Slideshow: Data centres unbusted by dust (updated)

The largest dust storm in recorded history hitting much of the east coast of Australia yesterday, but data centre providers are reporting customer servers have come through unscathed.

Aidan Tudehope, managing director of hosting for Macquarie Telecom said the Macquarie Hosting data centre in Sydney had not experienced any adverse affects from the dust storm.

“The Macquarie Hosting data centre in Sydney is operationally equipped for air quality issues,” Tudehope said. “We predominantly recycle air for cooling purposes and our air conditioners have filtration systems to remove any dust particles from the air.”

With reliability being obviously critical to customers, the hosting company has also undertaken precautionary measures to ensure service levels are maintained.

“We shut-off external mechanical ventilation systems to prevent dust entering the environment,” Trudehope said. “Staff were on heightened alert for any issues in the facility and a response plan was in place.”

Despite being based in Melbourne, Primus Telecom wasn't taking any chances, according to its data centre team.

“Our computer room fresh air intake is filtered and an air-conditioning technician was on-site all day yesterday ensuring that the intake filters servicing the building did not clog,” the team told Computerworld in an email.

“Air-conditioning units coils were inspected during the day for build up of dust. Our computer rooms also have positive pressure to exclude dust ingress from within the building as well as sticky mats at ingress points.”


View the dust storm slideshow

Although dust may strike many as being cause for little concern, the Primus team advise that, depending on the chemical makeup, dust particles have the potential to be electrically conductive and may cause more than a server fault.

“It is always recommended to power down any effected servers or infrastructure, disassemble them to their component/module level and clean them in a clean, anti-static environment,” the team said. “Particular care should be taken to ensure all fans and heat-sinks are cleaned, and all fan bearings are checked for reliability.”

The team advises smaller organisations who may be managing their own data centre facilities to always ensure that all air filters within cooling systems are regularly checked and cleaned/replaced as per manufacturers guidelines at a minimum.

Any room or environment that encloses server equipment should be sealed where possible, with positive pressure to exclude dust ingress from within the building and use sticky matts at ingress points.

Loren Wiener, product manager, data centres and hosted solutions at NEC Australia, said there had been no impact to its Queensland Polaris data centre as a result of the dust storms.

“NEC data centres weren’t impacted because of the quality of our filtering system and also because of the newness of the system – as with any technology, newer data centres naturally have the best protective mechanisms built in,” he said.

Wiener said depending on the age of the data centre in question, filtering – especially under load – could cause issues.

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“Some data centres have fresh air vents and those data centres need to be particularly conscious of the filtering as they are constantly taking in fresh air and many of the particles that enter with it,” he said.

“The filters that are used at the new Polaris data centre have a very tight granularity and prevent small particles from entering the equipment. The majority of air filters are mainly to catch larger particles like small stones and leaves for example.”

Cliff Holden, principal advisor data centre at data centre design company Strategic Directions, said that not only could dust and dirt contamination significantly increase the cost of cleaning air filters and physical traffic areas, but also had the potential to void warranties on major pieces of equipment that require air quality monitoring.

“[Dust] could trigger a false alarm on some fire systems – very bad outcome if that is a water based system, very expensive for gas dump and could result in an unnecessary visit from the fire brigade (associated cost as well),” he said.

Holden said there were a number of basic steps those operating their own, smaller data centres could take to protect against dust.

These included ensure all data hall areas have positive air pressure to ensure no dirt/dust egress when doors are opened; implanting 'high efficiency particulate air' (HEPA) filters on fresh air intakes; and ensuring there is a strict cleaning regime in place.

“Look for ways to prevent foot traffic bringing dust inside the building/floors through the proper use of sticky mats, damp mopping and heap filtered vacuum cleaning,” he said.

Those currently designing a data centre should consider using 'very early warning fire detection' (VESDA) in fresh air intakes; factor in airlocks and interlocked entry pods in the design; and consider mechanical air dampers with the ability to turn off air intakes, Holden said.

“The data centres we design follow the design philosophy of the air quality of a hospital environment so that it is constantly architected out during the entire design and construction phase,” he said.


How did the dust storms affect your business? Email your photos to Computerworld and follow @computerworldau on Twitter.
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