A robust fire detection system saves lives. The sooner a fire can be detected, the sooner people can be evacuated. For data centres, where protection of the computer systems is mission critical, an accurate detection system plays a vital role in avoiding false alarms, especially when the detection system controls an automatic extinguishing solution and the earliest possible reliable response.
What is the risk?
What is likely to burn and what is going to be the signal that it is burning needs to be considered to ensure the most suitable system is installed. Depending on the combustible, the fire’s “fingerprint” could be heat, visible flames, smoke – of varying colours – or any combination of these.
In data centres, the most common combustible will be electronic components which generally produce a grey smoke, unlike paper which gives off an almost invisible smoke. Knowing what combustion products will be generated, in what quantities and how quickly, means the detection system can be tuned to the risk, to respond diligently whilst minimising the likelihood of false alarms.
Another point to consider in data centres is the huge amounts of servers giving off a lot of heat. Detectors need to understand that a surge in heat is not necessarily a fire – this could simply be an interruption in the cooling. ‘Off-the-shelf’ multi-criteria detectors may not be able to tell the difference between server heat and fire heat so smart solutions are needed.
While aesthetically looking very much the same as the devices from the 1980s, fire detectors have evolved greatly in the past few decades and continue to do so year on year. Sophisticated devices using advanced signal analysis (ASA) detection technology provide optimal protection.
ASA detection technology enables individual detectors to be adapted to best suit the environment in which they are placed. This means a common system can be used throughout a whole data centre, regardless of the intended occupancy / operation of each room. This provides cost-effective certainty while minimising the disruption caused by false alarms.
Siemens uses ASA technology to ensure optimum accuracy across its range of fire detectors.
While detection can mean the fire is readily identified, early deployment of an extinguishant can reduce the amount of fire damage and disruption. Inert gases, such as pure nitrogen, are popular extinguishants for data centres as fires are put out but oxygen levels are still safe for people. Also, by displacing so much air, inert gases flush out a great deal of the smoke and other by-products of combustion (soot, acid gases etc.) so go further to protect the equipment as well as aid post-fire recovery. This is crucial in minimising the impact on the site.
For data centres that do not have the available storage area for gas cylinders, chemical agents are often the next choice as they require around one third of the space of an inert gas system.
Protection of assets
The noise created by a gas system discharging can impact modern hard drives, potentially causing a problem for data centres and similar applications. Siemens has therefore created the ‘Sinorix Silent Nozzle’, which enables effective extinguishing to be implemented, without the issues associated with today’s IT hardware.
Whether it be an inert gas, carbon dioxide, watermist solution or chemical agent, data centre operators can work with fire consultants to choose an option to suit their personal preferences. In addition, many systems are also selected based on precedent and the past, their environmental image, available storage space, cylinder location, and, of course, cost. Sadly such decisions are sometimes made on misinformation or outdated technology and this is where a trusted partner, with a broad technology portfolio, is invaluable.
With tight budgets, it can be hard for organisations to see the added value of operating an innovative, efficient system which they hopefully will never have to use. But with 70% of businesses going into liquidation within three years of having a major fire, it is a clear risk with huge ramifications. By working in partnership with experts, data centres can be sure to implement the most appropriate option to meet their individual needs.
Tags: Design & Facilities Management