Zinc Whiskers in Data Centers: why are these the silent troublemakers?

The rise of new technologies, and more recently big data and artificial intelligence, has led in recent years to a huge growth of Data Centers construction worldwide.
Sikla UK’s involvement in Data Center projects over the last years has covered many solutions to some of the largest names in data services. And we all know about the high demanding requirements and specifications that these projects bring!

If you are also used to work with Data Center planning & construction, you are probably familiar by now with the term "Whisker Free", right? This is a fundamental requirement of equipment or structures to be installed in any Data Center!

But what are Zinc Whiskers after all?

It relates to a phenomenon that occurs in zinc galvanised materials. Zinc is submitted to a pressure from which it naturally tends to release microscopic shavings, producing this particular effect. The zinc filaments that are generated are microscopic in length and are very sensitive to detachment from the base material. The combination of both factors is what makes them infiltrating agents that will hinder the proper functioning of the Data Center.

Zinc Whiskers

Zinc whiskers at a microscopic scale

Why are Zinc Whiskers so dangerous for a Data Center?

The cooling system in a Data Center circulates the cold air upwards through the server core. If zinc whiskers are present, these will be dragged along by the ventilation flow and are quite likely to lodge anywhere in the system.

At this point, it is worth remembering that zinc is a great conductor of electricity. If any of these microscopic filaments get into any electronic board it will produce short circuits and interrupt the operation of the Data Center servers. The consequence? An economic loss (and even data loss!) that comes along with the disruption of the system!

Free cooling

Servers room cooling system

So how can you avoid these damages in your Data Center Project?

The best way of avoiding any damages by Zinc Whiskers is to ensure that they can't be generated. And how would you do that? By using materials with a certain level of corrosion resistance.

Sikla's experience with Data Center projects made us realise that custom finishes like
Powder Coating allow siFramo (our Modular Steel Framing System) to be used in areas that usually wouldn't. These are areas where “zinc whiskers” would be a common issue in bracketry products that contain higher volumes of zinc.

siFramo modular steel for data centers

So at Sikla we do have a range of material that works as a great ally in the battle against these zinc whiskers.

Our High Corrosion protected components are manufactured in accordance with the ISO 1461:2019 standard and certified by our Engineering Department as a "Whisker Free" material.

If you want your Data Center projects to benefit from Sikla solutions, contact us now!