Data centers require round-the-clock operation and meticulous maintenance to ensure that mission-critical business applications and services run uninterrupted. Proper data center maintenance is not just routine but pivotal in preventing costly outages, many of which are avoidable and often caused by human errors.
Data center maintenance involves the ongoing monitoring, inspection, cleaning, repair, and servicing of various components, including electrical and cooling systems, telecommunications cables, network infrastructure, IT equipment, software, and the facility’s physical structure.
Dgtl Infra explores key aspects of data center maintenance, covering everything from its importance and various types to specific facility and IT component upkeep. We discuss actionable best practices for maintaining data centers at peak performance and share strategies to minimize downtime. Learn why and how outsourcing maintenance tasks may be a crucial decision for certain organizations.
What is Data Center Maintenance?
Data center maintenance is the regular practice of monitoring, inspecting, cleaning, repairing, and servicing the hardware, software, and environmental conditions like temperature, humidity, and airflow, to ensure optimal and continuous system performance. Maintenance can be either planned in advance or performed as emergency repairs, which may require temporarily taking systems offline. The scope of maintenance covers electrical and cooling systems, telecommunications cables, network infrastructure, IT equipment, and the physical structure of the data center itself.
Importance of Data Center Maintenance
Data center maintenance is important for identifying and preventing issues that could lead to systems failure and costly outages. Poor maintenance practices can result in various operational problems, such as:
- Power Outages: Insufficient upkeep of power supply systems can cause frequent or unexpected power outages, disrupting services and risking data loss
- Equipment Failure: Inadequate cooling system maintenance can create uneven cooling zones within the data center, leading to hot spots that cause equipment to overheat and fail
- Flooding: Extreme temperature changes can result in broken water lines, leading to equipment failure and extended service outages
- Dust and Debris Accumulation: Poor cleaning practices can allow dust and debris to build up, obstructing airflow and cooling, and increasing the risk of hardware overheating and fire incidents
- Software Incompatibility: Outdated software can lead to compatibility issues, disrupting operations and data exchange between systems
- Cabling Issues: Disorganized cable management makes it challenging to troubleshoot problems and raises the risk of outages due to accidental disconnections
- Security Vulnerabilities: Failing to regularly update and maintain security protocols can make the data center susceptible to unauthorized access, cyberattacks, and data breaches
Given the critical importance of data centers, these problems are often addressed hastily through suboptimal “break-fix” solutions, as immediate action is usually required.
Types of Data Center Maintenance
Different types of data center maintenance, such as preventive, reliability-centered, and predictive, are crucial for effective risk management and minimizing equipment failures.
Each type offers unique methods for equipment upkeep:
Preventive maintenance, also known as planned maintenance, is the most basic and cost-effective form of data center maintenance, and it is widely used as a result. It refers to the proactive upkeep of data center equipment to prevent failure or degradation over time.
The process involves scheduled tasks such as hardware inspections, software updates, cleaning, various tests and measurements, adjustments, and replacement of parts to ensure the data center runs smoothly. A comprehensive checklist of maintenance actions, along with due dates and completion records, is typically included.
For example, components like cooling fans are serviced on a set schedule, whether they actually need servicing or not. However, this method can inadvertently increase the total cost of ownership. Components may be replaced before it is necessary, leading to waste, while others might fail before their scheduled replacement, resulting in additional costs such as system outages.
Despite these challenges, preventive maintenance aims to extend equipment lifespan, prevent aging effects, and identify latent failures early on.
Reliability-centered maintenance identifies the most efficient maintenance practices tailored to the specific operational conditions and failure modes of each piece of equipment in the data center. By evaluating the consequences and likelihood of equipment failure, this approach prioritizes tasks to maintain the overall reliability and availability of the data center infrastructure. It takes into account the importance of each component and schedules data center maintenance accordingly.
For instance, a cooling fan in a non-critical area might be replaced only when it fails, while a cooling fan in a server rack – a critical component – would be inspected and replaced more frequently. This method is often more resource- and cost-efficient than preventive maintenance and may reduce the likelihood of component failure.
Predictive maintenance allows for real-time monitoring and analytics of crucial data center components. This helps identify and address issues before they result in failure. By doing so, data center operators can perform timely maintenance to prevent failures, thereby reducing downtime, optimizing operational efficiency, and avoiding expensive problems.
