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How Water Leakage Detection Can Improve Business Continuity Plans

Water leakage in an electronic or electrical environment can cause catastrophic damage including equipment damage, system downtime, short-circuits and potentially a fire risk. Water leakage detectors are the third most commonly installed in a server room or data centre monitoring system, after temperature and humidity, and their deployment elsewhere within a building, can significantly improve operational resilience.

Why Water Leakage Monitoring is Important in Data Centres

The signs of water leakage can be hard to spot, especially when the leaks are minimal and in hard to access areas, such as a in a ceiling void, under a raised access floor or behind a server cabinet. Stains from moisture pooling or corrosion may be visible but go unnoticed.

What starts out as a small collection of water droplets can quickly build-into a pool of water. For example, a poorly maintained water-cooling pump can fail and lead to water leakage and contact with an electrical system within a data centre environment. An example being the battery room used for a large uninterruptible power supply, leading to a fire.
Water will react with most surfaces that it meets, and in warm environments can raise overall humidity levels. Over time, water leakage can lead to a loss of structural integrity and present a health hazard in the form of mold growth, which can go unchecked for some time. The costs to remove the mold and rectify structural issues can be high.

Water leaks in a data centre or server room environment can occur at various points within a cooling system. HVAC (heating ventilation and cooling) systems consist of many components including pumps, pipes, chillers, heat exchangers and air conditioning header units. A weak connection point, blockage or aged filter can lead to leaks, costly repairs, and downtime.

Whilst regular cooling system maintenance will help to prevent water leakages, the fact is that the sooner you can identify an ‘area of concern’, the faster you can react to prevent a more serious and costly incident.
For most installations, water leakage detection is relatively low cost to implement and will provide 24/7 monitoring with notification alerts via email, SNMP, SMS text message and even phone call messages.

Water Leakage Sources in a Data Centre

There is an increasingly growing list of water sources in data centres and server environments.

  1. Air Conditioning Systems: air conditioner header units are the most visible part of an air conditioning system in a building. Their liquid coolant connects to pipes through external heat exchangers and excess moisture is normally exhausted as part of this process. Some installations include drip trays to collect excess condensate or small water leakage, especially in smaller IT environments where server cabinets may sit underneath. Spot water sensors provide a very easy way to monitor drip trays for droplets and water pooling.
  2. Chilled Water-Cooled Server Racks: for server cabinets with high kW power demands, chilled water may be used to cool the racks. Chilled water systems can involve more pipes run around a data centre to deliver coolant to server rack rear doors, than with an air-cooled system and this can present a greater risk of water leakage. Water leakage ropes around the base of a server cabinet can detect water droplets and leaks from a chilled water system
  3. Building HVAC Systems: sometimes a server room has to be constructed within an existing building and this can mean using a space that is not ideal in terms of having general HVAC pipes running through or near to the IT environment. Depending on the age and maintenance program for the HVAC system, pipes can burst and drainage points overflow, leading to water ingress into the IT space.
  4. Weather Damage: climate change is leading to less predictable weather patterns. Flooding can occur in areas due to excess rain and storms, in areas that were previously considered low risk from this type of weather-related damage. Earth quakes and tremors can also lead to ruptured pipes and weakened joints.
  5. Accidents, Vandalism and Terrorism: whilst highly unusual, flooding can occur due to a nearby accident (roadworks) or employee-related inflicted damage (leaving a tap running) or even terrorism.

Business continuity revolves around ensuring a business or organisation can continue to operate during and after an incident has occurred. Environmental monitoring should be considered a necessary part of a business continuity plan for any business or organisation that is reliant on its server room or data centre to maintain operations and service delivery.

Water Detection Systems for IT Environments

Even the smaller computer room or server room should be monitored. Whilst most installations will install temperature and or humidity monitoring, more are now turning towards water leakage detection. There are two sensor types used to monitor for water leakage in a by building type:

  1. Spot Sensors: these detect water in a single spot. The sensor is attached to a cable which connects to an environmental monitoring base unit. Typical applications include under a server cabinet, in a ceiling void, under an air conditioning unit or in a drip tray.
  2. Rope Sensors: in a rope sensor, the ‘rope’ is a sensor that can detect water droplets or leakage. As with a spot sensor, the rope is connected to a cable which connects to an environmental monitoring base unit. The are however two types of rope. The first is a single rope that can detect water anywhere along its length and generate through the monitoring base unit an alert notification. The second is a ‘locate’ rope which can pin-point the location of the leakage. Over larger areas, and hard to reach areas, locate ropes, whilst more expensive, can help to save time locating and tackling a water leakage.

As part of the installation of an AKCP sensorProbe+ environmental monitoring system, visual and audible alarm notifications should also be considered. Strobe lights and audible sirens can be connected to an environmental monitoring unit, triggered by a high temperature or high humidity or water leakage event.

More Information

Most IT and data centre managers will monitor and track temperature and humidity levels within their server spaces. Thankfully, water leakage events are rare but when they do occur, they can have devastating consequences and close down IT operations. They can take a long time to recover from and cost thousands in equipment replacement costs.

The impact of water leakage elsewhere in a building can also lead to catastrophic downtime. This is where a server room or data centre monitoring system can be extended through plug-in or Wi-Fi connected water leakage detectors to cover other parts of a building where water ingress is a risk, or water carrying systems or pipes, normally hidden from view, could leak and rupture.

Environmental monitoring should be considered a critical component of any business continuity plan. Automated monitoring and alert notifications allow organisations to react quickly to critical environmental events, including the pooling of small water droplets.

To discuss how water leakage detection can strengthen your business continuity planning please contact our projects team.

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