data center cleaning

Data centers are often run without a cleaning policy or procedure in place. While cleaning visibly noticeable debris makes a data center aesthetically pleasing, it doesn’t protect IT equipment from contaminants. Data center contaminants are tiny particles that become airborne in the cooling system and can damage IT equipment and cause an outage.  It is imperative that data center operators establish an ongoing contaminant prevention plan and data center cleaning policy to protect IT equipment and maintain data uptime.

Cleaning a data center or colocation space isn’t a high priority on most people’s minds when compared to ensuring that IT equipment is adequately powered and cooled. However, data center operators leave their servers and equipment vulnerable to damage and loss of uptime by neglecting to implement a contaminant prevention plan and a regular cleaning procedure within their server room space. Data center contaminants can cause equipment to overheat, cause corrosion damage, cause electrical and mechanical failure of disk and tape drives, and cause damage to circuit boards. By preventing contaminants from entering the data center and removing contaminants regularly, server room operators can protect their spaces from equipment damage and loss of uptime.

Contaminant Prevention

Anytime that technicians enter a server room space, they bring contaminants with them on their person. All technicians and data center operators should wear protective booties and caps to contain contaminants and debris. Tacky mats can also be placed outside of the server room to help collect debris.

In addition to that, technicians can introduce even more contaminants into the data center environment by bringing in hardware and unpacking it inside. A separate staging area should be used to unpack all IT equipment and to gather all the tools necessary for installation. All equipment and tools should be clean before leaving the staging area and entering the server room.

It is beneficial to install a double set of doors to create a buffer between the server room and data center daily activities. This creates an additional barrier and ensures that the server room remains an isolated and clean space.

The cooling system should be maintained to prevent belt debris. Belt debris is created when pulleys are misaligned within the cooling system. Belt debris looks like a fine black dust and has firsthand access to IT equipment through the cooling system. The air filters in the CRAC unit should be changed regularly to prevent contaminants from entering the space.

Before investing in data center infrastructure and equipment, data center operators can verify that there are no electrogalvanized metals used within the products that might grow zinc whiskers. Written certification can be obtained from the product manufacturer to verify that there are no electrogalvanized metals used within the products.

Regular Server Room Cleaning

Data center spaces should be kept clean to maintain a healthy environment with reliable uptime. The server room space should be cleared of any large noticeable debris daily. Any high traffic areas directly outside of the server room should be vacuumed daily.

When IT equipment is installed or drilling work is performed inside a server room, there will be metal shavings and debris generated from the installation. It is imperative to clean up these metal shavings as they are generated with a triple-filtered HEPA vacuum. If they are left inside the server room, these contaminants can easily enter the cooling system and cause damage to IT equipment once they reach it.

(A typical procedure such as installing conduits at the base of an RPP requires drilling and will generate metal shavings and debris.)

(A close up of the steel debris generated from drilling through the RPP.)

The raised floor should be mopped weekly with a data center dedicated dry microfiber mop. A broom should never be used in the server room because it will disperse contaminants within the space causing them to become airborne. A microfiber mop should be exclusively used in the server room to trap contaminants.

Quarterly, all IT equipment and surfaces should be vacuumed using a HEPA filtered vacuum. This includes the tops of server racks, all overhead support surfaces such as cable trays, lighting fixtures, partition doors and any other surface in the server room. After vacuuming, all the equipment and surfaces should be wiped down using disposable microfiber cloths and server room approved chemicals. The raised floor should be vacuumed with a HEPA filter and mopped afterward with a damp microfiber mop and data center approved static dissipating chemicals to collect any contaminants that the vacuum left behind.

Data Center Deep Cleaning

A deep data center cleaning should be done every six months to a year within the server room space. This should include vacuuming and wiping down all IT equipment and surfaces with a data center approved cleaner, and vacuuming and mopping the raised floor. During a deep cleaning, the subfloor and ceiling plenums must be cleaned as well to remove contaminants that managed to enter the cooling system.

The ceiling should be vacuumed overhead or below the drop ceiling tiles using a triple-filtered HEPA vacuum. Overhead raceways should be wiped down using a damp disposable cloth with data center cleaning chemicals to trap any particles that feel from cleaning the ceiling.

The subfloor should be deep cleaned and vacuumed with a triple-filtered HEPA vacuum. It is important not to remove more than 24 square feet at a time because it could change the static pressure and cause settled contaminants to become airborne. When cleaning the subfloor, all large debris should be removed such as cable ties and wire clippings. This is also an opportunity to remove any cables that are no longer being used to clear the space for better airflow. The subfloor should then be vacuumed using a triple-filtered HEPA vacuum.

Professional Data Center Cleaning

Because a deep cleaning is so extensive in a data center space, it is often easier to enlist the help of professional cleaners. Professional cleaners have a systematic and thorough method saving data center operators time and effort. When choosing a professional data center cleaning company, it is important to choose a company that does background checks and has a good reputation.

When using a professional cleaning company, it is beneficial to ask for a list detailing the scope of the cleaning services and asking for changes to accommodate your specific server room’s needs. It is also practical to provide dedicated maintenance outlets to the crew during the cleaning procedure so that your daily data center activities cannot be disturbed.

Preventing contaminants from entering server room spaces and regularly cleaning your IT equipment, server room floors, and cooling system to remove contaminants will protect your equipment from damage and maintain uptime.

Download this free data center cleaning checklist to help schedule your cleaning routine.

Free Data Center Cleaning Checklist