Many organisations today run an on-site server room and even with the growth of Cloud-based services and hyperscale data centres will continue to do so. Somewhere within the building, businesses and organisations need an IT facility to process and store data locally as well as connect them to external IT services and SaaS platforms.
The equipment within these server rooms and the data being processed represents an expensive investment and one that needs protection. Whilst uninterruptible power supplies provide critical power protection for peace of mind and continuous operation in the event of momentary or complete mains power supply failures, a fire suppression system provides immediate protection and the suppression of a fire within the facility.
One of the reasons a fire is a threat within a server room or data centre is the amount of power being drawn by IT servers and their CPUs (central processing units) and the heat generated. A high-power density server rack can draw from 10-30kW of power and at 95% efficiency this can see up to 1.5kW of heat that must be cooled. If the cooling system fails to maintain a 20-25˚C ambient, thermal runaway and fire becomes a real issue.
The most common causes of server room and data centre fires include:
Even the storage of waste packing and shredded paper within the server room or data centre should be managed or avoided to remove a potential and flammable fuel source from the area.
One of the first steps you can take to protect a server room or data centre is to carry out a fire risk assessment. Often this is best carried out by an external consultant. Not only will they bring an external view which may see the ‘obvious’, but they are trained and certified and will look at your site from a ‘best practice’ point of view to identify fire hazards and how best to protect form them.
Based on the findings of the fire risk assessment there will be the need to put in place protection measures. These could cover:
One final note is that a fire suppression system should be installed alongside an appropriately sized cooling system with N+X resilience. Over-heating and cooling system failure are two of the most common causes of fire within a server rack or data centre environment. Server rack temperatures can rise quickly to ignition points during a cooling failure and provision should be in place to either shutdown operations using an emergency power off (EPO) facility or bring additional cooling into place, even if this is temporary and portable.
No matter what the size of server room or data centre, the concentration of high computing and power electronics provides the perfect opportunity for a fire-related disaster due to unmanaged ‘hot-spots’ and the amount of electrical power being drawn within a confined space. Having a well-designed and maintained fire suppression system may be mandatory for insurance purposes but should also be installed as part of a disaster mitigation plan. Where it is not practical to install a complete system, an in-rack fire suppression tray may be more practical, even for a single server rack in remote or unmanaged environments.
Your server room or data centre is one of the worst possible places for a fire to start. Business and organisation interruption are inevitable and whilst hardware can be replaced in time, very often up-to-date data cannot. Even if the fire is quickly contained, smoke from a fire can lead to extensive IT server and network peripheral damage due to the corrosive chemicals within the smoke (sulphur and chloride elements). Brief smoke exposure can damage sensitive electronics as can high temperatures and off course exposure to flames.