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Clean data

Data centre management and the cleanliness of the environment are the two main risks that leave data centres exposed, explains Stuart Wells, Business Development Director at ABM Critical Solutions

Retail businesses are faced with many risks when it comes to their critical data. System failures can lead to a huge disruption. To avoid this, organisations must have the correct management and on-going maintenance practices in place.

As data centres have progressed throughout the years, the consequence of a server breakdown has a far greater impact and the sudden loss of data could lead to a large loss of income. This is due to the surge in online businesses who rely on connectivity to run their business.

There are two areas, often overlooked, that businesses need to consider when safeguarding a data centre and the data stored there. These are; data centre management and cleanliness. When these factors are controlled, it ensures the safety and stability of the critical environment and the data held there. We are now hearing the term “Data is the new currency” more regularly than ever before.

Even some of the largest, most established brands fail to ensure their mechanical and electrical systems, within the critical environment, are helped to protect the sensitive data held within. The data centre management of a business represents a collection of tools and strategy, that help it to organise and manage its data storage. This includes everything from the servers to storage drives and even cabling networks. This should also take into account the environment’s needs in terms of cooling, back-up resilience and overall environmental control to maximise the full ‘Up Time’ potential of the data centre. Neglecting to understand the importance of both a robust infrastructure and the supporting environment can leave the business vulnerable to failure. This is where IT meets FM and a collaborative approach should be applied.

Most retail data centres are built on a 10-year cycle, but, the average retailer probably invests in its electrical and mechanical infrastructure every 15-years or so. This includes cooling upgrades, back-up power replacements or life safety system upgrades. This 15 year period of time introduces risk in the absence of a resilient maintenance approach and shared values between IT and FM.

In a recent project by ABM Critical Solutions, a £10 million online retail business had not invested in its own Data Centre in over 20 years, leaving it in such a fragile condition, that a failure felt just around the corner. Capex costs and the complexity of developing and maintaining the infrastructure are usually the barriers to investment.

For this particular ABM Critical Solutions project, the repercussions of the data centre management failing would have been huge. Having no recovery system in place, for example, means an organisation is worryingly exposed. A single point of failure without any built-in redundancy could have wiped out the business.

A well designed, maintained and understood data centre with strong management, is going to be much less exposed to risk, which can only be a good thing as we move closer to world that goes beyond cloud storage. The question shouldn’t be a case of ‘if’, but more a case of ‘when’, should a business invest in its infrastructure to safeguard its future.

The second major consideration is regular clinical cleaning to remove unwanted contaminants. If left unattended, the risk of unexplained server outages rises dramatically, caused by particulate matter and zinc whiskers. Any particulate matter with a conductive element, being caught within the flow of conditioned air and finding its way onto printed circuit boards could have a catastrophic affect.

Businesses should be mindful
about the level of clean they implement. Over the years there has been a gradual increase in businesses who offer ‘technical cleaning services’ at cheaper rates; but you should always select a cleaning company who is fully experienced in data centre cleaning with all the relevant security credentials and training to allow them to work in the live environment.

For example, it is essential that technicians are trained to identify zinc whiskers – something we offer as mandatory during a technical clean. Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) testing is performed on the suspected areas: the analysis is collected on
a sticky tape stud which is examined using a scanning electron microscope and energy-dispersive X-ray analysis (EXD).

Following a cleaning project, we will provide recommendations for further zinc whiskers testing and share the potential consequences of not doing so. ABM Critical Solutions also utilises methods such as the installation of ‘sub floor plenum walls’ to stop any zinc whiskers becoming transferred to other areas of the critical space through the air flow.

Retail businesses hold vast amounts of personal data including addresses and banking details, which effectively keeps it trading. While it is seen as a retailing business, it is also a big data centre, yet so many e-tail businesses have data centre management and cleanliness, at the bottom of their priority list.

Collaborative implementation by the IT and FM parties, a robust data centre management approach and regular specialist cleaning, is a fantastic start to protecting the critical environment. This approach should be a priority for a business operating online.

About Sarah OBeirne

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