Zinc Whiskers

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Zinc Whiskers represent a special situation that requires very careful and extensive effort to successfully neutralize. Sycorp has been helping its customers deal with the threat of Zinc Whiskers for many years.

ARE ZINC WHISKERS GROWING IN YOUR COMPUTER ROOM?

  • Are you having unexplained hardware failures – particularly disk drives and power supplies?
  • Are you having unexplained data corruption problems?
  • Do your problems get more frequent or severe after you move equipment or work in the underfloor?
  • Have you installed the latest lightning fast server or CPU only to find it doesn’t seem as reliable as your old legacy system?

If you answered Yes to any of the foregoing questions, you might have Zinc Whiskers.

WHAT ARE ZINC WHISKERS?

Zinc Wiskers

Closeup of Zinc Whiskering. Click to enlarge

Zinc whiskers are a phenomenon that can occur on the bare metal surfaces of access flooring systems.  Affected components include some wood-core and some concrete-core computer room flooring panels as well as some pedestals and stringers. The whiskers grow on the underside (plenum side) of the floor panels or the exposed surfaces of the structural components.

The whiskers are typically 2 microns in diameter and over time, (many years) the whiskers can grow to be several millimeters in length.  While the whiskers are attached to the floor panel or pedestal, they are basically benign. When the whiskers break free however, they become airborne and can circulate freely throughout the facility and get blown into your equipment.

WHAT HAPPENS?

Zinc is a metal and a good conductor of electricity.  If a whisker comes to rest on an exposed circuit card inside your equipment, it could cause a short; most likely an intermittent short.

Zinc Whiskers are so small that the normal dust filters used on computer equipment are ineffective.  If you want to stop zinc whiskers from entering your equipment you need HEPA filtration.

Zinc Whiskers

Zinc whiskers under microscope. click to enlarge

DO YOU HAVE ZINC WHISKERS?

If your floor panels are at risk or you think your pedestals or stringers might be at risk, you need to check for whiskers. The simplest and most straightforward method of detection is good old visual inspection. Rest the tile on its edge and sight down the plane of the tile and view the bottom pan with a flashlight.  Whiskers will appear as small shiny or glittering protrusions from the metal.  (A darkened room helps)  Remember, whiskers are typically only 1-10mm in length.  You should review several panels to get a good perspective of your situation.

GETTING RID OF WHISKERS

If you determine you have a zinc whisker problem, the big question is what to do about them.  In the short term, regular detailed cleaning of the the server room and installation of HEPA filtration will help mitigate the problem. Long term, the only solution is to replace the affected panels. Sealing or painting the bottoms of panels has proven to be not effective as the whiskers will grow right through most coatings.