Hidden Data Center Dangers: Does Your Data Center Have Zinc Whiskers?

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Does your data center have zinc whiskers? Although commonly found in mostly older data centers, zinc whiskers are a serious problem.

Zinc whiskers are one of those data center problems that can lead to a cascade of other problems – like unexplained data corruption issues or hardware failures with disk drives and power supplies.

Today, we’re going to explain why your data center may need to undergo zinc whisker remediation to ensure efficient operation.

Do You Have Zinc Whiskers?

Answer these questions:

-Are you experiencing unexplained hardware failures and breakdowns, especially with disk drives and power supplies?

-Are you experiencing mysterious data corruption issues?

-Do problems seem more frequent and serious after you’ve moved equipment? Does the frequency increase after you work in the underfloor?

If you’re experiencing any of the above problems, then your data center may have zinc whiskers, a real and pressing problem related to metal growth in your data center. It sounds weird, but it’s something that you need to pay close attention to.

What Are Zinc Whiskers?

Zinc whiskers are a problem that occurs on the bare metal surfaces of access flooring systems. It’s particularly common in wood-core and concrete-core computer room flooring panels. You may also see zinc whiskers around pedestals, stringers and even in the ceiling. They are a result of the galvanized method used with a particular raw material.

Typically, zinc whiskers grow on the underside – the plenum side – of your floor panels.

Zinc whiskers start off almost microscopically small. When they first emerge, they can be just 1 or 2 microns in diameter. Over years of unchecked growth, however, they can grow to reach several millimeters in length.

Why Are Zinc Whiskers Dangerous?

When whiskers stay attached to a floor panel or pedestal, they’re pretty much benign and pose little risk to your data center.

However, when whiskers break free, they can enter the air of your data center, at which point they’ll begin to circulate freely throughout your facility, getting blown into your equipment and causing all sorts of troubles.

You can probably guess why zinc whiskers are a problem: zinc is not just a metal, but it’s one of those metals that’s a good conductor of electricity. When zinc whiskers fly around the surface of your data center and lodge themselves in your hardware, it can cause a short.

The worst part about zinc whiskers is that the short is typically an intermittent short. The zinc whiskers aren’t large enough to cause more serious damage. This makes the problem difficult to detect and fix. They’re also small enough to slide right through most case fans: you actually need a HEPA filter to stop zinc whiskers from entering your hardware.

However, by learning to spot the symptoms of zinc whisker problems, you can diagnose your problem.

Symptoms of a Zinc Whisker Problem

There are two ways to spot a zinc whisker problem. One, you can pay attention to your servers and keep an eye on their maintenance concerns. Or two, you can visually inspect your floor panels and pedestals.

Server-Side Problems

-Minor data corruptions or anomalies

-Power Supplies going out unexpectedly

-Increased problems when you’re migrating to new systems

-In more serious cases, catastrophic data failures

Floor Panel and Pedestal Problems

-Rest your floor tile on its edge and give it a close visual inspection, closing one eye and looking down the plane of the tile and viewing the bottom pan with a flashlight. If you have zinc whiskers, then you’ll see tiny metallic strings shining (sparkling) on the bottom of the panel. They will be approximately 1mm to 10mm in length. Whether or not you find zinc whiskers on your first inspection, you should always check multiple tiles to make sure.

-Check the area around underfloor components and pedestals for similar-looking whiskers. It may help to do this with a flashlight in a darkened room.

-If you want to be extra cautious, consider reviewing field samples using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). This is the best way to officially determine whether or not you need zinc whisker remediation.

When inspecting floor panels, make sure you’re careful not to break off the whiskers. This can cause further contamination and hardware problems.

How to Solve a Zinc Whisker Problem

Zinc whisker problems require remediation.

The process involves replacing all of the affected floor panels, including the captured panels. In some cases, companies have tried to clean or coat existing panels, although the zinc will just grow back. Coatings will also peel off when moving panels around, causing a bigger problem with contaminants.

How Sealco Can Help

Sealco specializes in this remediation process. We’ll analyze your data center, isolate the problem, and determine the best course of action to protect your data center.

