If you were lucky enough to catch my previous blog post discussing product lifecycles you likely recall that the root discussion point was how to maximize ROI of IT infrastructure. In this follow up post we’ll be discussing some reasons why IT infrastructure breaks-down, or fails, and how to avoid premature failures.
Here are the top IT killers:
Dust, Dirt and Debris
Have you ever moved your PC from one location to another and while doing so noted the absolutely disgusting buildup of gunk and dust on the ventilation ports? I won’t elaborate on primary composition of this gunk (a hint would be that your body is literally covered in it) but I will definitely note that you should NOT leave it that way. The problem with this gunk is that it not only builds up on the external ventilation ports but the internal heatsinks and fans as well. This severely impacts cooling efficiency and can cause fans to become unbalanced. Consequently, overheating, possibly component damage, premature wear of fan bearings, and electronic instability may occur. Thankfully the solution is quite simple. A can of electronics duster from your local grocery or office supply store will quickly allow you to remove this gunk. Keep in mind that this type of maintenance isn’t just for workstations. Your server and network devices will likely have similar buildup and also need attention. If you frequently have problems with buildup consider using a local air purifier in rooms where they reside.
This is one of those factors that is rarely discussed when it comes to computer and electronic equipment. Humidity levels are a bit of a double edged sword. Have you ever noticed how high voltage power lines hum or click in wet weather? Part of what causes this phenomenon is increased coronal discharge due to the existence of high water vapor content and dust particles in the air. For similar reasons, higher humidity levels aid in decreasing static electrical charge therefore creating a more stable operating environment which is less prone to ESD damage. On the other hand, high humidity decreases cooling efficiency meaning that it’s more difficult to dissipate heat from equipment. Consequently this can reduce electrical efficiency of said devices, leading to higher energy costs and reduced lifespan. Generally speaking, relative humidity levels of approximately fifty percent are effective at balancing between these two extremes.
We’re all well aware that keeping computers and networking equipment cool is important. But how exactly does one define what “keeping equipment cool” means? This tends to be a touchy subject as some IT professionals believe that keeping your operating environment as cool as possible is the solution. Realistically this couldn’t be further from the truth. In 2007 Google published the result of a large scale study regarding hard drive failures and found an interestingly increased correlation between low ambient cooling temperatures and hard drive failures. The fact of the matter is that keeping ambient air temperatures very low is not only unnecessary but may actually reduce the lifespan of some components. Additionally, most commercial electronic components today have high temperature operating ranges (commonly from 0 to 70 degrees Celsius or greater) and are generally tested at ambient temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius. For this reason it’s my professional opinion is that an ambient temperature of approximately 77 degrees Fahrenheit is an ideal target ambient temperature. And one major side benefit… Decreased cooling costs! Who doesn’t want to save a few dollars?
This is a big and somewhat broad category and oddly enough one of the more neglected areas that we see in environments. Let’s break this one down a bit.
Electrical power is susceptible to various conditions of varying severity. Common conditions such as under-voltage, over-voltage, blackouts, brownouts, voltage spikes and lightning strikes can occur quite frequently in AC mains power sources. And a few of these conditions can cause very severe damage to the high efficiency electronic power supplies found inside virtually all devices today. While these newer devices do attempt to provide some degree of built-in protection from some of these events they certainly are immune to every possible event. Thankfully, protecting your investment from damage due to the conditions above is fairly simple! UPS’s to the rescue!
Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) are designed to combat damaging/interrupting conditions that occur within mains power by using specialized hardware in combination with an onboard battery. However, not all UPS’s are created equal… I’ll spare you the boring technical details of exactly how these devices function but it’s important to know that UPS’s are rated to handle very specific electrical loads and the hardware between them can vary quite highly. For this reason it’s important to always consult with an expert before implementing UPS’s in your environment.
Electrostatic discharge (ESD or static electricity) can be absolutely devastating to electronic components. These discharges may seem benevolent, but the fact of the matter is that they can easily exceed 3000 volts! While the voltage involved in these discharges is very high, the current is extremely low hence the reason static electricity does not normally cause injury to us humans. Unfortunately our sensitive electronic component friends aren’t so lucky.
All electronic devices in use today incorporate the use of transistors (which are all susceptible to damage from ESD). However there is a very specific and common type of transistor called a FET (or field effect transistor) that is particularly sensitive to ESD. These devices have a special input that is linked to a part of the device known as the “gate”. Electrostatic discharge into this gate causes it to breakdown and render the FET damaged or useless. A more real world analogy for you: imagine a dam holding back a body of water. The dam operators can control how much water flows by adjusting a water gate built in to the dam. Now imagine firing a cannon ball at that gate and the resultant inability to control water flow when the gate is highly damaged or completely destroyed. This is effectively what occurs within a FET when it is exposed to ESD. To prevent this type of damage it’s important to make sure that you neutralize any static charge differential between your body and the device. In the scenario where one is dealing with computers or networking devices a $10 wrist strap from your favorite electronics store connected to the case of the computer or device will eliminate the charge differential.
Before we wrap up I’d like to note a few miscellaneous items. Suppression of electrical surges on the mains power is one of the many things that a UPS will do for you. However, it’s easy to overlook alternate sources of potential electrical surges. These sources include things such as phone lines, cable lines, Ethernet cables, and any other electrical connection to the outside world. Many UPS’s have special pass-through ports that allow for surge protection on these connections. There are also specialty devices that can be purchased specifically for this type of protection.
Hopefully you’ll find most of the information relevant and helpful! If you ever have any questions, don’t forget, we’re around to help!