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7 Common Server Room Problems for Businesses to Consider

7 Common Server Room Problems for Businesses to Consider

Sometimes it takes a server room disaster to prompt data management changes in an organization. It is undoubtedly preferable that businesses take appropriate measures to protect their server rooms even before disaster strikes, but excessive optimism, and the inertia of day-to-day operations, makes it easy to forget that the dangers are real.

This is why so many companies only take measures to adequately ensure stack safety after their local server rooms are impaired through natural or predictable causes – or after news of a similar event at a different company reaches the ears of those who make decisions about server maintenance.


Common On-Site Server Room Problems 

Before attempting to determine how best to establish the most secure yet cost-effective means of storing your data, it’s important to recognize that local server rooms are not inherently disasters waiting to happen. Rather, there are specific common sources of damage that can plague your data that you should make sure to protect. You decide you’re better off migrating your stacks to a shared offsite facility, or you may prefer to keep them in-house – either way, when you address the specific server facility threats that most often destroy data assets, you’re able to dramatically minimize risk.

Let’s take a look at some basic best practices for precautions that will help to keep your on-premises data safe and accessible for the needs of your business.


1. Inadequate Temperature Control

To maintain a secure space for your local servers, you must create the proper physical conditions for them.

That includes an area that has proper temperature control. The air surrounding your hardware needs to be in a range that keeps heat from damaging your servers. Typically this is a range of 68 to 72 degrees. Not only must you account for temperature in the server room, but also impact on temperature from outside the room... such as direct sunlight or other factors that may raise temperature. Your servers will generate heat too, and the environment will need cooling that can account for that. Ideally, you need to make sure you’re able to control the room temperature separately from the rest of your facility. Countless servers have been lost to too warm of an environment.

Preventative Measures:

  • Install a dedicated HVAC system for your server room to maintain optimal temperature control.
  • Implement a redundant cooling system to ensure continuous temperature regulation, even if one unit fails.
  • Regularly monitor and log temperature levels using sensors and a centralized monitoring system.
  • Conduct periodic maintenance on cooling systems to ensure they are functioning efficiently.
  • Ensure proper insulation and sealing of the server room to minimize the impact of external temperature fluctuations.

Corrective Actions:

  • If the temperature exceeds the recommended range, immediately investigate the cause and take corrective action.
  • Check for any malfunctioning cooling units and repair or replace them as needed.
  • Assess the placement of servers and ensure proper airflow to prevent hot spots.
  • Consider implementing hot aisle/cold aisle containment to optimize cooling efficiency.
  • In case of a cooling system failure, have a contingency plan in place, such as portable air conditioning units or temporary relocation of critical servers.

2. Insufficient Ventilation

Similarly, you will want to make sure that there is sufficient space surrounding your equipment for air to circulate. How much of a gap you need depends on the specific parameters of your machinery, but all heat-generating data storage devices (and they all generate heat) require air circulation to make sure they don’t overheat – poor ventilation necessarily results in inadequate cooling.

Therefore, if the space you use for your servers is small enough that you need to stack them, make sure to use dedicated server racks, rather than just piling servers up on top of each other.

Preventative Measures:

  • Conduct a thorough assessment of your server room layout to ensure proper airflow and ventilation.
  • Use perforated tiles in the cold aisle to allow cool air to flow through the server racks.
  • Ensure that server racks have adequate space between them to facilitate air circulation.
  • Regularly clean and maintain air filters in your cooling system to prevent dust buildup.

Corrective Actions:

  • If you notice hot spots or inadequate airflow, consider rearranging your server room layout to improve ventilation.
  • Upgrade to server racks with built-in fan systems to enhance air circulation within the rack.
  • Install additional fans or air movers to redirect cool air to areas with poor ventilation.
  • Consider implementing a raised floor system to allow for better air distribution and cable management.

3. Imbalanced Moisture Levels

Keep in mind that temperature is not the only environmental condition concern that impacts the location and well-being of your servers. Controlled humidity can be at least as important. High humidity can result in rust, corrosion, short-circuiting and even the growth of fungus that can attack the machinery. Too little moisture in the air is also a concern, as an exceedingly dry environment can result in electrostatic discharge, which in turn can cause system malfunction and damage.

Protect your data from more particular sources of moisture as well – determine where the pipes in your building are and make sure that they cannot spring a leak on your servers.

Preventative Measures:

  • Install a humidity monitoring system to continuously track and maintain optimal moisture levels in your server room.
  • Maintain relative humidity levels between 45 and 55 percent for optimal server performance.
  • Use a dedicated dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air during periods of high humidity.
  • Implement a humidifier to add moisture to the air during dry periods to prevent electrostatic discharge.

