Environmental Threats to Data Centers, Telecom Switching, and POP sites

Your critical business services can be threatened by a range of environmental factors. In this posting, I will discuss several of these threats and the challenges each poses in data centers, telecom switching sites, and other point-of-presence sites where the equipment is crucial to a company’s operations and the services it provides.

Temperature and Humidity

Excessive heat and rapid temperature changes can damage equipment. As temperature increases, the equipment works harder to stay cool until it fails or shuts off to prevent damage. Rapid temperature drops can cause condensation. Together, heat and moisture accelerate the breakdown of equipment components. Low humidity levels can produce electrostatic discharge, interfering with hardware and causing system damage.

Changes in equipment design and greater use of network services compound the temperature threat. More circuits are placed closer and closer together and smaller equipment can be packed more closely, trapping heat in smaller spaces. For networks that operate 24 hours a day, every day of the year, there is little, if any, time to cool down.

Water Leaks

Proper planning moves equipment away from water pipes that might burst, basements that might flood, or roofs that might leak. However, there are other water leaks that are more difficult to recognize and detect. Blocked ventilation systems can cause condensation if warm, moist air is not removed quickly. If vents are located above or behind machines, condensation can form small puddles that no one sees. Standalone air conditioners are especially vulnerable to water leaks if condensation is not properly removed. Even small amounts of water near air intakes raise humidity levels and can fill equipment with moisture.

Rooms with raised floors are particularly vulnerable. All of the cables and wires for an entire network are concealed beneath floor panels. While this approach keeps cords safe from being accidentally unplugged, it makes monitoring their physical status difficult. Cables may be soaking in water for a long period before anyone notices.

Physical Security

Obviously, vandalism and theft, threaten the operation of your sites. Less sinister, but just as potentially harmful, are animal intrusions. Rodents, insects, birds can wreak havoc on equipment.

Power Outage

Power outages, “brown outs,” and voltage dips and spikes represent big problems for computing equipment. A simple hiccup in power levels, let alone a lightning strike, can cause equipment to fail.  In best-case scenarios, this costs your business precious time while the system reboots. In worst-case scenarios, circuitry is irreparably damaged and must be replaced.

While not exhaustive, this posting does provide an overview of common environmental threats to data centers, telecom switching, and other POP sites. I’ll be doing follow up posts that discuss how to address these challenges—what works and what doesn’t.

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