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How worried should you be about metal whiskers?

Troublesome filaments can wreak havoc in data centers

By Ryan DeBeasi, Network World
August 27, 2007 04:55 PM ET

Network World - Depending on whom you ask, the data-center phenomenon of metal whiskering is either a relatively uncommon fluke or a crisis waiting to happen.

Whiskering is caused either by stress from a particular manufacturing technique used by makers of servers, floor tiles and other products, or by a cornucopia of factors. Some say the problem can be avoided by not using old or inexpensive materials, while others say new research is required to eliminate the threat.

Most data-center equipment manufacturers are taking measures to prevent metal whiskers — troublesome, tiny filaments that can form on their products’ zinc and tin coatings.

For a closer look, see our metal whiskers photo gallery.

Still, data centers with old or inexpensive materials or equipment run the risk of whiskers forming, breaking off, getting into computers and short-circuiting them. Metal whiskers may cause unusual, sporadic problems, or they may cause a data center's power supplies to short out en masse. Since Network World first covered metal whiskers in 2004, new research and environmental legislation have changed how people approach the issue.

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