Fires can threaten expensive equipment and critical information in data centres – and potentially cripple a business – so it pays to have adequate safeguards in place.
Data centres are the brains of modern enterprises, storing and protecting sensitive information related to the business and its customers. They are also highly susceptible to fire and smoke damage, and even a small fire can cause inestimable loss and shut down operations. Added risk may come in the form of collateral water damage caused by traditional fire-suppression systems such as sprinklers.
Design a defensive strategy
Special hazards sites such as data centres are particularly challenging from a fire-protection viewpoint and require a more sophisticated line of defence than most regular facilities.
For example, these sites often use powerful air-conditioning systems to keep cool air circulating throughout the space in order to protect servers. However, airconditioning can make a fire worse, fanning the flames and causing the blaze to spread faster.
An experienced fire-suppression expert can factor in such risks and provide a comprehensive fire-safety plan. A defensive strategy could include measures such as an early-warning air-sampling detection system that can sense a fire in its early stages; alarms that emit a loud noise and also use flashing lights to attract attention; and a plan to limit fire acceleration or explosions as a result of hazardous gases, fuels and vapours.
Install specialised sensors
One of the key challenges of server rooms and data centres from a fire-safety perspective is that they are usually located in large, open spaces. This means specialised sensors have to be placed around the site to detect a fire as quickly as possible (the location of these sensors is crucial and should be overseen by an expert).
With large sites, it is also important to have sufficient supplies of a fire-suppression agent, along with enough nozzles to properly protect all valuable equipment.
Choose suppression systems carefully
With switches and routers, environmental sensors, climate-control systems and other sensitive equipment, there is a lot at stake in data centres. So immediate action is required in the event of a fire.
However, the use of water and foam – the elements most likely to quickly extinguish a blaze – can destroy sensitive equipment. One way to alleviate such problems is to use clean suppression agents such as Novec 1230, which can extinguish the fire and not damage the critical equipment and leave no residue.
Inert gases such as nitrogen, argon and carbon dioxide are an effective means of starving fires without interfering with electronics. They also pose fewer environmental concerns than some other measures.
Meanwhile, an increasingly popular approach is to use high-pressure water mists that pose less danger of damage than sprinklers. Through a network of nozzles, they are designed to release micro-fine particles of water at the exact point of the incident. The result is that a localised fire can be quickly targeted, while the rest of the data centre’s equipment should still be operational.
The cost and efficacy of various fire-suppression systems can vary significantly, so getting smart advice up front can minimise budget blowouts and a lot of damage-related grief down the track.
Delta Fire Australasia specialises in the design, installation and servicing of fire-suppression systems for major commercial, industrial and manufacturing sites. Visit www.deltafire.com.au for more details.