Corrective Actions:

  • If you notice signs of moisture damage, such as rust or corrosion, immediately investigate the source and take corrective action.
  • If you detect fungal growth, isolate the affected equipment and consult with a professional cleaning service to remove the mold.
  • If electrostatic discharge occurs, assess the damage to your servers and replace any affected components.
  • Consider installing a water leak detection system to alert you of any potential leaks near your server room.

4. Too Much Jostling

Other potential environmental hazards include vibrations that can disturb a rapidly spinning hard drive, or dislodge the boards and chips that make your technology run. Even tiny scratches, particularly to a hard drive, can obliterate the data you are working so hard to preserve without damage.

Outside of an earthquake, which are not all that common outside of California, vibration is usually the result of moving the server or bumping into it. If servers are too close to hallways or outside walls, they are also more subject to jostling caused by machinery and people passing by – particularly the potential movement caused by a large truck, for example. Plan your cushioning and other stabilizing forces well, and your servers should not be disturbed by vibration.

Preventative Measures:

  • Install server racks with built-in vibration-dampening features.
  • Use anti-vibration mats or pads under your server racks to absorb shock.
  • Ensure that your server room is located away from high-traffic areas, such as hallways or loading docks, to minimize the risk of accidental bumps or jostling.
  • Implement strict access controls to your server room to prevent unauthorized personnel from accidentally disturbing the equipment.
  • Regularly inspect and tighten any loose components or mounting hardware to prevent them from being dislodged.

Corrective Actions:

  • Consider relocating your server room to a more stable or less-traveled location within your facility, away from potential vibration sources.
  • If a server has been jostled or disturbed, carefully inspect it for any damaged or dislodged components and take appropriate action to repair or replace affected parts.
  • In the event of an earthquake or other severe vibration event, assess the damage to your servers and consult with a professional data recovery service if necessary.

5. Clutter and Disarray

The server room is yours - keep it as orderly as necessary. Make sure that your cords are untangled and that there’s no risk of tripping over wires. A power distribution unit is likely to help you in this regard.

Note that no matter what you do, you may be subject to a freak accident, like this exploding fire extinguisher.

Preventative Measures:

  • Implement a clean-as-you-go policy in your server room to prevent the accumulation of clutter and debris.
  • Use cable management solutions, such as cable trays, zip ties, or velcro straps, to keep cords organized.
  • Invest in a high-quality PDU with built-in cable management features.
  • Establish clear labeling and documentation practices for your server room.
  • Regularly conduct a thorough cleaning and organization of your server room.

Corrective Actions:

  • Identify and remove any obsolete or unused equipment and cables to free up space and reduce clutter.
  • Reroute or secure any cables or wires that present tripping hazards as soon as you identify the hazard. 
  • In the event of a freak accident, such as an exploding fire extinguisher, prioritize the safety of personnel and then assess the damage to your server room. Then, review your server room practices and implement any necessary changes to prevent further accidents. 


6. Power Volatility

Among the potential events that threaten your servers are power outages, whether blackouts, spikes or brownouts. Make sure that your system is covered by providing redundant power backups – a standalone generator (or two), for example, or an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) device.

Often, in the event of electricity flow volatility, a reboot of the system will return your servers to their functionality, but there is no guarantee against severe damage, so do what you can to prevent power outages and spikes from affecting your servers. The power backup systems should be tested regularly and also monitored. It is best to identify backup system shortcomings during a test rather than during an actual power outage, itself. Amongst the things to look for are depleted batteries in UPS, failure to start with a generator and low fuel or fuel that has been rendered unusable by sediment in the fuel tank

Power outages are nearly always “acts of God” – the results of extreme weather. Sometimes, however, they are the result of human error at the electric company. Every so often, they happen because of sabotage. No matter what causes your system to fall electrically, if you have a backup system in place, you will preserve your data as needed.

Preventative Measures:

  • Invest in high-quality UPS systems with sufficient capacity to provide backup power for your critical servers and equipment.
  • Implement a comprehensive power redundancy plan, including multiple UPS units and generators.
  • Regularly test and maintain your power backup systems, including UPS batteries and generators.
  • Consider implementing a power conditioning system to protect your servers from power surges, spikes, and other electrical disturbances.

Corrective Actions:

  • In the event of a power outage or disruption, promptly assess the situation and activate your power backup systems as needed.
  • After a power event, review your power backup systems' performance and make necessary adjustments or upgrades to improve their effectiveness.
  • If UPS batteries are found to be depleted or underperforming, replace them promptly to ensure reliable backup power.


