Vodafone’s data center in Leeds, which flooded during the Christmas period, must be engaged in a clean-up now. But apparently it’s not the only site that needs to consider sprucing the place up. Dirt can be a reault of a crisis - but it can also cause fresh trouble. 

Floods hit large parts of the UK during the holiday period, perhaps to give emphasis to the dawning realization that global warming is real and weather patterns wil change. UK government research has said that increased flooding is the greatest danger posed by global warming in the UK. Despite this, planned flood defence projects have been cut, including a £190 million scheme for the Kirkstall Road area of Leeds, where Vodafone is located.

The extent of the flooding on Kirkstall Road, Leeds
Flooding on Kirkstall Road, Leeds – Michael Newton

War on floods?

Residents say that project would have prevented the Boxing Day floods, and are calling for its reinstatement. Prime Minister David Cameron maintains that there have been no cuts, but even the staunchly-Conservative Daily Mail is skeptical about that.

The total cost to the country of these floods could be as much as £5 billion ($7.3bn) and the Government has proudly put up the sum of £40 million ($58m) for the repairs.

That’s bad news, but there’s not a great deal the data center industry can do about it. Vodafone’s site lost power when the floods hit. It carried on working till its UPS backup ran out, and then shut down. Now, like thousands of homes and businesses in the North of England, it’s having to clean up the mess.

But according to a press release I had last week, it’s not alone in the need to clean up.

computer cleaning dirt thinkstock photos vitaliy 87
– Thinkstock / Vitaliy_87

Fouled up fans

Data centers have air circulation systems, and dirt can accumulate in them. The contamination can be a health risk, as well as potentially causing cooling failures, over-heating or even power outages.

Data center cleaning firm 8 Solutions reckons dirty data centers are storing up trouble. But the release isn’t a straight “buy our services” pitch. The company says it has been called out for a surge of so-called “emergency cleans”, where a facility suddenly becomes aware of an accumulation of crud, possibly from a new source of contamination.

There was a 300 percent rise in these cleans in 2014, compared to 2013, says 8 Solutions, and managing director David Hogg thinks this is because a lot of sites don’t have regular schedules for cleaning.

Another factor that might come into play could be the increasing use of outside air to cool data centers. It might also be that some sites are doing without cleaning schedules for their servers, because the hardware itself is replaced so regularly they hope dirt doesn’t accumulate in it.

Hogg reckons that emergency cleans aren’t the best answer. Unless your facility actually gets flooded, dirt itself is rarely an actual emergency. An increase in contamination may have an unknown root cause, and treating it as an emergency might just get the dirt out of the system without finding out what that cause is. And then the contamination will happen again.

So, even if you haven’t experienced a flood or other disaster, and even if your servers are all still looking shiny and new on the outside, you might consider regular data center cleaning as a possible New Year’s Resolution.