Q&A with Jason Roth, owner of SET3 (Sterile Environment Technologies, Inc. – www.set3.com):




Why is Data Center Cleaning Relevant for current Data Center Standards?

Since there are static, particulate, network signals and heat sources in the Data Center that can cause disastrous catastrophic loss of uptime to companies, cause fires and Indoor Air Pollution – there are several standards that help keep these environments safe including: ASHRAE, Federal Stan 209e, ISO, NFPA, RFI, HFI and IEST Standards [each one of those link to their respective websites].


Most equipment manufacturers have included standards for microscopic particle limits as well. Many of the warranty returns and faulty products have been linked to contamination at microscopic levels in the data centers where the equipment was installed or housed. Risk of loss and reputation has forced server manufacturers to confirm compliance of air particle, surface particle and static standards before they will install or warranty equipment within a facility.


Chart I: Equipment Manufacturers Statements on Contamination




“If your site is unusually dirty or has a chemical odor, you should be concerned. Dirt and corrosive gases can cause corrosion and possible equipment damage. The building floor should be sealed to prevent dusting of concrete.”




“Environmental conditions for the room environment must be maintained within the acceptable limits to prevent adverse impact on performance and reliability. Electronic equipment is sensitive to air contaminants such as ferrous metal slivers, dirt fibers, and concrete particulate from unsealed concrete. Cement should be sealed to prevent the generation of particles.”




“The quantity of dust in the air must no exceed 0.39 gram/1000m 3[0.03grain/1000ft3] maximum. The specifications for dust pollutants as per United states Federal Standard 209b.The primary floor must be poured concrete that has been sealed to provide dust and humidity control.”




“In order to assure reliability operation of the HDA and its filter system, the size and type of airborne particles must be controlled. The computer room should meet or exceed Federal Standard 209E.The subfloor area must be cleaned and sealed prior to equipment installation”


In  a data center, what needs to be cleaned (Internal components, cases, equipment, floors, etc.)?


 Although there are many benchmark levels and consistent building specs followed by most data centers – every datacenters has unique operations, equipment and personnel circumstances. Some centers have human operators in the room all the time everyday, while others have almost no human traffic – whereas a portion of centers have equipment that emits high amount of belt debris or hydrocarbons and others do not. Every surface should be cleaned in a maintenance schedule that works for the type of surface and frequency of particle recontamination.  In a data center the typical surfaces cleaned on a regular basis are:


·  Exterior of the equipment (servers, computers, screens, silos, etc)


·  Cabinets and racks


·  ceiling plenum (including all elements from conduit to wires)


·  Top of Floors


·  Stringer / pedestal system


·  Interior of computers, servers, tape libraries, etc (occasional)


The main concern in determining what to clean and the frequency of cleaning your data center is your air system and human operations as a  data center. SET3 tests 8 data points on every full service clean including air particle counts, surface contamination and more according to ISO Standard 14644-1 through 9, WHO a& ASHRAE to help you confirm a tailored schedule to fit your operations.


Can readers perform some or all cleaning tasks themselves?


 In house janitorial services for normal office buildings are usually supplied by a contractor or in-house employees that are typically not trained for this type of cleaning / decontamination work. Common janitorial cleaning chemicals, equipment and wax may make the data center look great now – but they will create chemical and physical transformations at microscopic levels causing corrosion, rust, static, overheating and hundreds of other problems leading to eventual downtime.


Since there are static, particulate, network signals and heat sources in the Data Center that can cause disastrous catastrophic loss of uptime to companies, cause fires, Indoor Air Pollution and more – there are several standards that help keep these environments safe including: ASHRAE, Federal Stan 209e, ISO, NFPA, RFI, HFI and IEST Standards.  Keeping up with the latest training, standards, protocol, benchmarks and equipment is no easy task, and I definitely don’t recommend trying to manage that kind of a program in-house in most circumstances.


SET3 crews have been expertly trained and certified on how to measure unseen particles to clean, on different types of chemical’s influences on charged/uncharged ESD surfaces and understand the science of decontamination – and our technicians have the tools to remove these influences safely. If a janitor cannot understand the science of the unseen, cannot test for accuracy of particle/static removal, doesn’t understand static energy dynamics or how equipment and power in a data center works – they are missing the very basics of what is needed to clean your environment. There are hundreds of factors that a Data Center Cleaning Technician must be trained in – or they can cause downtime.

In what instances is professional cleaning a necessity?


Every commercial building needs professional cleaning services – however, any controlled environment needs controlled environment specialists – not just a professional cleaner.  The science used to clean in a data center is unique and cannot be replaced with common janitorial cleaning.

How does a customer get started in terms of finding the right data center cleaning service and then actually initiating the cleaning process?


