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Preventing dust build-up can extend the life of your equipment.

If you've ever looked at the back of a computer, you have likely recoiled in horror at the sight of the dust and dirt and fuzz collected around your fan intakes and outlets. Not only is this dust unsightly, but it is potentially restricting the flow of air, which can increase the temperature inside the chassis and shorten the life of the components. Curiously, the fads and fashions of computer case modding, with windows on the sides of the cases and neon lights inside, is giving more people a clear view of the crud building up on their motherboards and cards. Of course, this problem isn't unique to personal computers.

Almost all network devices, from routers and switches to servers and firewalls, share this affinity for dust build-up. Often, the business environments these devices are in is much more brutal than your average PC experiences, with smoke and humidity and heat common in manufacturing areas.

Admittedly, with the rate of progress in routing and switching technologies, you may not be terribly interested in milking the useful life of your gear to the last drop, but there are a few things you can do to keep your equipment running.

  • First, whenever you find yourself in the area, like a network closet, make a note to glance at the vents on your boxes and see if they need cleaning. Blow them out with a can of compressed air. You can't get much cheaper or simpler than that.
  • Second, some models have filters over the fans that you can pull out and clean. Unfortunately, you may need to remove the cover to get to them, in which case, it's probably not worth the effort.
  • Third, talk to your facilities guys. Replacing filters in your air conditioning units will make life easier on your equipment. Get them to add some air cleaners if the problem is severe.

If you're not interested in any of these, you should at least consider giving yourself some warning before a device failure. Many models of hardware, including most PCs, have internal thermometers built into power supplies and motherboards, and are capable of sending alarms when thresholds are exceeded. These often include the speed of the fan, too, which can be a good indicator. When these alarms go off, it's only a matter of time before you'll be replacing that hardware.

Tom Lancaster, CCIE# 8829 CNX# 1105, is a consultant with 15 years experience in the networking industry, and co-author of several books on networking, most recently, CCSPTM: Secure PIX and Secure VPN Study Guide published by Sybex.

This was last published in January 2005

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