Natural Disasters in the Computer Room

Information Systems are continually threatened by the potential for Natural Disasters that occur in the Computer Room. To maintain system up-time, numerous environmental conditions in the room must be stabilized within narrow limits, and only vigilant monitoring and control of these conditions can insure the continued well-being of the enterprise.


Incidents of Over-Temperature are, by far, the most commonly reported cause of computer down-time. Though this condition is most often caused by the failure of room air-conditioning, occurrences have also been attributed to the failure of fans within the computer chassis, or blockage of air ducts servicing remote corners of the room. The existence of these latter conditions are not apparent to in-room personnel, and often remain undetected until damage occurs.


The second-ranking cause of computer network failure is Water damage. This catastrophe can be caused by events as common as the rupturing of water pipes, which have a profound effect on computer installations. Water problems are also reported as resulting from excess vapor condensation within air-conditioning equipment. Computer rooms protected by Sprinkler Systems, rather than Halon, are also susceptible to this additional water hazard. Even raised-floor Facilities Managers have reason for concern, as cable couplings that link computing devices rest on the ground beneath these platforms.


Both excess and insufficient Humidity in the computer room can threaten system reliability. Too much moisture in the air can accelerate oxidation of electronic circuits, conductors and connectors, and can provide high-resistance current paths that make circuits perform unpredictably. A lack of moisture in the air increases the potential for equipment 'zapping' from static-electricity.


Smoke and Fire present obvious hazards to the Computer installation. Smoke particles deposited on disk and tape surfaces can render the recorded data unrecoverable. Excessive heat can also damage recording media, and cause immediate failure of computer electronics. In addition to causing permanent damage to equipment, the interruption of operations during a disk or tape write cycle can destroy the contents of open files. It has also been reported that both Water and Halon fire retardants have a greater possibility of damaging electronic devices if they are discharged while power is applied to those circuits. As it is required procedure for Computer Room personnel to evacuate the room upon hearing the first alarm bell (to escape both fire and Halon), computers are usually left active during such emergencies, and susceptible to this danger.


Many cases of erratic computer performance, as well as catastrophic failure, have been attributed to poor Power quality. Electricity provided by Public Utilities is often plagued by over and under voltage conditions, as well as unpredictable spikes, drops, and contamination from high-frequency noise. While these conditions are not often obvious and do not affect most household appliances, they can spell disaster for computer facilities. More than the possibility of computers being knocked-out by power interruptions, irregular power stresses computer power supplies causing internal heat rise and component degradation. Though most of these conditions can be effectively dealt with using readily available protective products, it is important to identify the specific type of disturbance in order to select the appropriate remedy.


Most computer facilities, from PC LANs to Networked and Clustered Mainframes, have recognized the benefits of installing Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS). It is important to remember that, in the event of switch-over from AC Power to Battery Back-Up, the protected computer must be gracefully shut-down (closing open files) before battery energy is dissipated below-useful levels; otherwise, valuable data records may be damaged. A further concern for battery-backed installations is the rapid heat rise that occurs when computer equipment is kept running on battery while unsupported air conditioners remain without power.

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INTRA COMPUTER, Inc. , 2005-Present