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Temperature Alert: 3 Ways To Prevent Fire In Your Server Room

Jan 29, 2013

One very broad and simplistic way of describing the purpose of fire suppression systems is a "Temperature Alert" system that responds to rising temperature. However, Temperature@lert temperature monitoring devices are not designed to detect fires.

One of our customers recently mentioned that her Temperature@lert system detected high temperatures, which ultimately led to the discovery of a fire! The fire damaged some of her equipment and though she was utilizing a "Temperature Alert" device, she did not have an adequate fire suppression system. While our devices are excellent for detecting temperature, a fire suppression system is still very important. After hearing this story, we wanted to re-state the importance of adding a fire suppression system to protect your assets, while also monitoring for significant temperature variations.


Fire suppression systems and procedures need to be implemented into a disaster plan for your home/business. Whether you're protecting mission critical data or hardware, your fire system likely relies on some sort of temperature spike and/or gas detection alert. But what happens when you're alerted? Do you have a simple system that showers electrical equipment with gallons of water per minute? Have you wondered if your equipment is being protected, by the "right" protection? For these fire suppression guidelines, we'll keep the topic centered around server rooms and data centers (and electrical systems/wiring).

To be fair, there are many considerations that must be taken into account to prevent fires in a Server Room. And with those considerations, come solutions. As usual, the Temperature@lert team wants to stress the need for a comprehensive plan that provides more than "minimum defense".

For example, that 'minimum defense' can be defined as a sprinkler system that responds to rising temperatures from smoke and fire. Standard sprinkler-based systems utilize water that can damage your sensitive equipment. If your sprinkler system activates while server racks are in operation, a "worst-case" type of scenario begins to develop.

The following suggestions outline hard methods (technology) and other considerations for fire suppression. Keep in mind, all of these methods must be deployed alongside building procedures and local fire codes. From server racks to power sources to wires, fires are a significant hazard to your infrastructure, real or virtual. 


EPO: Emergency Power Off Functionality

EPO can be one of your best defenses against fire suppression. All server and HVAC systems should be tied to an emergency power function, of which can be activated automatically, in case of imminent disaster, or manually by responding firefighters or employees. This function is a truly priceless lifeline for protecting equipment. The EPO is a nice safeguard against water sprinkler systems, since the water is a secondary hazard to your "live" electrical systems and equipment.


FM200 or Waterless Fire Suppression System:

There are many different chemical combinations and technologies that are now utilized in the high-tech data centers. As we've stated, a "water-based" sprinkler system is only the bare minimum of protection, and the secondary hazards of electrical shorts and water damage drive this method into irrelevancy and uselessness. 

FM200: This link to DuPont's website shows their FM200 (HFC-227) system, commonly applied in hardware-sensitive locations. For server room purposes, this is an excellent replacement for standard sprinklers and outdated Halon systems. The primary chemical in the DuPont FM-200 is 1,1,1,2,3,3,3-Heptafluoropropane. If you've installed a system that contains HFC-227, be sure to follow safety guidelines for handling, storage and deployment. After a fire, HFC-227 can leave potentially harmful residues, chemicals and particles,  that can be hazardous. In this case, be sure to conduct atmospheric tests before returning to the server room.

Quick note: VESDA (Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus) systems are newer systems that are specifically designed to detect smoke particles in the air using sophisticated filters. The pricetag for this type of system can be justified by the protection that it provides; early detection means early prevention, and disaster is curbed before it begins.


Fire Extinguishers:

Albeit more of a cautionary note, the same logic for sprinkler choice applies here with fire extinguishers. There are a wide range of fire extinguishers for a variety of uses. Simple research brings us to Class C extinguishers, used for fires in wiring, fuse boxes, energized electrical equipment, computers, and other electrical sources. Still, there are different chemical concentrations for Class C (Halotron-1, Dry Chemical, Carbon Dioxide). 

We strongly recommend against dry chemical extinguishers for a number of reasons. Most importantly, these chemicals can leave residual matter on your equipment. When imagining exposed servers, wiring, and other electrical processes, residue from fire suppression chemicals can cause further damage to your equipment (regardless if the fire caused any initial damage). Many sources recommend a Class-C Carbon Dioxide extinguisher for a server room, as the suppression effect comes without residual penalties. 

While this serves as a beginners guide to fire suppression, newer technologies and methods will (and have) arisen when compared with these suggestions. What technologies are you employing to protect your server room from fire?

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