racks and cabinets can also be thoroughly cleaned internally using compressed air to reach into crevices after IT removes the hardware.

Cleaning server room ceilings: Doing more harm than good

Ceilings, unless used as return air plenums, should be left alone. If used for return air, they shouldn't require cleaning nearly as often as the rest of the server room. Any openings or cracks in the ceiling should be sealed to optimize airflow and to help maximize underfloor static pressure. Steel support beams should be fireproofed with substances such as vermiculite plaster. These precautions prevent normal building movement from causing cracks, which lead to flake-off particles getting into the air.

The only way to clean the ceiling is to remove the tiles, which creates flake-off. When cleaned, the ceiling surfaces must be carefully vacuumed to remove loose dirt. Server rooms should have fireproofed and clean-room ceiling tiles, such as stainless steel or vinyl rock gypsum tiles. Spray-paint back surfaces and edges to seal them, particularly where cuts have been made. The need to clean air ducts is rare, and specialists should be hired to do so.

Ceiling hardware, such as T-grids, hanger wires and threaded rods, aren't specially treated. They are known to grow zinc whiskers. This concern is minimized by using hot-dipped galvanization rather than zinc-plated metals.

Zinc whiskers -- tiny metal particles that can grow on zinc-plated surfaces -- can break off into the airstream and end up inside hardware. This causes circuit board and connector shorts. Zinc whiskers were once a major problem on raised floors with electroplated panels and pedestals, but whisker-resistant plating processes now prevent that problem.

Air quality testing

Gaseous contamination in low air-quality environments is a growing concern, as well as chemical plants near the data center. Professionals can test to see if corrosion is an issue for the server room.

To find out if corrosion is a problem, they hang silver and copper test "coupons" in the server room and leave them for a month. They then send the coupons to a laboratory for inspection. If corrosion is significant, they can recommend steps to address it. Those steps would include monitoring humidity and using corrosion-resistant metals, like stainless steel or aluminum, within the server room.

Next Steps

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