Whether you are investing in a colocation data center facility or whether you are the hosting company running the data center web hosting facility, colocation data center fire suppression systems are needed. At this moment, you are thinking, colocation centers’ fire suppression system? That’s simple, let’s install some wet pipes or some pre-action/dry pipes, mount some fire extinguishers on the wall and call it a day. While this sounds easy enough, installing typical fire suppression systems in a data center as you would in an office isn’t good enough. To fully understand the need and problem with installing fire suppression, we need to explain data center fire suppression basics, shed some light on data center fire suppression gas vs. liquids and then weigh into data center fire suppression best practices.
Data Center Fire Suppression Basics
When you think of fire suppression for an office or a home, you think about wet pipe fire suppression (sprinkler systems which dump gallons of water over everything) and fire extinguishers placed strategically throughout a building to allow users to both put out a minor fire and, if need be, safely crave a path of exit through a build fire. This sounds good yet it doesn’t make sense when it comes to data center fire suppression best practices. Why?
The reason wet pipe systems make no sense for collocation fire suppression is wet pipe systems dump gallons of water on everything in the room. In a data center this means wet pipe systems dump water on web hosting servers, dedicated servers, switches, power units, etc. Can you say massive downtime? If you think getting your servers and colocation equipment up and running after a hurricane or power outage, try getting them up and running when they have been soaking in thousands of gallons of water for an extended period of time. Good luck with that. Point in case, wet pipe systems and pre-action/dry pipe fire suppression systems within a data center are not advised.
Speaking of power, power and cooling are the two main components to any data center. Due to this, before a fire suppression system takes hold of your colocation facility, it is best practice to have a large red button somewhere in the facility which immediately cuts power to the entire data center. You know what’s worse than a fire in your data center? A fire which could short out the electrical grid of your colocation data center. That’s what. Point in case, you need a big red button.
So, without wet pipe systems or pre-action/dry pipe fire suppression systems in place, what is the best practice for suppressing fire in a data center?
Data Center Fire Suppression Best Practices
Inergen. Yes. Inergen. What is Inergen you ask? Inergen, as noted by the fine folks over at Wikipedia: “Inergen is a blend of inert atmospheric gases that contains 52% nitrogen, 40% argon, 8% carbon dioxide, used for fire suppression system agent. It is considered a clean agent for use in gaseous fire suppression applications. Inergen does not contain halocarbons, and has no ozone depletion potential. It is non-toxic. Inergen is used at design concentrations of 35-50% to lower the concentration of oxygen to a point that cannot support combustion, but still safe for humans.” In English, Inergen is a fire suppression gas used in data centers to put out fires. The reason behind using Inergen and gaseous fire suppression systems is the same reason why wet pipes are an awful choice. With all that web hosting, colocation, Cloud hosting and dedicated server equipment buzzing, gas is a safe option than water.
This stated, we need to cover alarms. Sure, pretty basic right? Not so much. In an office setting, a loud alarm is good enough to make everyone put on their coats and head towards the exits. However, within a data center, where the average decibel range is 70dB to 95dB. In comparison, a regular every day human conversation sits around 55 dB while the everyday power lawn mower sits at about 92dB. The take away: a typical data center operates at the decibel range of being up close and personal to a lawn mower. Needless to say, it’s loud. Due to this, not only is a 100dB – 110dB alarm mandatory, a visual alarm is also mandatory.
At the end of the day, a fire suppression system within a data center is more involved than most people know. Yet, with all the aforementioned systems in place, it is still the job of a data center to pump low level oxygen air into the facility to foster an environment which is actively working against the break out of a fire. As we all know, fire lives on oxygen. Limit the supply and you limit fires.