How Changes to Your Server Room May Compromise Your Suppression System

Posted March 05, 2018 by Koorsen Fire & Security

How Changes to Your Server Room May Compromise Your Suppression System

As IT and server room technologies change, so does the equipment and engineering solutions that go with them. 

For instance, the hot aisle and cold aisle (HACA) containment system was developed to compensate for the smaller yet hotter running server room and equipment.

Yet, while many business owners readily accept the necessary upgrades to their server rooms and equipment, they hesitate to accept the need to update their fire suppression systems as well. As a result, they put one of their highest value assets at great risk.

If you have recently made updates to your server room and added HACA solutions, it is vital you contact fire suppression experts to evaluate your fire suppression systems to ensure effectiveness.

Why Engineered Airflow Containment Solutions Pose Challenges to Fire Suppression

The addition of hot and cold aisle containment systems to a server room significantly changes how air moves throughout the room and the velocity at which it changes.

While many HACA engineers and installers may insist that these systems are compatible with your previous fire suppression systems, that simply cannot be known and is in fact very unlikely.

Here are just a few of the ways that the changes in airflow produced by HACA systems challenge the efficacy of your fire suppression system and endanger your equipment:

  • Increased airflow velocity: the engineering behind HACA systems relies on managing airflow to keep equipment cool while saving energy and lowering costs.

    But the consequences of how this system works is that air moves at a much higher velocity, and moves much more frequently, than in an average room.

    While at the most, a server room might experience no more than 60 ACH (air changes per hour), with the new HACA systems, a single aisle in a server room can easily reach 500 or more ACH.

    The high velocity of the air flow impacts at least two important elements related to your fire suppression system:

    1) It changes the density of the smoke and the rate at which it disperses. This means the smoke can be thinned out and dispersed and become undetectable by your smoke detectors.

    2) It can impact how well and where your clean agent fire suppression material is able to disperse. Gaseous suppressant can be misdirected and thinned/diluted by the air flow, making it incapable or very inefficient at suppressing the fire. 
  • Changed airflow pattern: besides increasing the velocity of air flow in server rooms, the HACA containment method also changes the patterns of airflow.

    These changes in regular airflow patterns disrupt typical smoke plume formation and can result in stratification. For example, in the hot aisles, the smoke rises much more quickly, while in the cold aisles, it rises more slowly.

    The stratification and disruption of smoke plume formation makes detection by the average fire suppression systems difficult to impossible. 
  • Containment barriers as obstructions: finally, HACA systems introduce many barriers and obstructions to server rooms that were not previously present.

    The same barriers that help contain and manage the heat are also barriers which obstruct many clean agent nozzles; which could affect the discharge pattern and time for the desired design concentration.

    Fortunately, these and the other HACA system barriers can be set for automated removal when a specific temperature is reached in case of fire. However, the temperature needed to activate the automated removal is often higher than the temperatures many suppression systems are set to respond to. This means the clean agent systems may discharge before the barriers could be removed.

Simply put, if you have updated your server room with hot aisle and cold aisle solutions, you need your suppression system inspected. Older NFPA codes did not address the unique complications posed by HACA containment systems, so you cannot rely on them to ensure your server room’s safety.

What Next?

Fortunately, more recent NFPA codes, such as 75 and 76, more specifically address HACA solutions in server rooms. These codes can help a professional fire protection agency, such as Koorsen Fire & Security, to ensure best practices in your data center.

However, there are still many gaps in current NFPA codes as further research is conducted to better understand the unique challenges of engineered airflow containment solutions.

So, here are some steps that you can take to ensure fire protection for your business’ highest value asset:

  • Call in the experts: if you have updated the equipment in your server room, especially if it involves installing hot and cold aisle solutions, you need to call inprofessional fire protection experts to evaluate your fire suppression system to make the necessary adjustments and additions to ensure its effectiveness. 
  • Consider installing Air Sampling Smoke Detectors (ASSD): since smoke detection is complicated by the change in airflow patterns and velocity, you can consider adding an air sampling smoke detection system.

    These are detectors that are programed to regularly take samples of the air to detect signs of combustion, rather than waiting for combustion to happen. They are a type of preventative measure.
  • Be ready to make changes: even if your server room adhered to NFPA standards for IT equipment, server rooms, and rooms with obstructions, you should expect qualified fire protection experts to suggest some changes.

    Fire protection experts, like Koorsen, can help you understand the changes in your server room, how they impact your current suppression system, the risks, and what needs to be added or modified to effectively protect your data center.

    Here are examples of some changes you should expect:
    • Addition of smoke detectors to reduce spacing between them
    • Modification to gaseous suppression system to ensure effective concentration
    • Additional locations for gaseous suppression nozzles
    • Automated shutdown of HVAC systems

Is Your Server Room Protected?

If you have updated your server room, you need to update your fire protection system as well. No business can afford to lose the data held by its IT equipment.

Don’t risk it. Contact Koorsen to get your server room’s fire suppression system evaluated today!

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Topics: Fire Protection, Fire Suppression

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Disclaimer: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is believed to be reliable, but Koorsen Fire & Security assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this article. It does not constitute professional advice. The user of this article or the product(s) is responsible for verifying the information's accuracy from all available sources, including the product manufacturer. The authority having jurisdiction should be contacted for code interpretations.