7. Acts of Intentional Malice

Concerns about intentional sabotage should not be overlooked, no matter how unlikely they may seem to your particular situation. Security breaches are always a possibility, and making sure that your servers are protected against both physical and cyber-intruders is critical.

If a hostile party steals your data or manages to install viral code into your system, you will not be able to conduct business as usual – to say the least. Affix security cameras to capture anyone entering your server room without authorization. Ideally, the data recorded by camera should be archived for retrieval and viewing in the event of a breach. Install locks – the kind that requires a key or a combination, in the server room itself and also on any server racks that you may have installed. Secure your phone room and fiber/copper conduit that comes into your building/property.

Preventative Measures:

  • Implement a robust access control system, including biometric scanners, key cards, or PIN codes, to restrict entry to your server room to authorized personnel only.
  • Establish a clear security protocol for granting and revoking access privileges to minimize the risk of unauthorized access.
  • Install high-quality security cameras with night vision capabilities to monitor your server room 24/7, and ensure the footage is securely stored and easily retrievable.
  • Implement a comprehensive cybersecurity plan to protect your servers from cyber threats.
  • Educate your employees about the importance of physical and cyber security and provide them with regular training on best practices.

Corrective Actions:

  • In the event of a security breach, immediately isolate the affected servers and disconnect them from the network.
  • Work with experienced cybersecurity professionals to identify and address any vulnerabilities in your server room security and develop a plan to prevent future breaches.
  • Review and update your security protocols and access control measures based on the investigation findings to ensure ongoing protection against acts of intentional malice.


Exploring Alternative Solutions: Leveraging Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and Cloud Providers

Throughout this post, we've discussed the challenges of maintaining a server room. While establishing and maintaining an on-premises server room is a common approach for businesses, you may choose to explore alternative solutions. Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and Cloud Providers present alternative options for businesses seeking to optimize their server infrastructure and mitigate potential risks like the ones we've discussed in this post. 

Partnering with an MSP can provide your business with access to expertise and more robust infrastructure. MSPs generally operate well-maintained facilities equipped with advanced technology and have specialized staff skilled in handling server-related challenges. As a result, they can employ proactive monitoring tools and predictive analytics to identify and address potential issues before they impact your business operations, minimizing downtime.

Cloud Providers offer a flexible and scalable solution for businesses looking to offload their server infrastructure to a secure and reliable cloud environment. By migrating server workloads to the cloud, you can leverage the provider's infrastructure and global data centers, which give you more redundancy. Many Cloud Providers offer flexible pricing models, allowing you to scale resources up or down based on demand. 

When considering your options, it's crucial to speak with an expert who understands the pros and cons of keeping your servers in-house compared to outsourcing to an MSP or Cloud Provider. They can help you determine which approach best aligns with your business needs, taking into account factors such as the risks mentioned above, equipment costs, and the benefits of entrusting your network to those who may be best positioned to protect it from damage.


Solving Server Room Problems: Consider Your Options 

When you maintain your own local server room, you have all of the privileges and benefits of internal control, but you're also charged with protecting the room from any of the forces that might cause damage to your servers. While implementing preventative measures and having corrective actions in place can help mitigate risks, it's essential to consider alternative solutions that may better suit your business needs.

Colocation services and shared datacenters offer a compelling alternative to on-premises server rooms, exempting you from much of the burden of managing risks like the ones discussed in this post. By entrusting your servers to a professional data center provider, you can leverage their expertise, advanced infrastructure, and comprehensive security measures to ensure the optimal performance and protection of your critical assets.

However, deciding whether to keep your servers in-house or outsource to a colocation facility requires careful consideration. You should consult with experts who understand the pros and cons of both in-house server rooms and colocation services before making a decision. At Atlantech Online, we have the expertise and experience to help you navigate this complex decision-making process. Our team of data center specialists can assess your unique requirements and provide tailored recommendations to ensure your business's success.

To further assist you in your decision-making process, we invite you to download our free eBook, 10 Questions To Ask Before You Buy Data Center Services For Your Business. This comprehensive guide will give you the essential questions to ask and factors to consider when evaluating data center providers, empowering you to make the best choice for your organization.

Tom Collins
Post by Tom Collins
April 10, 2024
Tom is the Director of Enterprise Sales & Marketing for Atlantech Online. He has over 20 years of professional experience in the Internet Service Provider industry and is known for translating technology into positive results for business. A native of Washington, DC, a graduate from University of Maryland (degrees in Government & Politics and Secondary Education), Tom is also a five-time Ironman finisher.