Beware the Dangers lurking inside your Server Cabinets!

You’re responsible for millions of dollars in equipment and infrastructure investments.  Success is measured in uptime and most people outside of the IT inner circle don’t even know you exist.  Failure is downtime measured in lost revenue, which can run into the millions of dollars per occurrence, and the notoriety that follows.

If you’re like me, you take pride in your data center’s appearance.  Removing all unnecessary items out of the data center, cleaning the raised floor above and below, dusting your server cabinets and upon visual inspection you would say everything is ship shape.

The old saying; “out of sight, out of mind”, holds especially true when you consider the risk to equipment failure as a result of what is hidden inside server cabinets.

Next time you’re out and about, open some server cabinets and you’ll find extra screws, washers and nuts left over when the cabinets were first assembled, or stored conveniently for adding additional shelves.  I have seen these lying inside cabinets along with other items such as cans of cleaning fluid and misplaced tools.  All of these items are conductive and if they come in contact with live circuits can cause a direct short resulting in downtime.  Clean it out, all of it.  I can’t think of anything more troubling than a screw rolling off the top of server causing a short, tripping a breaker and shutting down some equipment.  Then comes the fun part as everyone spends the next 30 minutes trying to figure out why, and then try to fix the problem, and you get to explain what happened to management.

You might also find vendors and in-house staff storing documents and manuals pertaining to the servers inside the cabinets.  While this is convenient for them when problems occur, it can block airflow causing overheating and create a fire hazard with the servers.

My solution was to purchase storage cabinets for our staff and each vendor.  I had the cabinets labeled and placed in a common, convenient location within the data center, usually against a wall, and preferably near the entrance.  It might take a few extra minutes to retrieve tools, equipment and manuals when they were needed, but the elimination of another potential risk of fire or equipment failure was well worth the investment and extra time required of a vendor or our data center staff.  In time the vendors came to appreciate having their own lockers to store literature and supplies, knowing where to find what they were looking for reduced the amount of time they had to spend on-site.

The bottom line is that there should be absolutely nothing in these cabinets but servers, cabling and electrical feeds.  Anything more and you are incurring risks that can lead to equipment failure or possibly something even worse.

Ken Koty

In case you’re curious, the most surprising item I found in a server cabinet was a cordless drill battery in a charger.  The charger was plugged into the critical power strip that feeds the servers.   I won’t mention the kinds of problems that this might have caused.