by Helen Lowery, Accounts Manager, DuPont Fire Extinguishants
Why are data centers so important to protect?
Modern data centers house equipment that is essential to running today's advanced telecommunications systems, powerful data networks, highly sensitive medical devices and sophisticated manufacturing tools. As our day-to-day dependence on these technologies increases, data centers become crowded with more equipment to meet user demand, and the risk of a Class C fire - one involving energized electrical equipment - escalates.
Fires in data centers can put personal safety, property and business continuity in danger, resulting in losses that can extend well beyond the occurrence of the fire itself. Repairing or replacing damaged equipment is expensive and may require significant business downtime, which is also costly. For a typical computing infrastructure, business downtime impact is estimated to be $42,000/hr; downtime impacts for companies relying entirely on telecommunications technology, such as online brokerages or e-commerce sites, can reach $500,000 per hour or more. Since data centers have an integral role in powering and managing e-mail systems, back-office applications, customer service and telecommunications systems, all of which have a direct impact on revenue, protecting these valuable facilities is critical to ensure business continuity and minimize revenue loss from fire damage.
Is it costly to install a clean agent fire suppression system in a data center?
The cost of an installed clean agent fire suppression system represents a very small percentage of the overall cost of a facility. However, the business downtime and associated monetary loss that can result from a fire and insufficient fire protection can be significant. Costs can be even higher due to repeat business loss and the potential damage to company reputation.
In addition, new federal regulations require organizations to ensure that their data is current, accessible and searchable at all times. Therefore, a data center that has been damaged by fire may be unable to provide access to important information, putting it in violation of the federal regulations and resulting in potential lawsuits, costly audits, and SEC fines.
Consequently, businesses simply can't afford not to protect their vital systems against potentially disruptive influences, including fire; however, installing inadequate fire protection can actually cost money for an organization. One possible solution is employing a clean agent fire suppression system. Clean agent fire extinguishants can help businesses ensure that their data centers have superior protection and minimize downtime in the event of a fire. In some cases they can also be used with existing Halon 1301 piping structure for even greater cost savings in retrofit projects.
Do building codes require the installation of fire suppression systems in data centers?
Most building codes require automatic sprinkler systems to be installed; however, these systems represent merely the lowest legally acceptable standard. For facilities with high-value assets such as data centers, minimal protection is not sufficient to prevent downtime losses.
When used alone, automatic water sprinkler systems provide only a minimum amount of protection. They are designed to achieve fire control by slowing the spread of a fire and maintaining ceiling temperatures in order to prevent structural damage. The sprinkler system is designed to confine the fire to its point of origin, not to extinguish the fire, allowing time for firefighting crews to respond prior to the occurrence of fire spread or structural damage. But the heat and smoke that are generated from the fire, as well as the large quantities of water dispensed from the sprinklers, can cause significant damage to critical equipment, such as server racks. Water can damage electrical equipment and may short-out wiring and connections. Water damage of paper goods, books, records and furnishings and the potential for mold production are other undesirable after-effects of water fire suppressants.
Often, alternative fire protection, such as dry chemicals systems, are used in place of water sprinkler systems; however, dry chemical extinguishing agents can leave a fine powdery residue that must be cleaned up to avoid damage to sensitive and expensive equipment.
Clean agent systems are designed to extinguish fires at a very early stage of their development by interrupting the combustion process through heat absorption and chemical interaction. By using clean agents and eliminating the use of water and/or powder, the possibility of asset damage from these sources is eliminated. Clean agent fire extinguishants are also non-corrosive and electrically non-conductive. They produce no fine residues, effectively protecting equipment and minimizing both cleanup and business downtime.
Are clean agent fire extinguishants safer than other extinguishants to use around people?
|By contrast, clean agent fire extinguishants, such as DuPont™ FE-25™, are safe for use in areas where people are present because the extinguishant relies on heat absorption and chemical interaction to quickly extinguish fires and mitigate the effects of smoke and flames.
Although most methods of minimizing or controlling fires are designed to effectively suppress a fire and facilitate a safe evacuation of people who may be near flames and smoke, they may present additional hazards beyond those due to the fire itself. For example, water is naturally non-toxic but, when used in Class C fire situations, it will carry electrical current and could present a shock hazard. Carbon dioxide is lethal at the minimum concentrations needed to extinguish a fire.
By contrast, clean agent fire extinguishants, such as DuPont FE-25, are safe for use in areas where people are present because the system relies on heat absorption and chemical interruption to quickly extinguish fires and mitigate the effects of smoke and flames. As a result, they facilitate evacuation away from the area of the fire. Clean agent fire extinguishants are also electrically non-conductive, minimizing the risk of electric shock. These properties make them the preferred fire protection option in facilities where electronic equipment is present and in scenarios where Class C fires are a possibility, such as a data center.
Are clean agent fire extinguishants safer than halons for the environment?
Yes. Unlike halons, clean agent fire extinguishants have zero ozone-depletion potential (ODP), and do not contribute to the destruction of stratospheric ozone. Halons have extremely high ODPs, among the highest known. Certain clean agent fire extinguishants also have global warming potentials (GWP) that are less than half the direct GWP of Halon 1301. In addition, the clean agent fire extinguishants have a much lessened impact on global warming than Halon 1301. In fact, none of the current key global regulatory initiatives place restrictions on the use of clean agents. Additionally, IT professionals using clean agent fire extinguishants can even earn LEED® credits for green building design.
Why should IT professionals choose clean agent fire extinguishants for their data centers?
When it comes to protecting data centers, there are a range of fire protection options from which to choose. In selecting the most appropriate extinguishing agent, there are many factors to consider, and it is important to understand which agents are suitable for protecting personnel and equipment. Clean agent fire extinguishants are effective in protecting both people and the high-value electronic equipment housed in data centers from Class A, B and C hazards. Clean agent fire extinguishants are safe for use where people are present and because they are also electrically non-conductive, have become preferred in facilities where electronic equipment is present. Clean agent fire extinguishants also leave no corrosive residues following their employment, effectively protecting equipment and minimizing both cleanup and business downtime. As a result, clean agents, which have zero ODP and are essential to ensuring life safety and protecting valuable property, can be used to replace halons in existing systems with minimal modifications. Clean agents have become the preferred extinguishant option for data centers and will continue to be a reliable and sustainable technology well into the future.
Where can I find more information about clean agent fire extinguishants for data centers?
At DuPont, safety and environmental responsibility are core values, and we seek out opportunities to educate the industry on issues of fire safety where we have a strong foundation of expertise and experience. In addition, DuPont is present at industry trade conferences, such as the National Facilities Management & Technology Conference, each year to talk with conference attendees and answer any questions they may have in relation to protecting data centers, fire safety standards and clean agent fire extinguishants.
We also have more information about fire suppression on our Web site: www.cleanagents.dupont.com.
About the Author
As an accounts manager, Helen is responsible for U.S. sales of DuPont Fire Extinguishants, as well as the management of key customer relationships and interface in the value chain.
Helen joined DuPont in 1977 and began working with DuPont Fire Extinguishants in 2004. She has been nominated for the DuPont Corporate Marketing Excellence Award and the DuPont Chemicals Business Services Continuous Improvement Award, and was a recipient of the DuPont CBEN Claudette Whiting Award. She serves on the board of directors for Fire Suppression System Association (FSSA), is a manufacturers member of Fire Equipment Manufacturers Association (FEMA) and a voting member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Helen received both her undergraduate degree and MBA from Niagara University in Lewiston, NY.