Would you like fries with that RAID array?
October 3, 2008 9:20 AM   Subscribe

The server room at work has two air-conditioner units for controlling the atmosphere in the place. There's a key on the door, and only five of us can enter. About an hour ago, while changing backup tapes, I got a whiff of the smell of baked potatoes. Now the smell of baked (or boiled?) potatoes is really strong. What the hell's going on?

I pulled up the floor tiles. No water. No signs of evaporated water. As far as I know, the A/C units get their air from the roof, and we don't have a chipwagon up there. What else could smell like potatoes that would show up in a computer server room?
posted by Mozai to Science & Nature (6 answers total)
Some new A/C refrigerants can have some very odd smells to them. They don't smell at all like the "Freon" smell that you may be used to or expecting. Although I've never personally experienced one that smelled like potatoes, it wouldn't surprise me if that's what one smelled like, to somebody, at some particular concentration. (I've heard the newer Freons described as smelling like "ether" "mothballs" or "tangy".)

I'd contact your HVAC person and have them take a look at it; if it's a refrigerant leak they ought to be able to detect it pretty easily.

The other thing that comes to mind is burning or hot lubricant in one of the mechanical components. A hot bearing could smell like burning oil, which if it was being diffused enough through the cooling system, might suggest french fries.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:46 AM on October 3, 2008

Last time we had a crazy smell in our server room, it was coming from the UPS system. You don't mention whether you've got one, but if you do it might be worth a look. We also tried shutting off the A/C for a couple minutes to stop the fans, to see if the smell concentrated in any particular part of the room once the air wasn't circulating. Depending on how quickly your place heats up, that might or might not be worth trying.
posted by vytae at 9:52 AM on October 3, 2008

A backup generator powered by biodiesel?

A power company in the western U.S. (PG&E?) was giving rebates for "greening" your data center; who knows what crazy scheme a cheap accountant may have agreed to!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:29 AM on October 3, 2008

Bag of potato chips left on top of something hot? :)
posted by rokusan at 10:41 AM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you the only one who can detect the smell? Just confirm you aren't before you go to too much trouble. Some medical conditions can make you smell things that aren't there.
posted by taff at 11:58 PM on October 3, 2008

(metafilter is nagging me to mark this as resolved or answered.)

We found out the smell came from a kitchen on another floor, and a contractor for another tenant in the building decided to do some creative ductwork. Our server room is no longer isolated from the rest of the building, and among the side effects are weird smells and having difficulty keeping the place cool.
posted by Mozai at 1:59 PM on November 13, 2008

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