Protecting data centres from fire

By Garry Kwok, National Manager, Technical Services Group

Data centreIn the information age, access to data is a critical driver of business success. Data centres are considered the heart of operations for many businesses as they store computer systems, telecommunications, storage systems and enable access to email, websites and online social platforms.

As part of a business continuity plan, it is important to identify and mitigate potential risks that may damage or disrupt the flow of data through data centres. This includes the risk of fire.

A fire in a data centre can have significant consequences for business operations including loss of data, lengthy downtime of email and internet systems and costly replacement equipment.

Those involved in data centre management must ensure they have a comprehensive fire protection solution in place to help reduce the risk of fire.

In Australia, Australian Standard, AS2834-1995 Computer Accommodation stipulates that fire protection provisions should be provided for computer accommodation. Portable fire extinguishers and fire detection and suppression systems are required for data centre environments. All fire protection equipment must comply with equipment and system specific standards, and inspection and testing of the equipment should be in accordance with the relevant sections of Australian Standard, AS1851.

While complying with AS2834-1995 is a good starting point, it’s worth noting that technology has advanced significantly since the standard was last revised in 1995. Ethical and business continuity considerations are equally important in developing a robust fire protection approach.

A comprehensive fire protection strategy sets goals around safety, property protection and business continuity. While the main aim of a fire protection solution should be to extinguish a fire and protect staff and property, it is important to choose a solution that will help your business get back up and running as quickly as possible.

Consulting a fire protection specialist can assist in developing a customised fire protection solution for your facility. This process may include:

  • Identifying and reducing risk. It’s important to identify materials that pose a fire risk to the datacentre, such as empty boxes or faulty wiring. Staging areas or ‘breakdown rooms’ are recommended for unpacking equipment before it enters the datacentre. Some datacentre operators impose fines for bringing flammable materials on site.
  • Selecting an appropriate fire protection solution for the specific requirements of the datacentre. The wrong fire protection solution can be as damaging as a fire. For example, when used in a datacentre, water can cause significant damage to equipment and may shut down IT systems for weeks. A solution like Wormald’s SAPPHIRE® Fire Suppression System uses an inert carbon-based chemical to fight fire. It looks like water, but contains no moisture so doesn’t cause the damage normally associated with water, resulting in lower repair bills and less impact on the business. Wormald’s Inergen® Gaseous System is also ideal for protecting data centres as it is designed to detect smoke by actuating the system to suppress the fire before any significant damage occurs.
  • Inspect and maintain. All fire safety equipment should be inspected and maintained in accordance with Australian Standard AS1851. It is equally important to maintain the datacentre facility and consider how renovations and upgrades may affect the fire protection strategy. For example, new equipment may require additional containment walls to maintain the temperature of the facility, which may impair the performance of fire detection and suppression systems.
  • Train and prepare. All staff should be trained to respond in an emergency and a fire emergency plan should be in place. A solid fire emergency plan will include details on how the datacentre operates to help first responders extinguish the fire quickly, safely and with minimal damage to property and equipment.

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