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Data Center Fire Suppression

OVHcloud Data Center Fire in France

In March 2021, OVHcloud’s five-story, 5,400-square-foot SBG2 data center in Strasbourg, France was destroyed by ghastly fire that took over six hours to extinguish. Not only was the company’s SBG1 facility heavily damaged, but their SBG3 and SBG4 were forced to temporarily close. Luckily, no one was injured, however, OVHcloud was forced to abandon their SBG1 facility and relocate their equipment to their other two facilities. 

Potential Fire Hazards

This incident served as a reminder to data center managers to revisit their fire safety systems. Although data center fires are uncommon and generally contained within a small area, they can cause severe damage to IT equipment and infrastructure and result in extended downtime.

There are several potential fire hazards in a data center, including:

Authorities suspect that the OVHcloud fire began in the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system, which had received maintenance just the day before. 

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Fire Protection Standards

A comprehensive fire suppression strategy not only focuses on meeting local fire regulations (generally consisting of smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, well-lighted exits, and other types of building-level fire prevention methods), but also fulfills the organization’s risk tolerance and business continuity objectives. 

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has established two standards, NFPA 75 and NFPA 76,  applicable to data centers.

NFPA 75 NFPA 76 
-Recommends traditional building-level fire protection designed to protect IT equipment and work with aisle containment systems
-Suggests Rack-level fire suppression to protect specific equipment
-Established to help telecommunication, wireless, Internet and video services providers protect their facilities

Although NFPA standards are only guidelines and not laws, they still provide an important framework that assists data center managers improve their fire prevention methods by providing numerous fire suppression methods. 

 NFPA Data Center Recommendations

One of these recommended methods is a pre-action or dry pipe sprinkler system where water is held back by a special valve. This design reduces the risk of leaking and accidental discharge. Some systems fill the pipe with pressurized air or nitrogen for further protection. If a fire is detected, the valve opens to allow water to flow into the pipes. Each sprinkler head is also operated individually to ensure that water is released only where needed.

Data centers may also implement alternative systems to detect and extinguish fires before water sprinklers activate. With guidance by the NFPA 2001 standard, data centers may use clean agent and inert gas systems to suppress fires without damaging IT equipment. With guidance by the NFPA 750 standard, data centers may use a water mist system with high pressure to produce droplets that are less than 1000 microns in diameter. 

Data Center Fire Safety Evaluation

Companies should evaluate their fire safety measures regularly to ensure that they meet NFPA standards. It’s essential that all server rooms, equipment, and potential hazards are checked properly. For data centers with inefficient workforce or limited resources, this may be a difficult feat, important factors may get overlooked. 

Fire Safety Experts at Rahi

Rahi’s team of data center fire safety experts have designed solutions in jurisdictions with some of the strictest fire protection standards. We have even partnered with Enconnex to develop an aisle containment system which ensures that sprinkler systems are not blocked by roof panels.

Rahi will do an in-depth evaluation of your current fire suppression system and explain all of your safety options. We will develop a strategy that will meet all NFPA requirements and fulfill your business continuity objectives. Contact us today to see how we can optimize your data center safety.

Bill has been in the IT industry for nearly 30 years. For the past 20 years, he has been specializing in data center operations, including presales and engineering. In particular, Bill has spent the last 12 years focusing on data center infrastructure management (DCIM) and other monitoring-related technologies.

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