To start, a Sealco specialist will perform a visual check of your facility to determine the extent and detect potential areas of exposure.

Then, we’ll use that information to formalize a plan of action for safe remediation of zinc contaminants.

The specific remediation process varies widely between data centers. With 30 years of data center cleaning and containment services, Sealco has the experience you need on your side.

Get a Free Quote Today

If your data center is in need of zinc whisker remediation, then Sealco specialists can perform a visual check of your facility to detect potential areas of exposure. Our experts will quickly create a plan of action to remediate zinc contaminants safely and efficiently.

Does Your Data Center Have Never Ending Hot Spots?

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Hot spots are a problem faced by all data centers. But hot spots aren’t a problem you fix once and then forget about: hot spots are a constant battle between you and the outside world.

Fighting back against hot spots requires constant auditing. Today, we’re going to explain some of the best ways to reduce hot spots by auditing your room on an ongoing basis.

Understand How Most Hot Spots Are Caused

Your first task is to have a better understanding of data center hot spots.

In an ideal situation, all of the hot air in your data center rises and then passes through the cooling system to create a perfect, 100% efficient loop. Heat rises and, ideally, is sucked into your cooling system, which cools the air before recirculating it.

In reality, your data center will develop certain hot spots where hot air tends to collect.

Surprisingly, many data center hot spots are caused by excess cooling capacity. When all of these cooling units are running at the same time, it creates excess airflow in your data center. That excess airflow then creates hotspots. Instead of cool air being pushed past your servers and then staying by your servers, that air is pushed up and away from the servers. Meanwhile, that same cycle causes warm air to flow over the racks and across your equipment.

Basically, adding more cooling to your data center creates more airflow, and airflow creates hotspots.

All hotspots are caused by an inefficiency point at some point in your data center. That’s a good thing: it means your hotspot problem is fixable.

Fixing your Hot Spots with Infrastructure Repairs and Replacements

When data center managers find hotspots, they’ll typically do some combination of infrastructure improvements, including:

-Blanking panels

-Covering holes in the floor

-Any type of containment

These things help. But you’ll probably still find hotspots after installing infrastructure improvements. So you might be tempted to buy more cooling equipment or turn on more cooling units. As mentioned above, this can actually create more hotspots.

Finding a More Permanent Solution by Reducing Bypass Airflow

Originally, data center operators thought that hotspots were caused by inefficient air cooling or densely-compacted servers. Today, we know that most hotspots are caused by excess airflow.

Uncontrolled cooling can cause excessive data center heat loads. Countering this airflow is an art form.

You can counter this airflow using many different strategies.

One popular strategy was created by IBM’s Robert Sullivan in 1992. Sullivan recommended that server owners create hot aisle and cold aisle cabinets, where cabinets are placed so the front of one cabinet never faces the back of another. This simple but effective layout creates alternating rows of cold and hot air.

Another popular strategy is one we mentioned above: containment. By locking off hot parts of your data center, and containing them within a space, you can maximize cost-efficient cooling. Some people close off the hot and cold aisles or even duct the hot return air away from the cabinets.

Air restrictors are yet another option. Remember: even the smallest openings and air gaps can have a significant impact on data center cooling.

Finally, consider turning up the heat to reduce airflow problems. That’s right: many people run their data centers at below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In reality, most data suggests data centers should be run between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Consider, for example, that Google runs its data centers at 80 degrees F – and they’re famous for their energy-efficient data centers. Additionally, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has a recommended maximum of 80.6 degrees F and allowable maximum of 95 degrees F.

By following these strategies, you can increase data center operations performance while also saving energy and reducing overhead expenses.

Consider Hiring a Regular Audit Service

Audit services take an enormous load off your back. They help you continuously tweak your data center by pointing out problem spots.

By hiring a regular audit service, you can be notified of potential problems before they become a major issue.

That means you can focus on the things that matter while letting an audit service handle the hot spots.

Sealco provides world-class data center cleaning, maintenance, and repair services. We can provide a customized quote that provides a packaged solution for your unique data center. Whether you need regular hot spot audits or routine cleaning, Sealco has 30 years of experience providing cleaning and containment services.

