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Heat and Hurricanes

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It’s summer, and the thermometer has been stuck above 100°F (37.8°C) for 6 days, almost tying a record. There’s a certain laziness in the air. It’s just too hot to move around much! I really feel sorry for people who do roofing, lay asphalt, or work in the fields with the sun beating down on them on days like these.

People aren’t the only ones to suffer in the heat though. These past few days have been busy here, too. It seems that extended heat like this will give any equipment, especially air conditioners and other cooling systems, a real workout. Marginal components become overwhelmed and stop working. This can cause disruptions in Internet service (like it did for Comcast this morning), servers (like one of ours because air conditioning went out on Sunday), and in other electronics. Despite the lazy summer days, computer failures have been keeping us busy these past few days.

Here are some things you can do to “summer-ize” your computer network…

When was the last time you had your PC or server professionally cleaned to remove dust build-up inside the machine? Dust, grime, smoke particles, pet hair, and carpet fuzz act like cozy little blankets to electronic components. Unfortunately, components prefer to operate in much chillier environments (say a nice 65-68°F/18-20°C that is non-condensing). The last thing they need or want is something that traps heat like a blanket. Fans and heatsinks, which are designed to disperse damaging heat are much more effective when the airflow is unobstructed by dust bunnies.

How are the wiring and airflow around your computer? Many people hook up their PCs and scrunch them into tiny rectangular holes in their desks, cramming all the wires in the best they can. There are several things wrong with this.

  1. Computers need room to breathe. Generally they draw air in from the font and one side of the chassis, forcing it past the hard drives, CPU, and controller cards, and pushing the superheated air out the back. A well designed desk has a large opening in the back to allow the air to escape. Poorly designed desks only have a single opening in the front (and some even cover that with a door!), and maybe a tiny hole for a few cables to pass through in the back. Closed “boxes” like that cause the superheated air to be recirculated over and over, practically eliminating any benefit from the circulating air.

  2. Cramming cables between the PC and the back wall of the desk add more complications. Electrical power cords do radiate a small amount of heat, often too subtle for us to feel on an individual cord (a cord that is quite warm to the touch should probably be replaced, since that could lead to a fire!). But cram enough of those cords together in a small space, and the heat increases. If the computer vents into that same limited space, the picture is even uglier.

  3. As mentioned, an unobstructed flow of cool air entering the front and side of the chassis, passing smoothly through a dust-free interior, and venting to an open space out the back is an ideal environment for a PC. Even if a desk is well vented, too many cables behind the PC can obstruct that airflow, and routing the superheated air back toward the front of the machine.

  4. Large cables inside a PC block airflow, too. As modders or extreme geeks have known for several years, their are all sorts of cool ways (literally) to trick out your computer. They usually do it for the “coolness factor” (how cool it will make them look to their friends), but some do it out of necessity. Modders often “overclock” their computers, making them run faster, and thus hotter, than a standard PC. That means they need to use special cables that allow air to flow more freely inside the case. They cost a little bit more initially, but much less than a replacement component down the road. Next time you have your computer serviced, ask about swapping bulky old cables with sleek new ones.

Do you have a plan if your air conditioning or primary cooling system goes out? Our spur-of-the-moment plan involved a tiny space cooler and a good strong fan blowing right on our small server. It helped, but by mid-afternoon, the air temperature near the back of the server was in the mid-90’s (~35°C). Yuck! (We won’t mention how we felt working in that temperature.) Businesses with a larger IT infrastructure are even more vulnerable and should have redundant systems in place for an emergency. A good data backup plan is also a very wise investment.

Emergencies are a part of life. We saw on the news the damage that hurricane Dennis just did to Cuba and the U.S., and now Emily is on her way to other parts of Mexico or Texas. Tornados, earhtquakes, floods, mudslides, broken sprinkler systems, a fire in a neighboring business, a careless cigarette, a drunk driver crashing through a wall… The list is endless, but the solution is always the same: be prepared.

It’s the Boy Scout motto and also really good advice. You can’t prepare for every possible catastrophy, so you need to plan for catastrophies in general. Backup your data, and keep a few copies in a few different places. Invest in a fireproof safe or lockbox, and store critical information inside. Take out insurance on your equipment that includes replacement costs for new equipment, not just the value the old equipment would be worth today. Have emergency policies in place so that employees know what to do when things happen, so they can minimize the impact of the emergency on your business and maximize their safety and the safety of your customers.

Work with a creative IT consulting firm that can recommend multiple approaches to protecting your investments. Tape backups are one way to go, but they aren’t the only way. Be sure your IT crew isn’t locked into a single solution or an old-fashioned mindset. Allogro is just one of a number of excellent companies out there that can help you protect your data and get back to normal operations again quickly. Whomever you choose, just choose quickly and start implementing. And don’t forget to review your strategies at least once a year; things change as time moves on.

When you finish, sit back and enjoy a nice cool glass of lemonade. Relax in these lazy days of summer knowing your computers are summerized and you are prepared for whatever life might toss your way.

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