Ensuring that Aisle Containment Meets Fire Suppression Requirements

Ensuring that Aisle Containment Meets Fire Suppression Requirements

Organizations continue to prioritize aisle containment as a means of controlling energy costs and protecting data center equipment from overheating. In a previous post, we explained how aisle containment prevents the mixing of hot and cold air by isolating each aisle of equipment. Whether you opt for hot- or cold-aisle containment, you’re essentially creating a room within a room by attaching ceiling panels, walls and doors to the cabinets within an aisle.

Aisle containment is regarded as a best practice in terms of energy efficiency. However, it can be at odds with fire suppression requirements. Organizations that don’t do it right may not pass inspection by the local fire authority, and could be faced with disapproval by their insurance carrier.

Data center fire suppression methods include traditional water (mist) sprinklers and clean agent (gas) systems. Sprinkler systems are primarily used to protect the building, while clean agent systems are better suited to protecting IT equipment. Some data centers have a combination of both.

Because suppression systems drop the fire extinguishing agent from above, an aisle containment system represents a barrier that can prevent the agent from reaching a fire. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards call for 1.2 meters to 1.8 meters clearance between a sprinkler head and any obstruction. Ideally, the configuration of the IT equipment and aisle containment system would be considered early in the design of the sprinkler system to ensure these clearances are met.

Often, however, data centers are housed in an existing facility where the sprinkler system has long since been installed. In that case, the aisle containment system must be designed to accommodate fire suppression. One option is run sprinkler heads under the aisle containment roof — a costly and potentially risky proposition. Another is to use drop-away roof panels.

Drop-away panels are made of a material that shrinks at high temperature such that the panels drop to the floor. The panels are lightweight and theoretically would not harm a person standing in the aisle. However, the sprinkler system might be activated before the panels drop away and the water would not reach the fire. If the panels do shrink, they’re destroyed and must be replaced.

Rahi Systems, in partnership with Enconnex, has designed a better solution. Our aisle containment system features roof panels with electromagnetic holders that are tied into the fire alarm system. If the fire alarm is triggered, power is cut to the holders causing the panels to tilt downward out of the way of the sprinkler system. The panels do not have to reach a particular temperature to be activated, and can be set up again after they’re deployed. 

Rahi Systems has successfully installed its electromagnetic panel system in Loudoun County, VA., one of the most active data center markets in the U.S. Loudoun County was the first jurisdiction to point out some of the issues with drop-away panels, and has been strictly enforcing the fire code with regard to aisle containment systems. County authorities have approved Rahi Systems’ system.

It’s important to recognize, however, that it isn’t just a Loudoun County issue — data center operators everywhere need to be cognizant of fire suppression requirements when implementing aisle containment. It’s an expensive and time-consuming proposition to replace an aisle containment system that doesn’t pass fire inspection. Contact Rahi Systems to discuss our electromagnetic panel system and full line of aisle containment products.

Marvin Cunanan

About Marvin Cunanan

Marvin is a Strategic Account Manager for Rahi Systems, working with many of their global customers. He has three years of IT industry experience and has successfully implemented projects over 10 megawatts.

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