Data Center Fire Protection Systems

General data security, protection and power consumption are some of the major prerequisites in the data center that are constantly focused upon. However, it’s the fire protection system that is now considered to be a must-have in a data center.

Electrical fires are the most common types of fires in data centers. Joe Ziemba, marketing manager of engineered systems for ANSUL, says other primary cause of fires is wastebaskets. “Despite the emergence of nonsmoking facilities globally, apparently there are still some examples of fires caused by accidental ignition,” Ziemba says. “There are also some prevalent sources that are more closely associated with data centers such as overheating of equipment, wiring difficulties in sub floors, and electrical malfunctions. Finally, fires in data centers may also originate in surrounding rooms within the building.”

Fire protection systems at the data center, includes passive and active design elements, along with implementation of fire prevention programs in operations. Smoke detectors are generally installed to provide quick warning of a developing fire. These detectors detect particles generated by smoldering components prior to the development of flame. This enables investigation, interruption of power, and manual fire suppression using hand held fire extinguishers before the fire takes a dangerous turn. A fire sprinkler system is often provided to control and manage a full scale fire . Fire sprinklers require 18 inch of clearance below the sprinklers. Clean agent fire suppression gaseous systems are generally installed to suppress a fire earlier than the fire sprinkler system. Passive fire protection elements include the setting up of fire walls around the data center. This limits fire to a portion of the facility for a confined time in the event of the breakdown of the active fire protection systems. Firewalls are often inadequate to protect heat-sensitive electronic equipment. However, firewall construction is only rated for flame penetration time and not heat penetration. There is also dearth in the protection of susceptible entry points into the server room like cable penetrations, coolant line penetrations and air ducts.

A SME administrator Mr. Admirand points out that there should be addressable photovoltaic-type smoke detectors installed on the ceiling. “Typically,” he says, “the quantity of detectors depends upon the frequency of air changes in the room. A useful rule of thumb is to space the detectors to cover 125 square feet each. If the data center has an access floor, smoke detectors should be installed below the floor as per manufacturer’s recommendations.”

If a sprinkler system is available in the building, Admirand says a dry-pipe sprinkler system should be offered. In addition, he says to reduce the fuel load in the data center, “Do not store anything in the room that is not necessary, and do not store flammable items in the data center if at all possible.”

According to Admirand, sprinkler systems are obtainable in two flavors: wet- or dry-pipe systems. The wet-pipe systems use flooded piping and discharge water whenever a sprinkler head opens. He states, “This could be caused by the heat of a fire or the accidental breaking of a sprinkler head. The dry-pipe systems use pressurized air in the piping system, and the water is held back by a form of deluge valve.”

There has been a constant debate as to which is the best method for fire suppression in the data center — sprinklers versus clean agent. However, both the consensus have pros and cons. Fire suppression experts firmly believe that one method is not enough to keep data center facility safe and equipment functioning. Both are required.
Bob Opkins, senior safety representative at JM Family Enterprises Inc., is in charge for data center fire suppression at the Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based automotive services company. He uses clean agent with sprinklers as a backup.
“The dry system acts a lot quicker than water. It’s activated by smoke,” Opkins held. “The sprinklers are activated by heat. It kicks on when the dry system doesn’t work.”

It’s evident that IT pros don’t want water on their equipment. But Opkins said about seven years ago, experts determined that if you cleaned up the water right away, the equipment would be fine. But most people wouldn’t want to take the chance and risk it all.
There are some must-haves that every venture should evaluate on an ordinary basis. They are:

• Employee extinguisher training
• Personnel exit plan
• Sensors/detectors
• CLEAN GUARD fire Extinguishers
• Clean agent Fire Control System

• Affiliated Alarms and system shut-down competence