18 April 2014
Manly, MD at Jasco Security
A flood or a fire in the data centre can paralyse a
business, severing access to vital applications and connectivity. To manage
risk, the right fire detection and suppression solution is vital. Unfortunately,
there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution; an experienced solution provider, a
scientific approach to designing the solution and ensuring industry standards are
crucial to risk management.
steps to getting it right
A data centre typically houses servers, networking
equipment, and other vital hardware and software. In the event of a disaster, the
system in place is all that business can rely on. An accurate early warning system
and an appropriate, well designed and fully functional fire suppression system
will offer the best chance of recovery. So how do you ensure you have an
appropriate solution in place?
There are four key steps:
a proven service provider that is capable of designing a tailored solution.
the solution is assessed and certified by an appropriate industry body or official.
the fire detection and suppression solution an integral part of the
organisation’s security and safety policy – one that looks at the safety of
people as well as assets.
the system – a regular health check will ensure the equipment and the
suppressant remain functional.
gas, a certified provider, and SANS 10139
Fire detection and suppression for a data centre
differs to the fire safety solutions usually installed at corporate or
industrial sites. The major difference: for data centres, you need to use gas,
not water. In an office environment, water damaged furniture (desks and chairs)
are easily replaced and will not have a significant impact on the businesses’
ability to continue operating. Water damage to costly IT equipment can,
however, result in significant downtime.
To minimise risk, use a service provider
that has training and certification, or is registered with a recognised local
industry body. In South Africa, the relevant industry bodies are the South
African Qualification and Certification Committee (SAQCC) and the Fire
Detection Installers Association (FDIA) for Gas Suppression & Fire
Detection. Standards that should be met include the South African Bureau of
Standards’ South African National Standards (SANS) 10139 addressing system
design, installation and servicing of fire detection and Gas Suppression systems
In the case of a disaster, a registered, certified provider
will be held liable if they did not meet industry standards in solution design
and implementation. These providers are thus fully invested in ensuring that
the standards are met with regards to the design and the installation ensuring
that this is right.
scientific approach – safety first
The physical parameters of the data centre play a
large role in the design of a fire detection and suppression solution for a
In addition to the volume or size of the room itself,
there are typically voids in the floor and ceilings of data centres that house
cables. These, along with positioning of any ventilation, need to be taken into
consideration to determine the most effective design for the room, as well as the
amount of gas needed, the number of canisters and their placement. As for
detection, a sensor is needed every 49m2. For an accurate reading at
least two sensors are needed, rather over design any solution.
There are also safety issues that need to be dealt
with. The gas used for fire suppression acts by removing all oxygen from the
air, smothering the flames. Forty-five litres of this gas can be liberated in a room within two
minutes. This means that anyone caught in the room will, within 10 minutes,
asphyxiate. Suitable means to exit the room – by breaking glass or opening
doors – need to be built into the plan. In many cases, alarms are set to alert
people inside and outside the datacentre in the case of fire, facilitating
rescue if needed.
It is highly recommended that fire and safety drills
be conducted monthly. Evacuation of staff is as important as suppression of the
fire. Fire detection and suppression systems should be tested every three
months to ensure that the break glass and the sirens work and, last but by no
means, regular maintenance is required on gas canisters (every two years) and
smoke detection sensors (once a year).
While the incidence of disaster in data centres is not
very high, the risk is great. Poorly installed (perhaps badly insulated) cables
married with the wrong room temperature and overloaded sockets can lead to melt
down – most often when no-one is there to react. While some companies simply
install sensors and alarm and hope for a swift enough reaction, a tailored
gas-based fire suppression system offers much better odds. Have you considered