For instance, the temperature fluctuations in a network switch could be constantly observed, allowing for adjustments or replacements only when anomalies are detected. Likewise, the vibration patterns in cooling system motors can be measured using sensors to determine when servicing is required.
Although more costly to set up, this approach can significantly reduce the total cost of ownership by replacing components only as needed, while also reducing the risk of equipment failure.
Facility and IT Maintenance in Data Centers
Data centers are comprised of facility systems and IT equipment, each with different lifespans and maintenance requirements. While some components are long-lasting, others need more frequent maintenance. These maintenance needs encompass electrical and cooling systems, telecommunications cables, network infrastructure, IT equipment, and the data center’s physical structure. Below is a data center maintenance checklist for these facility and IT components:
Electrical Systems Maintenance
Electrical systems maintenance in a data center involves the inspection, cleaning, and servicing of key components. This ensures an uninterrupted, stable, and efficient power supply to the facility. The main components requiring regular maintenance include Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems, Power Distribution Units (PDUs), backup generators, transformers, switchgear, and switchboards.
Detailed Maintenance Procedures for Key Electrical Components
- Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) Systems: Maintenance procedures vary depending on the type of UPS system, whether it is a static or dynamic UPS
- Static UPS Systems: These systems use batteries and capacitors to sustain a data center’s operations for a brief period during a power outage. Maintenance tasks include monitoring battery health, evaluating load capacities, inspecting capacitors for signs of swelling or leakage, and ensuring seamless switch-over during a power outage
- Dynamic UPS Systems: These systems use a rotating flywheel for energy storage. Regular maintenance includes servicing the bearings and inspecting motor-generator components
- Power Distribution Units (PDUs): Regular maintenance involves assessing the integrity of electrical connections, inspecting for signs of wear and tear, and confirming that power distribution is balanced and optimized across all connected devices
- Backup Generators: Typically powered by diesel fuel, backup generators help maintain data center operations during extended power outages. Maintenance tasks include checking fuel levels, verifying the condition of mechanical parts, and conducting load tests to ensure the generator can meet the data center’s power demands for several hours at a time
- Transformers: Keep an eye out for signs of overheating, check oil levels in oil-filled transformers, and ensure that the insulation is still effective
- Switchgear: Maintenance activities involve inspecting circuit breakers, isolators, and relays. Routine checks for the effectiveness of electrical insulation are also required
- Switchboards: Regular maintenance consists of inspecting electrical connections, testing circuit breakers, conducting visual and mechanical checks for signs of wear and tear, and cleaning to remove dust and debris
A bypass switch allows technicians to safely service or replace critical electrical components like UPS systems and PDUs without interrupting the continuous power supply. This ensures the data center remains operational during maintenance activities.
READ MORE: Data Center Power – A Comprehensive Guide
Cooling Systems Maintenance
Cooling systems maintenance in a data center requires routine inspection, cleaning, and servicing of essential heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units. These tasks help ensure optimal temperature, humidity levels, and airflow within the facility, thereby extending the lifespan of the data center’s hardware. Key components requiring regular maintenance include chillers, cooling towers, Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC) units, Computer Room Air Handler (CRAH) units, heat exchangers, pumps, piping, and humidifiers.
Detailed Maintenance Procedures for Essential Cooling Components
- Chillers: Regular maintenance covers refrigerant level checks, compressor inspections, and the cleaning of evaporator and condenser coils
- Cooling Towers: Routine care includes regular water quality assessments, treatment against corrosion, scaling, and microbial contamination, as well as ensuring the proper functioning of fans and motors
- Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC) Units: Standard procedures encompass filter replacements, fan inspections, and refrigerant level monitoring
- Computer Room Air Handler (CRAH) Units: Regular maintenance activities focus on identifying air blockages, evaluating the condition of filters, and verifying the effective operation of fan systems
- Heat Exchangers: Periodic inspections are essential for checking gaskets, plates, and connections to prevent leaks and maintain efficiency
- Pumps: Routine checks involve assessing pump alignment, lubricating bearings, and ensuring the integrity of seals
- Piping: Regular inspections for leaks, corrosion, and insulation effectiveness are critical to avoid any unexpected failures
- Humidifiers: Given their high maintenance needs, it is essential to regularly check their proper operation and maintain the water quality to inhibit bacterial growth
The maintenance schedules for cooling systems are strongly influenced by their proximity to IT equipment. In-row cooling units, which are closely coupled with IT hardware, are more sensitive to shifts in IT requirements compared to traditional perimeter-based CRAC or CRAH units. Additionally, fluctuations in the needs of IT equipment, like power density, have a significant impact on the maintenance requirements of these cooling systems.
