Data centers have all the prerequisites to make fire fighters earn their pay. It is like a dry forest waiting for that small spark of fire to become a full fledged furnace. Fire hazards in a data center can be relatively easy to start. Think about it; you have equipments drawing a substantial amount of power, there is static in the air, most of the equipments are sensitive to heat rise, cables and wires in every inch of the data center. Everything sounds like it has a warning sign attached to it!
In a data center, detection of fire before it gains the potential to cause damage is vital. In most data centers, the process of fire detection and suppression is pretty much automated. Here’s what happens. Devices for detecting fire are installed in a number of places within the data center. It is preferable to have cross- zoned fire detectors to prevent false alarms. When these detectors sense the fire, they sound an alarm, shut down the equipments in the room if required and trigger the discharge of fire suppressants.
There are basically three types of fire detecting mechanisms: smoke detection, fire detection, and flame detection. For obvious reasons, data centers opt for smoke detectors. There are two types of smoke detectors: Optical fire detectors, and ionisation fire detectors. By increasing the sensitivity of fire detector, they can be made to detect fire in its initial stages.
Optical fire detectors are also called photoelectric fire detectors. They pass a beam of light throughout the room. If there is no smoke in the room, the light sensor remains inactive. But when there is smoke, the light gets diffused and this diffused light falls on the sensor which triggers the alarm. Ionisation detectors make use of an ionisation chamber and radiation to detect smoke. The air in the chamber is continuously ionised by the radiation and this in turn leads to constant current flow monitored by the detector. When smoke enters the chamber, the ionisation level drops and hence the current drops. This causes the detector to trigger the alarm.
Suppression is an independent process altogether and like everything else in a data center, requires a lot of planning. Depending on your data center environment and how much capital you are planning to invest in your fire suppression system, you have the following suppression systems:
- Water sprinklers
- Fine water mist
Water sprinklers are outdated and honestly speaking, not my first suppression mechanism. It has a lot of after- fire clean up sprees and really, I would not be comfortable having so much water and electronic equipments in the same room.
Fine water mist system drops the temperature around the affected area till the fire is put out. Use of extra fine water can minimise the damage to the equipments.
Inergen and argonite follow the same principle of operation but their chemical composition varies. They are basically your average inert gases who do not encourage fire. They cut off the oxygen supply to the fire. It is as simple as ‘ No oxygen, no fire’.
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