Network Cleanup: Dealing With Dust

Don't risk equipment failure due to dust accumulation. In this video, Tony Fortunato demonstrates how to clean a router.

Tony Fortunato

August 11, 2016

3 Min Read
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When I talk about network cleanups and maintenance, I'm usually talking about removing extra protocols, services, and other configuration snafus that can cause you stress. But in this case, I'm talking about cleaning out the dust the collects on your network equipment.

In this video, I clean a production router that was in an office environment for six months, showing how much dust it accumulated in such a short time within a relatively clean environment.

The topic of cleaning network equipment came up recently at a client project team meeting that covered the typical installation stuff like cabinet space requirements, UPS load, temperature issues, and backup plans.

I raised the cleaning issue, which seemed to confuse a lot of people but seemed quite obvious to me. I asked who would be responsible for cleaning the equipment since some of it would  be installed in some new sites that are dusty or environmentally unfriendly. One team member replied that the majority of those sites will have enclosures with dust filters, fans and other features to mitigate environmental damage. He added a comment that was something like, “By the time the equipment fails, we'll probably replace it anyways.”

Even if there's a fan and dust filter, an organization should put together a maintenance schedule so someone cleans or replaces the filters, checks the fan, and performs any other work to ensure the equipment is properly protected. This is even more important if the equipment is not protected and out in the open. I have seen a lot of equipment failure that was 100% preventable by simply having a maintenance schedule.

For another client with a similar dusty router issue, here's the maintenance plan I recommended. The network at this site is very simple: internet connection -> router -> switch. I suggested buying a backup router and performing maintenance once a year, following disaster-recovery scripts in which the production router configuration is transferred to the backup router. Then, the organization can swap out the router during the maintenance window. If something should happen during the swap out, the back out plan is simple: put the original router back. If the swap out is successful, blow out the dust out of the router using a can of compressed gas.

In some cases where there have multiple routers with load balancing, you can perform a similar procedure and test how the load balancing handles the lost router.

I described all this at the client project meeting, but I could see some people weren’t buying into it. So I took a gamble: I asked them to get a router from storage that was sent back from a remote office as part of the upgrade. I showed them that there was a lot of that fine "baby powder" dust around the vent openings. Then I opened the device and found a lovely fine blanket of dust on the motherboard. I used a can of compressed gas and blew a burst of air in the fan area, producing a dust cloud. The doubters agreed that I had a point and we worked on some maintenance procedures for the project team.

When it comes to cleaning computer equipment, you should be aware of things like static discharge, grounding, and what kind of tools you want to use to clean the interior. The last thing you want to do is cause a problem while trying to prevent one.

About the Author(s)

Tony Fortunato

Sr Network Performance Specialist

Tony Fortunato is a network performance expert who has been designing, implementing and troubleshooting networks since 1989. His company, The Technology Firm, provides clients of all sizes with services ranging from project management, network design, consulting, troubleshooting, designing custom-designed training courses, and assisting with equipment installation. Tony's experience in networking started with financial trading floor networks and ISPs, where he learned to integrate and support equipment from various vendors. Tony has taught and presented at numerous colleges and universities, public forums and private classes. He blogs frequently at NetworkDataPediaand has a popular YouTube channel.

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