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Combat the issues of a dusty server room

How to protect your switches and fiber from the dangers of dust

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Construction sites are dirty, dusty places. If you’ve ever been on one, you know the dust gets everywhere. Thick film covers every surface and particles sneak into every crevice. The finer the dust, the greater the damage it can do to your brand new devices if you install them too early.

There are steps you can and should take to ensure nothing damages your switches and fiber in those final stages of installation. Here are a few ways that a little construction dust can have bigger consequences than you’d think, and what you can do to stop it.

Heat shedding

Your electronic devices have fans and ventilation to keep the components cool. Those are important features that help extend the life of your devices. But it also means if those devices are exposed to an unfinished, unclean room, fine particulates of construction dust will seep in.

When dust settles onto the components inside your devices, it becomes harder for them to shed heat. This reduces the life of the components and subjects them to premature failure. Regular construction dust will do enough damage, but RescueTech describes how other types of dust can have an effect too: fine metal shavings and moisture can create shorts, and corrosive particles can gradually degrade the device’s components.

The switches, once filled with dust, can’t really be cleaned. You can use a can of compressed air, but basically the switch life is reduced. We recommend keeping the plugs in the ports. Equipment doesn’t start up until the building is cleaned anyways, to prevent dust from blowing around.

Now, our industrial DIN rail switches are fanless. This means the damage they’ll take in a dusty environment won’t be as drastic as a regular switch — though, be forewarned, dust will still shorten the devices’ lifespan. While they should not be installed in a dusty environment, they can be used before the HVAC equipment is running.

There are ways to install in dusty environments, but you have to be careful. Make sure you work with the contractor for timing, because the sooner the room is cleaned, the sooner the network can be up and running.

Fiber signals

Fiber is a fantastic option for connecting your operational technology (OT) networks — just check out our blog post on five benefits to fiber cabling! In really dusty situations, though, even a little dust on a fiber end that’s exposed for too long can have an effect.

Dust and scratches on fiber ends reduce the amount of light that is able to make it from one end of the fiber to the other, resulting in signal loss. Now, it might not sound like much, but a few dBms of signal loss could keep your system from running properly, especially if the signal strength at that point is already near the edge of the minimum operating limit.

We recommend keeping your fiber capped until you’re absolutely ready to use it. That means waiting until your server rooms are ventilated and clean of construction dust, and your devices are ready to be plugged in. Even if the room seems to be clear of dust, don’t uncap the fiber and leave it laying around: the fiber can still collect dirt and dust if you leave it sitting around uncapped.

When you pay for a premium product, you expect a premium result. But fine particles of dust can collect and muck that up. This is true of any switches and fiber on the market, no matter who you buy them from. You might notice the problem right away, when your systems don’t work properly. Or, the system might degrade over time, forcing you to buy new devices far sooner than you expected.

Do you suspect some dust has settled in? Whatever you do, don’t go opening your devices and trying to clean them yourself. Your warranty does not cover opening up and messing around with the components. It might not even fix the original problem: Regenisys warns that improper cleaning can damage a device’s components, and won’t fully remove the contamination.

You can however clean your fiber, using a proper fiber cleaning device. We use this fiber cleaner, but you can find options at different prices. Just don’t use your shirt, a rag, or any other material or contraption that isn’t specifically designed to clean fiber. If your fiber’s already dirty, you’ll only make it worse by rubbing it on your shirt.

When you uncap your fiber and ports, your server rooms should be finished, clean, and have proper ventilation. Just wait for the room to be completely constructed and clear of dust. If you’re still sneezing, hold off on unpacking your new devices. (And maybe throw on a dust mask.)

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