READ MORE: Data Center Cooling – A Comprehensive Guide
Telecommunications Cabling Maintenance
Telecommunications cabling maintenance in a data center involves inspecting, cleaning, and servicing essential components to ensure reliable, high-speed data transmission. Components requiring regular maintenance include fiber optic cables, twisted pair (Ethernet) cables, coaxial cables, patch panels, cable trays, connectors, and junction boxes. Regular upkeep reduces signal loss, lowers latency, and prevents downtime, all of which contribute to optimal network performance.
- Fiber Optic Cables: These cables use light to transmit data and are highly sensitive to dirt and contaminants. Such obstructions can hinder the light flow and negatively impact performance. Routine inspections are crucial for ensuring the cables are clean and free from physical damage
- Twisted Pair (Ethernet) Cables: These are the most common types of cables used in Local Area Network (LAN) connections. Maintenance involves inspecting for kinks and wear and tear, as well as ensuring that the connectors are securely attached
- Coaxial Cables: These cables require regular checks for physical damage, kinks, or bends, as well as ensuring that connectors are tightly fitted. Additionally, periodic signal quality tests are used to detect any degradation or interference that could affect performance
- Patch Panels: Acting as the central hub for cabling networks, patch panels direct signals to their intended destinations. Proper labeling and regular checks can help in troubleshooting and quick recovery from faults
- Cable Trays: These structures support the cabling infrastructure. Maintenance tasks include ensuring the trays are not overloaded, inspecting for physical damage, and verifying proper grounding
- Connectors: These are the interfaces where cables meet devices. Regular maintenance is essential to prevent issues caused by damaged or dirty connectors, which can result in significant signal loss
- Junction Boxes: Designed to safeguard wire connections, these boxes should be inspected for moisture and extreme temperature levels that could degrade the cables within them
Outside of data centers, maintenance holes provide secure access points for technicians to inspect, repair, or replace underground telecommunications cables without disrupting service. This infrastructure enhances control over the network, reducing cabling issues and making troubleshooting more efficient.
Network Infrastructure Maintenance
Network infrastructure maintenance in a data center involves regular monitoring, updates, and servicing of essential hardware and software for both internal and external communications. Key components needing regular upkeep include routers, switches, firewalls, load balancers, Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs), and intrusion detection systems.
- Routers: Periodically update firmware, back up configurations, monitor performance metrics, and conduct security audits to ensure optimal performance
- Switches: Keep the operating system updated, monitor port statuses and error rates, and review VLAN configurations to ensure both performance and security are maintained
- Firewalls: Update security rules regularly, monitor for intrusion attempts, back up configurations, and apply software patches to maintain robust security measures
- Load Balancers: Keep software up-to-date, monitor traffic distribution metrics, and fine-tune server allocation rules for efficient resource utilization
- Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs): Review and update VLAN settings regularly for optimal traffic segregation, and monitor for unauthorized access or changes to configurations
- Intrusion Detection Systems: Update signature databases regularly, monitor alerts, and scrutinize system logs to identify and analyze unauthorized or suspicious activities
IT Equipment Maintenance
IT equipment maintenance in a data center involves regular inspection, cleaning, and servicing of vital hardware and software components. These activities ensure optimal performance, reliability, and security for the facility’s computing and storage systems. The main components that require regular maintenance are servers, racks, cabinets, cages, storage arrays, and virtualization platforms.
- Servers: Routine maintenance includes checking for software updates, monitoring the health of hardware components, and verifying the proper functioning of in-row or rack-mounted cooling systems
- Racks and Cabinets: Regular inspections help ensure these structures are in good condition and not causing overheating problems
- Cages: Periodic checks are necessary to confirm that cages remain tamper-proof and secure against unauthorized access
- Storage Arrays: Maintenance tasks focus on preventing data corruption and include activities like disk defragmentation and data backups
- Virtualization Platforms: Maintenance ensures that virtual machines (VMs) are running efficiently and have proper segmentation to mitigate security risks
Physical Data Center Building Maintenance
Physical data center building maintenance involves regularly inspecting, repairing, and maintaining the building’s structural and environmental features to ensure a secure, stable, and optimized environment for IT hardware and networking equipment. Critical components that require routine upkeep include fire suppression systems, security cameras, access control mechanisms, roofing, flooring, wall integrity, and general housekeeping.