There are several things that differentiate data center cleaners from common janitorial – so if you are looking for a company to clean your data center you would need to focus on the points a janitor wouldn’t know when interviewing.  Many janitorial companies claim to do data center cleaning – so it is common that you will have to weed through some unqualified vendors.


A few questions that may help this process:


1.  Are you trained to certify air class cleanliness according to ISO 14644 and provide us a certificate at the end of the job?


2.  Can you confirm static pressure and provide velocity testing if needed while cleaning?


3.  Is your equipment certified for ISO class 8 (or better) environments?


These questions only represent an extremely small portion of the basic ability a data center cleaning company should have – but these questions cannot typically be answered and described by a common professional janitor. Weeding out the unqualified vendors is the most important step, as they can unknowingly cause downtime and degradation to your data center.


The next step is to have a solid MOP (Method of Procedures) for your data center cleaning.  The MOP should include standards that must be followed – that way the company is contractually obligated to follow proper methodology or not to participate.


Also, it is always important to get references from reputable companies that have experienced the services from the data center cleaning company you are considering.  Any reputable data center cleaning company will be able to provide a list of contacts you can call – not just past letters of commendation.


In essence, what all goes into cleaning a data center? Can you provide a brief overview of the process?


Cleaning data centers means facilitating uptime through particle, static and residue removal at microscopic levels. Subfloor cleaning, access floor surface cleaning, server and cabinet rack cleaning,construction phase cleaning, ceiling and wall cleaning, and interior electronics decontamination are a few of our popular support services.


Proper Cleaning for Sensitive Surfaces


SET3 cleans and maintains all types of data center surfaces – including equipment, cable trays, ceilings, walls, floors, subfloors and more. From ESD conductive floors to raised floor tiles, our crews are experienced in using the proper cleaning methods, chemicals and equipment to properly care for all of your sensitive surfaces in the data center using certified GREEN equipment.


SET3 technicians are trained to work in live Data Center environments, safely. Data center cleaning requires removing gross contamination (5 microns) as well as unseen particles (.5 microns), which could harm sensitive server, network and data storage equipment. That’s what we do, and we’re one of the best in the world at it.


Identifying Contaminates

SET3 technicians are trained according to ISO 14644, ASHRAE TC9, World Health Organization, and the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technologies to help test & identify sources of contaminates during our cleaning services in your data center, ISP, Network, control Room or other critical environment. If indications of source contamination are in a high risk category, SET3 managers can provide options for laboratory testing to confirm specific contamination identification and provide current contamination levels to help you decide if remediation is necessary. SET3 is committed to providing you with the information you need to run a safe low-risk Data Center.


Maintenance Programs


Our comprehensive Full Service Clean (FSC) is a complete deep cleaning that removes particles from surfaces and the air at .3 microns – as required by ISO 14644. This service is typically done once a quarter to once per year depending on the condition of the facility and filtration and amount of traffic in and out. Our Maintenance Programs are daily weekly or monthly cleanings provided according to ISO 14644 to keep dust, static and particle levels under control following best practices according to industry standards. We provide maximum accountability and up-time for your facility. Our clients stand by us year after year due to our flexible scheduling, no surprise up-charges, and highly-trained local crews.


How often should a data center be cleaned? Are there rules of thumb for equipment, floors, etc.?


 Some Data Centers reduce risk by having day-to-day, weekly or monthly dust maintenance program with our DataCneter Cleaning Technicians – while others set up a maintenance program on a quarterly, semi-annual or yearly basis. Among typical data centers with low foot traffic and up to code with the latest equipment, air and building technologies – a good baseline is as follows:


Minimum Frequency Recommendations for newer low traffic data centers:








2 X per year




Subfloor Plenum Cleaning


Cleaning, inspection of source of contaminates / building structure and air quality testing




Top of Access Floors


ULPA and anti-static cleaning leaning of the top of conductive access floor tiles




VCT Strip and non-conductive Coating (if applicable)


Removing the ESD Coating using antistatic HEPA filtered equipment and chemicals and recoating with a fresh ESD protection Layer




Ceiling Plenum


Cleaning the plenum in the ceiling between the drop ceiling tiles and the roof




Equipment / Cabinet Exterior Cleaning


Cleaning of the Exterior of the equipment / equipment cabinets




Interior Server / Equipment Cleaning


Ionized antistatic cleaning of the interior of servers




There are other surfaces in a data center that may need cleaning also. this list is a basic schedule (rule of thumb).


What are the costs associated with data center cleaning?


The data center cleaning should be a turn key cost based on an agreed scope before the job.  The customer should take into account that they will need to bypass the fire suppression system and provide an on-site contact during the service.  For some data centers, these two things can sometimes mean internal costs.  For example, the bypass system is sometimes regulated by an outside fire protection firm, and they may charge for a visit to bypass the system.