Current service areas include Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Houston. Request a quote today!

Why You Need to Pay More Attention to your Data Center Flooring

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When it comes to data center maintenance, most people think of the power, HVAC systems and server hardware. But flooring maintenance is becoming increasingly important across all data centers.

Larger hardware needs and aging data centers have led to flooring problems in data centers across the nation. Here are some of the reasons why you need to start paying more attention to your data center flooring:

Larger Hardware Needs Have Led to a Strain on Flooring Structures

Your flooring structure may not be designed to handle its current load. Maybe you’ve been gradually overloading the flooring system for months by adding on new servers and new hardware.

Today’s modern electronic hardware has led to a strain on data center flooring across the country. With the ingress and egress of new hardware, the rolling loads and pinpoint loads of your raised access floor may be reaching their limits.

Do you know what type of floor you have? Do you know the tolerances of your flooring? Without this knowledge you are at a higher risk of a catastrophic failure.

A Good Flooring System Helps to Make Your Future Brighter

Whether you’re working with raised flooring or hard flooring, a good flooring system helps make your future brighter.

Some data centers are still using raised flooring. Others are using hard floors or slab floors. There are advantages to both. But both flooring systems come with common advantages when they’re installed correctly.

Good raised floors and hard floors allow for better airflow and easier management of electronic equipment – like cables and wiring. They also make it easy to enhance structural support over time.

Whichever flooring system you are working with, considering your future needs helps you decide how to maintain it.  This includes proper grounding and the ability to use chilled water piping for newer equipment, among other things.

As underfloor air distribution has become more popular in the United States, more and more data centers are taking a closer look at their flooring needs. Some of the future needs to consider including weight load limits, rolling load limits, and pinpoint weight limit. All of these limits affect aesthetics over time as well as structural integrity.

Many Flooring Systems Haven’t Been Updated in Decades

Some of the largest data storage centers in America still have their original flooring systems. Data center owners and managers have ignored this flooring over the years because it’s not one of the obvious things to upgrade.

But in reality, data centers can’t afford to ignore flooring anymore. Poor flooring leads to poor energy efficiency, an increased risk of catastrophe, and a chance of damaging server infrastructure.

Typically, flooring systems are ignored until there is human injury.  This is the wrong approach to the maintenance of your flooring. As the saying goes “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”.

Good Flooring Systems Are Crucial for Every Part of Data Center Operation

Operating a data center requires careful balance of a number of different systems and subsystems. Flooring is one of those systems, but it’s one of the most important systems.

Good flooring gives your server a distribution system for conditioned cold air while also making it easy to add tracks, conduits, and supports for data cabling, power cabling, and grounding wires.

Ultimately, your flooring is connected to every part of your data center. Ignore its maintenance needs at your own peril.

SealHoist Replaces Old Data Center Floors with No Downtime

Our experts at Sealco came up with SealHoist to help solve all your flooring problems.

The SealHoist system is executed in a live environment. We work while you are still working.  Since we aren’t a specific flooring manufacturer rep, we look for the right solution to fit your needs.

Many data center operators have been ignoring flooring maintenance or replacement because they’re worried about downtime. With Sealhoist, we can help avoid this problem.

Ultimately, you get a new flooring system with no down time at a reasonable rate. Request your SealHoist quote today and ensure your data center flooring is ready for the future.

3 Crucial Data Center Maintenance Tasks that Are Often Overlooked

Overlooked Data Center Maintenance Tasks image
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Good data center maintenance is an art. Maintaining your data center properly can help you avoid millions of dollars of future headaches. Neglected data center maintenance can leave you with devastating losses and angry clients.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at 3 sometimes overlooked data center maintenance tasks all data center and facility managers should perform on a regular basis.

1) Cooling Unit Maintenance and Cleaning

The cooling unit is one of the most crucial pieces of equipment in your data center. With ASHRAE temperature and humidity level tolerances being pushed further than ever, data centers are being cooled using precision cooling rather than cooling to the weakest point in the facility.