- Fire Suppression Systems: Regular tests ensure that mechanisms like sprinklers or gas-based systems activate reliably in emergency situations
- Security Cameras: Periodic inspections of CCTV cameras and alarm systems are carried out to maintain continuous surveillance of the facility
- Access Control: Security protocols for access control systems are regularly updated and hardware is tested to allow only authorized personnel entry into the facility
- Roofing: Inspections cover wear and tear, water leakage, drainage quality, and overall structural integrity, often utilizing both visual assessments and infrared scans
- Flooring: Floors are examined for cracks, stability issues, and water accumulation that may affect the data center’s safety and efficiency
- Wall Integrity: Walls, often made of concrete, are examined for signs of structural degradation, such as cracks or moisture infiltration
- Housekeeping: Maintaining a clean environment is essential, including keeping combustibles, contaminants, cleaning equipment, and shipping boxes away from critical areas. The computer room floor and underfloor spaces should be kept free of dirt and debris
Holistically, data center floor plans and layouts must be designed to allow sufficient space for maintenance activities, such as access to piping and ducts.
Best Practices for Data Center Maintenance
Best practices for a data center maintenance program include well-documented processes and procedures, meticulous recordkeeping and tracking, consistent vendor support, ongoing personnel training, and a systematic root cause analysis.
Below are further details on these components:
- Documented Processes and Procedures: Create a comprehensive manual outlining all maintenance and support protocols. The manual should include detailed descriptions of equipment and systems, their functions, recommended maintenance schedules, and procedures. It should also list essential spare parts with their part numbers and storage locations, vendor and warranty information, and guidelines for installation and repair
- Personnel Training: Ensure that all maintenance staff are vendor-certified, confirming their expertise in equipment operation, maintenance, and troubleshooting. Additionally, conduct regular training drills on business continuity and disaster recovery to prepare personnel for emergency maintenance situations
- Vendor Support and Consistency: Collaborate with a consistent set of vendors for critical data center components like UPS systems or generators. This consistency streamlines maintenance procedures and ensures uniform standards across multiple facilities. Formalize these partnerships through Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that specify the scope of work, maintenance schedules, and emergency response times
- Recordkeeping and Tracking: Implement a maintenance management system for efficiently tracking the status of equipment and managing all maintenance activities. This system should keep exhaustive logs for each maintenance task, recording the date, nature of work, and personnel involved. Additionally, it should list all installed equipment and their specifications, monitor performance metrics, set calibration requirements, and maintain an inventory of critical spare parts and their restocking thresholds
- Root Cause Analysis: Maintain thorough records of all system outages, capturing details like date, time, affected equipment, and root causes. Utilize these records to identify recurring issues and implement corrective measures based on lessons learned
Strategies for Minimizing Downtime During Data Center Maintenance
To minimize downtime during maintenance, data centers can implement redundant infrastructure models like N+1. This allows for targeted maintenance and enhances resilience against equipment failure. For instance, such redundancy enables essential cooling units to undergo maintenance without causing system failures.
However, it is crucial to consider that increased redundancy results in more equipment, which can subsequently lead to higher ongoing maintenance costs.
When it comes to preventive maintenance or emergency repairs, taking systems offline is sometimes necessary. To address this, data centers can prioritize concurrent maintainability, a key requirement for achieving Tier III or IV certification. This feature allows staff to carry out maintenance and repairs without disrupting the availability of applications and services for end users.
Outsourcing of Data Center Maintenance
Navigating the complexities of data center maintenance can be challenging, which is why many companies are outsourcing these activities to third-party service providers and colocation data centers.
Third-Party Data Center Maintenance
Third-party data center maintenance involves hiring an external service provider to maintain and manage a company’s data center infrastructure. This approach is an alternative to using in-house technicians or relying on service contracts from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
These third-party companies typically offer hardware repairs, software updates, and ongoing support, often through annual maintenance contracts. Finding a suitable provider is often easier in locations with a high concentration of other data centers, as this usually indicates the availability of qualified third-party service providers.
Colocation Data Centers and Maintenance
When deciding to lease or own a data center, consider the implications for maintenance. In a leased colocation data center, the monthly fee includes both interior and exterior maintenance, as well as the costs for monitoring and maintaining critical systems such as UPS units or generators. Customers who lease space in a colocation facility are only responsible for maintaining their own IT equipment housed within their designated area.