Data centers have seen massive growth over the past several years, and continue to experience exceptional demand. According to real estate firm North American Data Centers, the demand for data center space currently outpaces supply in many key areas. In fact, the global rush to cloud computing and data colocation has been so massive that in 2016 more sub-sea cable was laid than during the past five years combined. But with such unrelenting demands for growth, how can mission critical data centers deliver on expectations to keep their facilities safe?
According to mission critical fire protection guru Jeff Keller, there are a few simple things data center operators need to keep in mind when they expand their facilities. Keller has devoted much of his life to protecting mission critical spaces, and will be speaking on the topic next week at Data Center World Global in Los Angeles. He says safe growth needs to start with a fire protection consultation.
“The most important thing to do is consult with your fire protection company any time changes are going to be made to your structure,” says Keller. Fire protection systems are an integral part of any building, and their operation can be affected by a wide variety of factors. One of those is airflow, which can impact the functionality of conventional spot smoke detectors.
“Even if the only change is the addition of a CRAC unit, the added CFM’s could change the spacing requirements of the existing spot smoke detectors,” noted Keller, using the acronym for Computer Room Air Conditioning systems. “If CFMs increase, then detectors may need to be located more closely together,” he continued.
Air movement, measured in CFMs, can affect how likely it is that smoke or pre-combustion particles will be drawn into a detector’s chamber.
“The best way to ensure products of combustion are detected very early is to use air sampling smoke detection (ASSD), which actively draws smoke into the detection system” added Keller, “but many facilities still use passive spot smoke detectors that depend on room air flow to operate. Either detection method can be affected by changes to the structure.”
Hot-Aisle/Cold-Aisle (HACA) containment systems exist to assist with air flow and temperature control, but can introduce another issue: obstructions.
“As a rule of thumb, you typically want to keep three to four feet of clearance around the clean agent fire suppression nozzles,” says Keller, “Adding a HACA system or a wall can cause what we call ‘splashing,’ where the clean agent can’t properly release from the system nozzle.” According to Keller, this type of splashing can stain the surface the nozzle discharges onto, and prevents the agent from properly dispersing into the room’s atmosphere. “You need to give clean agent the space to do its thing, to disperse the chemical as it has been designed to,” he added.
When air flow and obstructions are taken into account it becomes clear why data center operators need to consult their fire protection partner early in the planning stages of any growth project. Accounting for the needs of the fire suppression system can make the changes easier to implement, as well as more cost efficient. Keller says it’s also about more than that.
“Mission critical fire protection is strictly 100% about asset protection,” emphasized Keller, “it’s in the interest of any data center operator to consult with their fire protection provider before they change the environment so their assets are always protected.”
Jeff will be going into greater detail on this topic and more during Data Center World Global 2017 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. His insights will come as part of the panel session “Automation & Maintenance Best Practices in the Data Center,” which is scheduled for Tuesday morning during the convention. Visit our news page for more information.