Proper cooling unit maintenance helps prevent unwanted downtime and is absolutely crucial for creating a smooth-running facility. Some of the maintenance tasks for cooling units include:

-Clean Clogged Air Filters: Clogged air filters reduce airflow and increase loads on blower drive systems. It doesn’t take long for even a minor air filter clogging problem to affect your entire data center.

-Inspect Blower Belts, Bearings, Motors, and Wheels: These crucial pieces of equipment keep your cooling equipment running. Over time, they’ll inevitably become damaged or show signs of wear and tear. In addition to regular cleaning and inspection, a good data center manager will check and adjust belt tensions every month for air handlers and CRAC unit fans using belt drive fans.

-Compressors: Check compressors for any signs of leaks. Inspect the oil level while you’re at it, as too much or too little oil can impact the service life of your compressor. If you need to adjust oil levels, make sure you use the type of oil recommended by the manufacturer (there’s a reason they recommend that specific type of oil).

By performing these tasks regularly, you can avoid having to make an emergency call to your local HVAC specialist in the middle of a summer heatwave.

2) Power Maintenance

Proper power distribution and maintenance is understandably crucial for a data center. One lapse in power can cause devastating outages.

Power failures at your data center prevent communication between employees, customers, and vendors. It can also lead to the loss of enormous amounts of data.

Even data centers with backup power systems can experience power outages. Your backup power system is only effective if it’s properly maintained. When your backup power system fails to operate, you may be left exposed until replacement parts arrive – and that’s simply unacceptable for your clients.

Obviously, the goal of any data center is to have a rock-solid UPS – uninterruptable power supply – system that provides temporary backup power during brief outages. They can also help your data center survive through power events like spikes and sags.

UPS maintenance is crucial in the data center world and it’s often overlooked. Typically, UPS systems come in the form of chemical energy (like a battery) or energy of motion (like a flywheel). Regardless of which type of UPS system you have, it needs regular inspection and maintenance to ensure it’s actually going to work when the power goes out. Some tips for good UPS maintenance include:

-Schedule preventive maintenance and stick to that schedule (annual, semi-annual, or whatever you choose)

-Keep detailed records of cleaning, repairs, and replacements of certain components

-Visually inspect the area around the UPS and battery (or other energy storage) equipment for any obstructions or things that may prevent proper cooling

-Check to make sure no operating abnormalities or warnings have registered on the UPS panel (look for things like an overload or a battery near discharge)

-Check the batteries for signs of corrosion, acid wear, and other defects

-Use an infrared camera as an early warning detection system: an infrared camera can help you spot overloaded breakers and switches before they shut down

Remember: UPS components will inevitably fail over time. Just because you had a good UPS system installed ten years ago doesn’t mean that’s still a good UPS system today. Proper maintenance is crucial and often overlooked.

3) Floor Maintenance

As server hardware continues to grow in scale, data center flooring has struggled to keep up. In many data centers, flooring has become weak or compromised over time due to unexpectedly heavy server loads (or just general wear and tear).

Proper floor maintenance is crucial. Some floor maintenance tasks you should be performing regularly include:

-Have your floor inspected annually by a qualified Access Floor Technician

-Rotate panels on raised floors at least once a quarter (this is particularly important in heavy traffic areas)

-Adjust grid systems twice a year to correct structural problems

-Consider installing additional support pedestals

-Inspect flooring regularly for warping or delamination, then replace immediately when found

-Replace missing flooring components – like edge trim, grounding clips, foam rubber, gaskets, and stringers – immediately

If your floor needs repairs or replacements, Sealco’s SealHoist system can come to the rescue. Sealco’s SealHoist will safely raise equipment off of the floor with no interruption in downtime. Your flooring gets replaced and repaired with the industry’s best materials and experienced technicians, and you enjoy no interruption to service. There’s absolutely zero downtime.

Order World-Class Cleaning and Maintenance for your Data Center

Sealco has provided world-class cleaning and maintenance services to data centers for over 30 years. With local offices in Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Sealco can provide professional-grade preventive cleaning and maintenance with zero downtime. Call today or visit online to browse through Sealco services and products.