Bell Laboratories first discovered zinc whiskers in the late 1940s on zinc plated wall brackets. These brackets supported quartz filters used in the telephone transmission system. The zinc whiskers caused losses on these filters and problems with telephone transmissions.
This is due to the microelectronics that are commonly found in today’s data-centers and sophisticated electronics. These tiny whiskers create havoc when they find their way into these microelectronics. The problems they create are micro-sized short circuits, voltage variances, or system resets. Effectively creating chaos in expensive and critical electronic equipment or creating un-scheduled downtime. The other problem is because of their size, the short circuit process often vaporizes them and essentially leaves no evidence behind except for equipment resets or failure.
The under-floor computer environment is a prime atmosphere for growing these zinc whiskers. Whiskers grow from zinc-electroplated products, much like stalactites found in caves. The humid controlled environment offers the perfect conditions for these whiskers to grow. The under-floor environment is also where you will find support stanchions for the computer floor, wire-basket type cable trays, and cable runways. Electro-zinc plated finish is a common finish on all these products, and therefore large sources of material to grow these whiskers.
Routine maintenance activities in a data center can cause these whiskers to dislodge from the surfaces they are growing on and be released into the room air. Room air-conditioning can distribute these whiskers to sensitive electronics and creates all sorts of problems.