With IT departments often facing an uphill battle when it comes to arguing the case for more spend compared with other areas of a business’ budget (advertising, public relations, research and development etc), it is essential that every aspect of IT investment is maximized and protected.

This article argues that cleaning is important to protecting that investment.

Why does cleaning matter?

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Dirt encountered by Future Hygiene Services – (C) Capitoline 2019

You may be asking yourself: What is the relevance of IT cleaning in the myriad of operational and cost complexities associated with running my data center or enterprise computer network?

Every minute your IT solution is unavailable, that investment is compromised. An uncleaned and contaminated data center will slowly build up dirt and debris until it eventually starts to impact equipment reliability, customer perception and eventually creates a fire risk, thus gravely impacting your IT Investment.

Your hardware and environment may also be exposed to:

  • Overheating of components caused by electrostatically charged dust sticking to electronic components and insulating them so they are unable to be cooled;
  • Short circuiting of components caused by conductive dust particles;
  • Short circuiting of components caused by deliquescent dust. (Deliquescent and electrostatic problems can however be reduced by keeping the computer room’s relative humidity between 30 and 60 percent);
  • Damage to disk drive heads;
  • Damage to optical fibre connector interfaces and
  • Trip hazards.

All of the above is dwarfed by reputational risk.

The relative cost of data center cleaning

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– (C) Capitoline 2019

According to statistics from Telecoms Pricing, and Tariff Consultancy, the average value per square meter of high-quality data center space in the UK is approximately £3,300 ($4,000) per annum. This is based on an average price of £1000 per month per rack in London and the South East of £1000 per month, and an average density of one rack for three square meters.

Maintaining a clean computer room or data center is often overlooked and regarded as excessive for a seemingly unnecessary or “nice to have” service. However, let us consider the average cost of an annual data center cleaning project.

Whilst every data center environment is unique and a full survey should be carried out prior to compiling costs, an indicative market rate for computer room cleaning is around £17.00 per sq m, including enhanced wage rates materials, equipment, air particulate reporting, management and supervision. This may vary depending on the size of the facility or any extraordinary features of the environment.

Applied to an average space of 600 sq m, with a potential annual revenue at just under £2 million, the cost of the annual clean equates to £10,200: a mere 0.51 percent of the value of the data center space.

In every good sense of the phrase, this is rather eye-opening, and there could be a far greater cost of failure to invest in a well-managed preventative cleaning and decontamination programme.

Capitoline, an independent data center consultant offering data center audits, certifications and design, has seen numerous operational problems arising from dirty computer rooms and other technical areas. Including the following two examples:

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– Future Hygiene Services

Case study 1 – Europe:

A computer room was extremely dusty, and nobody gave much thought as to how problematic this could be. A very minor fire set off the fire suppression gas. The resulting dust and grit thrown up entered dozens of items of IT equipment. €1.8 million worth of disk drives were destroyed, and the business was disrupted for six weeks.

Case study 2 – Europe:

An electrical plant room was left very dusty and this was made worse by storing old cardboard boxes and papers. Cleaning was not seen as necessary. The filters on the UPS (uninterruptible power supply) air intakes became so clogged that the UPS overheated and caught fire. The entire electrical room was destroyed. The business ran with no electrical backup power for two months.

In a recent statement, a multinational financial services company said: "We’re experiencing system issues due to a power shutdown at one of our facilities, initiated after smoke was detected following routine maintenance. We’re working to restore services as soon as possible. We apologise for the inconvenience."

The solution

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– Future Hygiene Services

The best way to eliminate downtime is to prevent problems before they start.

Choose a professional service provider with a thorough understanding of the technical aspects of safe cleaning methods in your critical area, and a comprehensive understanding of your business, your investment and the dynamics within your IT environment.

Include a cleaning and decontamination regime in your annual preventative maintenance programme. With clear communication and an understanding of your periodic objectives, your service provider should be able to schedule the critical cleaning at a time which is least disruptive, but most appropriate to your data center business activities.

New projects must be handed over with a certificate of cleanliness as part of the O&M (operations and maintenance) documentation and this must also happen after any building works affecting the computer room.

A reputable service provider should, as standard procedure, provide you with evidence and supporting documentation that international standards of cleanliness have been achieved. The provision of certification to ISO14644 Class 8: 2015 is essential, as this will also validate the care and maintenance of your server and telecommunications equipment, which ultimately may have insurance implications.

Preserving the integrity of your IT environment has never been so important and technological advances are setting the pace for securing your business’ growth. A technical cleaning service provider who understands all risks and does not compromise on training, can help avoid the proverbial “downtime sting” before it has time to strike!