We've been advised by our tape library vendor that one of the reasons we might be seeing lots of errors is if our server room is particularly dusty.

It doesn't look dusty, but that's not to say it's not there.

We've got an environment sensor cluster which measures Temperature, Airflow and Relative Humidity.

I should probably point out that the low-hanging fruit solution I came up with is to use Sellotape (scotch tape) in a loop, one side stuck to the server cabinet, the other side free-hanging.

I've also put a couple of other tape loops by the exit and intake fans of the hardware (not blocking airflow, naturally).

How can we (electronically, ideally) measure dust levels?

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    ...step one: find coworker allergic to dust. Step two: lock them in server room. Step three: measure how badly they react after 1, 2, and 3 hours. Step four, write up results, and threaten them into not reporting you to HR. Will that work? – Bart Silverstrim Jul 2 '12 at 15:01
  • @BartSilverstrim Remember to provide them hearing protection or you'll wind up with an OSHA (I guess HSE would be the UK equivalent?) writeup in addition to the trip to Holland for your human experimentation :-) – voretaq7 Jul 2 '12 at 15:08
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    True, ear protection would be a must, especially if they're forced to crouch behind a rack. – Bart Silverstrim Jul 2 '12 at 15:09

Sounds like some push back from the vendor, but either way we used to have Air Particulate Meters in an old pharma company I worked for. They basically will measure everything in the air and tell you what's there. Dust is technically many different particles from various sources so you have to know what the individual makeup of the air is.

Unfortunately the testing devices are not cheap and range from expensive to ridiculous. If it's a big problem ask the vendor to bring one, sounds like they have had the problem before!

Either way I can't remember the brand we used but these look familiar: http://www.wolfsense.com/particle-counter-detector.html

Here's one on Amazon for a decent price, not sure how accurate but I don't think you need it to be real detailed: http://www.amazon.com/Dylos-DC1100-Laser-Quality-Monitor/dp/B000XG8XCI/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1341241387&sr=8-2&keywords=particle+counter

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    +1 for "ask the vendor to do the test" -- If this is seriously something they think is a problem THEY should be able to conduct the testing to determine if your site exceeds the operational limits of their equipment. (Also if this is really a problem they should be stating particle limits in the operating or site installation manual for the device - If the tape library needs to be used in a clean room that's important to know before you buy it!) – voretaq7 Jul 2 '12 at 15:06
  • +1 for the push back from the vendor. This smells vendor-hogwash. The last thing a service rep. will do is question the quality of their product. Unless you are in a particulary 'unclean' environment, I would totally dismiss his claim and change vendor ASAP if they are not willing to assist you in troubleshooting the nature of your problem. – stefgosselin Jul 4 '12 at 19:50

You could go with a standard APC NetBotz solution. They've added external particulate sensors to the sensor suite. This would give you thresholding, SNMP and alert capabilities versus some of the handheld real-time units.

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First step would be a "househould" particle counter which you can get for around 200$, e.g. at Amazon.

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  • Got a link to one? – Tom O'Connor Jul 2 '12 at 15:02
  • Just search for "Particle counter" at Amazon. Basic devices will of course not be networked/SNMP capable, but I guess the sky is the limit with this kind of devices. One result: amazon.com/Dylos-DC1100-Laser-Quality-Monitor/dp/B000XG8XCI/… – Sven Jul 2 '12 at 15:03
  • The sky is also the limit in terms or price - a good 0.2 micron particle counter (handheld from Fluke) will run you about $4000. Respectable 0.3 micron counters can be found for less than $200 if you ask Google Shopping nicely :-0 – voretaq7 Jul 2 '12 at 15:05
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    @voretaq7: Well, with Fluke you have pay 1000$ just to get an empty case, adding functionality goes on top of that (but you get good quality for your money). :) – Sven Jul 2 '12 at 15:06
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    @SvenW BESTEST CASES EVAR! – voretaq7 Jul 2 '12 at 15:09

I've seen a large trolley mounted monitoring device in a shopping mall before, but it may be overkill. For a quick and dirty check, VERY bright light, or a green laser pointer might do (dust will flash, you'd need to find some way to count the flashes and set a baseline tho).

I'm sure there's a handheld version of a nephelometer or a variation with a datalogger - this is the proper tool for 'realtime' dust tracking.

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In addition to particle counters, would it be out of the question to get small household air filters and get an idea of whether this is really a problem by measuring the dirt buildup in the filters? I don't know how much money you'd want to invest in measuring this, and this could give a very rough idea of whether it's a potential problem; similar to our office where we don't have something to measure humidity, but when the paper in the printers are spit out all curled up and they start jamming, we know there's a humidity problem.

Not ideal, but it could give you a starting point at a relatively low price.

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  • The aircon units should have filters on them -- granted they're pretty coarse filters if we're talking about "small particle" issues, but they've always been "good enough" for every tape system I've ever seen... – voretaq7 Jul 2 '12 at 15:15

Another idea that's homebrew; use a small box fan, covered in a "filter" material. Cover one side of the fan with that material (fabric softener sheets? Actual air filters for home AC units?) and let it run for a few days, then measure the accumulated dust and debris in the catch. If you're looking to find whether this is a possible problem (as you mentioned using tape to get an idea before) this is a quick homebrew way to get an idea.

If you used fabric softener sheets, you'll not only recirculate air but you'll have a spring-fresh smell in the server room as well.

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