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My house holds my "data center," which consists of a couple of dozen servers, four workstations and a few laptops. Recently a friend who was getting a tour of my computer room asked me what I do to keep all those machines clean.

Many companies hire professional cleaning services that specialize in keeping servers clean. But some small shops don't have a budget for that. And since I don't want a bunch of people coming through my home, I take the same approach as most smaller companies and maintain my computers myself. Now, my computers represent a substantial investment, and produce the majority of my income. So I take server maintenance very seriously.

To keep my servers clean, probably the most important thing that I is something that most companies would never encounter. Most companies keep their servers behind a locked door for security reasons. My servers are too, but for a different type of security: to keep my four cats out. I love them, but they shed a lot, and cat fur is bad for the computers.

Since you probably don't have cats patrolling your office, vacuuming is the key. I use two iRobot Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners to vacuum my computer room and my office every day. They do a good job, but they're no substitute for a more powerful vacuum cleaner. So once a week I use an upright vacuum cleaner to manually clean the area.

On vacuuming days, I use the vacuum cleaner's hose to suck dust out of my computer's air intake and out of the fan portion of the power supply. This helps keep the insides of the servers clean.

Vacuuming the computers and the carpet doesn't do much good unless the rest of the room is clean as well. That means, yes, dusting is an important part of my cleaning regimen. I always make sure to dust the ceiling fan in my server room, a special fan with two sets of blades. Somehow dust tends to build up on the leading edge of the fan blades, despite their velocity. So I always wipe down the fan blades when I'm cleaning.

I don't take machines offline just so I can clean them. However, I perform hardware upgrades on a regular basis. Whenever I upgrade a computer's hardware, I take the opportunity to vacuum out the machine while the case is open. This, combined with the fact that I generally retire servers after two to three years, means the computers never really have a chance to get too dirty.

Top-of-the-line air filters

Finally, I filter the air. I use the high-quality heppa filters in my air-conditioning intake vents. They cost about $18 apiece (versus a buck for the cheaper filters), but they trap much smaller particles than the low-end filters, and they help my allergies as well. Heppa filters prevent dust from being sucked into your air conditioning system, but odds are some dust is already in there. To help prevent this from being an issue, I found some filters at the hardware store that can be placed inside of my vents. These filters help keep the vents from blowing dust into a room. The downside to using vent filters is that they restrict air flow to some extent.

To keep the air in my server room even cleaner, I use air purifiers to remove particles from the air.

About the author: 
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server, Exchange Server and IIS. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. He writes regularly for SearchWinComputing.com and other TechTarget sites.

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This was first published in May 2007

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