Contamination Analysis and Surveys in a Data Centre

RITEL uses a number of tools to help diagnose and solve reliability problems:

Settled Contamination Analysis

We send you the sampling stubs.  You load the samples (by 'dabbing' the contaminated surface) then mail the stubs back to us. We use optical and scanning electron microscope imagery and EDX-ray analysis to determine the composition, and, in most cases, the source of the contamination, and present this in a comprehensive report.  Included is any phone consultation if you have any further questions, or if you are trying to solve a particular problem.    

When is this useful? Most contamination comprises a benign mixture of dust and fibres which is easily controlled by good filtration and cleaning.  However, some settled dust could contain salt, diesel exhaust, laser print consumables, or water residues, which may not be harmless.  From establishing its presence and composition, you can track down the source.  This test may be useful if servers are randomly shutting down and recovering due to thermal effects.

Minimum number of samples: 6.   Can be combined with Zinc Whisker Sample Analysis.

An electron microscope image of polymers, including glassy beads evidencing external ingress

On-Site ISO 14644-1 Particle Counting

We measure airborne particles and verify their levels using the protocol outlined in ISO Standard 14644-1.

This can be done as an individual exercise, or as part of a new-build handover report. We measure for particle density at key areas such as near each air handler, fresh air, fresh air makeup, and at the prescribed number of locations through the room. If the particle count appears high, we will try to determine the cause. If required, we can also do pre- and post- air particle measurements for our own cleaning engagements.

When is this useful?  Typically, our clients use this test as part of their handover report, to objectively test if data centre cleanliness meets a pre-agreed standard. 

Particle Count Profile log graph listing class 7 or 8

Zinc Whisker Sample Analysis 

If you suspect you may have a zinc whisker problem, we can send you sampling stubs and you can take samples of the area.  We use optical and scanning electron microscope imagery to match the characteristics of the filaments on the fibres to that of zinc whiskers.  And, we use an EDX analysis to confirm the elemental composition of the filaments.  Although we provide a comprehensive report on all samples, we are also happy to talk to you about the findings and their ramifications. 

When is this useful? If you have unexplained, transient failures, or multiple power supply and DASD failures especially during or after recent floor void access.  If you've discovered whiskers, but you want to see if they are zinc whiskers (which grow) and not glass or polymer filaments (which don't grow).  

Limitations.  Although we can guarantee the presence or absence of zinc whiskers on the stubs, we cannot make the same guarantee for the entire site, based on what we find on the stubs.  You may want to consider a Zinc Whisker Site Survey, which includes Zinc Whisker Sample Analysis at no extra charge. 

Minimum number of samples: 6. Can be combined with Settled Contamination Analysis.

Zinc whiskers on side of stub

On-Site Zinc Whisker Survey

Our expert visits your site, inspects all plated surfaces, components, inside racks and takes samples where appropriate. While on site we can also evaluate air flow, position of zinc whisker patches and the overall risk to vulnerable equipment. You’ll receive a report identifying the the location and length of any zinc whiskers, their potential to cause damage, and recommendations.

When is this useful? When you have spotted shiny filaments trapped on the air intake side of servers, or on plated surfaces or when you have had unexplained disk failures.  Sometimes zinc whiskers are found in batches and are the result of inconsistent plating techniques. 

Two images: one of an annotated floor plan showing percentage of whiskers present, the other of a report of room components showing possibility of zinc whisker production.

*New* Corrosion Coupon Analysis for Airborne Contamination

We send you prepared corrosion coupons which you place where you suspect you might have airborne corrosion (hang on front of servers, for instance.)  The coupons stay for a predetermined period of time and then you mail them back to us for analysis.  We use EDX analysis to determine the nature and extent of corrosion that occurs during the period.  We use this information to classify the corrosion according to ASHRAE 2011. Gaseous and Particulate Contamination Guidelines For Data Centers

Simultaneously with these corrosion measurements, adjacent coupons also monitor airborne particulates and fine magnetic particles, the latter which are frequently found in urban environments and have the potential to disrupt high speed digital signals when in significant concentrations. 

When is this useful?  When you notice excessive maintenance calls after an initial calm period, or intermittent performance particularly when humidity is high.  Also useful as reassurance for clients in co-location venues.

Four SEM stubs, each containing a different substrate. L-R: copper, sticky pad, magnet, silver.

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